Beowulf and The Common Core
As I am preparing for the upcoming transition to the Common Cores State Standards, I’ve been implementing their increased rigor to some of my previously developed lesson plans. One of my favorite texts to use with my students has always been the epic poem, Beowulf.
If there was ever a piece of literature that was made for Close Reading and deep reading techniques, it’s this poem. There are so many beautifully crafted lines and stanzas, metaphors, and other literary devices that you could spend an entire class period on a few lines. My students really enjoyed this process, and told me that they appreciated this title choice.
As part of my attempt to find secondary sources and texts to expand the themes within Beowulf, the in-theaters-now film, “Lone Survivor” came to mind. The glorification of war and soldiers and heroism is pervasive not only in Beowulf but in ancient Anglo-Saxon culture. The story of American soldiers caught in such dire straits and their fortitude to survive became the perfect pairing for Beowulf and his dauntless monster-fighting legacy.
According to IMDb:
Marcus Luttrell, a Navy Seal, and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, in late June 2005. After running into mountain herders and capturing them, they were left with no choice but to follow their rules of engagement or be imprisoned. Now Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare. Written by Jacob Smith.
My lesson began with an anticipatory question: What qualifies a decision as heroic versus foolish?
Our objective for the day that was posted beneath the opening question was: Compare and contrast the heroic decisions between Beowulf and the Navy Seals in the article, “The ‘Lone Survivor’ Tells the Story of a Tragic Navy Mission.
After we discussed their responses to the opening question, I introduced the background of the Marcus Luttrell’s story by teasing the key points. I put up a picture of Luttrell and the movie poster for “Lone Survivor” as we talked. Next I passed out transcripts of the NPR interview for students to following along with as they listened. Students were required to highlight and annotate the text as we listened, looking for examples of heroism, vocabulary words they were unfamiliar with, and any other parallels to Beowulf that they could identify. I wanted to leave this open for the students to use their critical thinking skills.
As we listened to the interview, students were busily working and annotating, and my heart was bursting!
Once the interview was over, the students shared what they highlighted with their table partners. I asked them to consider the following questions:
1. What connections did you make between Luttrell’s story and Beowulf?
2. What was different between the stories?
3. What vocabulary words did you identify? Did anyone else have a definition for you?
4. Do you think Beowulf and the Navy Seals could have switched places? Who would have been able to defeat the enemy? Who would have failed? Why?
Once those four questions were completed, we shared our findings. I asked students to share their highlighted portions of the text and they were required to support their notation by sharing the parallel Beowulf elements. No answer could stand alone from the epic poem.
Students eventually forgot that I was there because the discussion moved from my questions to their analysis.