A Mythology Unit For Elementary Students

Here is a list of activities and resources we are using for a Mythology unit I am teaching to a group of nine homeschoolers, ages eight and nine.  The class is a fifteen-week unit on Greeks, Egyptian, Norse, and African mythology.  Unlike other units, which I’ve broken down by disciplines, I describe this curriculum week-by-week, as I will teach it.

The class consists of five three-week modules, where week one we explore myths from different cultures, week two we discuss one of the five books in the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series, and week three we go to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to observe and make art.  Modules 1 & 2 explores Greek myths; module 3 explores Egyptian myths; module 4 explores Norse myths; and module 5 explores African myths.

Week 1: Greek Gods


Before class, students were instructed to read stories from D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek MythologyOften, when I tell someone that we are studying Greek Mythology, they ask, “Do you have D’Aulaires’?”  And it’s no wonder; the illustrations are both informative and lovely, helping young readers remember the stories years after they read them.

After I welcomed everyone and we did introductions, we jumped into three fun activities to review the following stories from the book: “In Olden Times,” Gaea,” “The Titans,” “Zeus & His Family,” “Aphrodite,” and “Athena.”

Activity 1: Family Tree

Before class, I prepared a large poster board with slots for all of the major Olympian gods, as well as some of their ancestors and mates.  I  also prepared index cards with clues about each god.  I gave each student several cards for them to read, after which they wrote the name of the god on the other side.  Finally, they had to work together to place the cards in the right slots on the family tree.  We taped the cards from the top, so that you can flip them up to read the clues.

Activity 2: Invent A Mythical God 

I gave each student a worksheet to fill out that would help them create a god of their own.  The sheet asked them to decide on their lineage, special powers, weapons, enemies, etc.  They also had to describe something they did that people still talk about.  After class, Zach and Ezra wrote stories based on their worksheets.  Click here for the worksheet, and here for their stories.

Activity 3: “Quiz”

I printed questions on slips of paper, folded them, and put them in a bowl.  We had the kids play against the parents, with the promise that only the winning team could eat the watermelon I had cut up earlier.  Kids had the advantage that if they didn’t know an answer, they could ask one teammate.  It turns out that if you put questions in a bowl and call it a game, they love taking quizzes.  Click here for the questions.

Week 2: The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan

Five weeks of the class are devoted to the popular Percy Jackson and The Olympians series, by Rick Riordan.  In the series, Percy finds out that he is a demi-god, and he and his friends fight gods and monsters from Greek mythology as they attempt to stop the forces of the Titan lord, Kronos.  Before class this week, students read The Lightening Thief.

Activity 1: Logic Puzzles

During the week, Zach and Ezra wrote logic puzzles based on characters from Greek mythology.  We printed them and had them on the table as students came in.  You can try them yourselves here and here.

Activity 2: Act Out Scene From Book

On Rick Riordan’s website, I found a scene from the book written as a short play.  We rehearsed it twice, and then presented it to the parents.  I helped them think through what they could do with no props or costumes to make sure the audience would understand what they were thinking and feeling.  The kids loved a chance to ham it up.  You can find my slightly modified version of the scene here.

Activity 3: Dice Game

I prepared six categories of questions, and laid them out on the table under colored index cards, labeled: 1) True/False, 2) Fill In The Blank, 3) Book Review, 4) More Book Review, 5) Book-to-Book, and 6) Book-to-Life.  Book Review questions ask them to analyze the writing, make predictions, and focus on what makes a book work or not work.  Book-to-Book questions ask them to make connections between the book and other books they’ve read.  And Book-to-Life questions ask them to make connections between the book and their life.  Click here for a list of questions.

To play, a student rolls the dice to see which type of question to answer.  They can decide whether to answer the question themselves or ask everyone else to answer.  Again, making it a game somehow makes it fun to have a relatively advanced discussion of literature.

Week 3: Greek Gods at MFA

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston offers these great classes for kids, Artful Adventures.  Our mythology group is going for five sessions, exploring the art and artifacts of ancient Greece, Egypt, Scandavia and Africa.  Each week, after viewing different art, we head downstairs into a studio and make some art of our own.  This week, we’ll work with clay to sculpt gods and monsters.

Week 4: Greek Gods

Before class students read: “Hermes,” “Dionysos,” and “Heracles” from D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths.

Activity 1: Herakles Puzzle

I try to have something for kids to work on as they come in in case people are late.  I got this worksheet, which is based on the D’Aulaires’ book, from a wonderful website: website.  Click here to see the worksheet.

Activity 2: God Presentations

For homework, each student had chosen one god upon which to write a report.  They could write anything from a few sentences to a few pages.  Students will read their reports to the group, while dressed in a costume they made to represent their god.

Activity 3: Herakles (Hercules) Board Game

Ask, “What if Herakles had great-great-great-…-great-grandchildrenwere living today? What would they have to do to become immortal?” In teams, have students brainstorm three or four of the ten tasks that they would have to perform as their “labors” to prove themselves in Boston today. For example, would they have to scale the outside of the Prudential Center or pitch a no-hitter at Fenway Park?  Working together, students will make a Candyland-like board game with tasks to be completed on the way to Mt. Olympus.  They will have to draw pictures on the board game and the cards, and will have to make four figures to compete for immortality. (You’ll need to have cardboard, markers, cut up index cards, and materials for the figures available for the students to work with.)

Week 5: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Activity 1: Visualizing

While reading a section from one of the chapters, have students use a highlighter or sticky note flags to note words or phrases that really helped them get a picture in their minds of what was happening in the story. In at least one place, notice and mark words and phrases that foreshadow something that happens later in the story.  As a group, talk about why these words are so effective at helping us visualize the scene, and why certain writing works as a foreshadow.  (This idea came from Tracy Vaughn ZImmer at Hyperion Books.)

 Activity 2: Charades

I put exciting events from the book on slips of paper, folded them, and put them in a bowl.  Students took turns drawing a slip and acting out the event until they can get someone to guess it.  Some scenes have a 2 or on them, and require 2 or 3 kids to act it out.  Eventually, you can click here see the clues.

Week 6: Greek Gods at the MFA

We had back to the MFA, for a second week of exploring the Greek art.  In the studio, we will finish the sculptures we started during week three.

Week 7: Egyptian Gods

Students read Egyptian Gods and Goddesses by Penguin Young Readers before class.

Activity 1: “Bingo”

I created Bingo-type cards, with the names of Egyptian gods and vocabulary.  I put clues on slips of paper, and pulled them out of a bowl.  Students used highlighters to fill in their cards.  We played until someone had a bingo.  Eventually, you can click here to see the cards and clues.

Activity 2: The Bowl Game

I filled a bowl with 15 slips of paper.  Each kid pulled out a slip and gave as many verbal clues as needed for the other kids to guess the character or phrase from the book.  Next, we put all of the slips back in the bowl.  In round two, when they pulled out a slip, they had to act it out with no words.  Eventually, you can click here to see the slips.

Week 8: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

Activity 1: “Camp Homeschool Activity Schedule”

Have students look over the sample schedule from Camp Half-Blood (found on Rick Riordan’s website).  Ask students to work in pairs to write their own activity schedule if the could design their ideal “Camp Homeschool.”

Activity 2: Soccer Ball Review

Find an old soccer ball and in each hexagon, write a discussion question with a permanent marker.  Have students sit in a circle and tell them that you are going to throw the ball to someone.  You will say his or her name before you throw the ball.  When the student catches it, he or she has to read and answer whatever question is under the left thumb.  After answer the question, students say the name of another student and throw them the ball. Eventually, you can click here to see the questions I wrote on the soccer ball.

 

 

Week 9: Egyptian Gods at the MFA

According the MFA website, students will, “Unlock the mysteries of ancient Egypt and hear about daily life in this amazing civilization. Meet our mummies and learn why and how Egyptians prepared for the afterlife.”

We’ll focus on their religious beliefs and gods, and will head to the studio to make hieroglyphic pendants.

Week 10: Norse Gods

Before class students will have read at least the following stories from D’Aulaires Book of Norse Myths: “The Creation of the World,” “The Creation of Man,” “Yggdrasil, the World Tree,” “Asgard and the Aesir Gods,” “Odin,” “Thor,” and “Njord, Frey, and Freya.”

Activity 1: BioPoems

Students will write poems about one Norse god of their chosing.  The format is:  Line 1) God’s Name. 2) Four Traits of Character. 3) Relative of ____ (1-3 people). 4) Lover of _____ (1-3 things or people). 5) Who feels _____ (1-3 things). 6) Who needs ____ (1-3 things). 7) Who fears ____ (1-3 things). 8) Who gives _____ (1-3 things). 9) Who would like to see ____ (1-3 things). 10) Resident of ______.11) God’s Name.

Activity 2: Quiz Boards

Students work in teams to make “flip facts” quiz boards.  The boards are made by writing some “clues” in the form of facts about a particular god, goddess or hero on the front of a plain 5 x 8 index card. On the back of the card, upside-down so it appears right-side-up when the card is flipped to see the answer, is written the name of that deity or hero, along with a colorful illustration. Each team makes ten of these cards. The team tapes its cards onto a piece of tagboard or construction paper, taping the tops of the cards so the bottoms are free to flip up and reveal the name and picture.  After the boards are finished, students trade quiz boards and see if they can guess the name of the deity or hero from the clues on the front of each card.

Week 11: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Activity 1: Greek Vases

Remind students of the Greek vases we saw at the MFA.  They often showed pictures of daily life or scenes from myths and usually had a fancy border design around the edges. Students will design their own Greek vase showing a scene from The Battle of the Labyrinth. This could be an important event or simply a scene from every day life at camp. Use the attached worksheet.

Activity 2: Question Hunt

Hide questions around the room.  The student who finds the question reads it aloud, and then pulls a name out of bowl to decide which student must answer the question.  Click here to see a list of the questions.

Activity 3: Wanted Poster

Students will design a WANTED poster for one of the villains or monsters in the story. They will include details about their appearance, their “crimes,” and their last known location!

Week 12/November 12: More Egyptian Gods The MFA

There is not much on Norse or Viking art at the MFA, so we will do a second week of Egyptian art, which is impossible to all of see in even several visits.

Week 13: African Myths

Students will have read the first ten folktales in Nelson Mandela’s book, Nelson Mandela’s Favorite Folktales, which has stories from around the African continent.

Activity 1: African Map

Many students have the misunderstanding that Africa is one country, as opposed to an entire continent, with many countries, languages and cultures.  I will give all students a blank map of Africa and ask them to use a giant world map to fill in the countries from which our stories for the week came.  Then we will discuss how the varying geography, cultures, and wildlife in the different countries may have affected the kinds of stories they told.

Activity 2: Identify The Moral Of The Story

Ask the students the question: “What is a folktale and how is it different from the other myths we’ve read?” Explain that a folktale was told by adults to their children over many generations to teach a history of their people or to teach the children how to behave.

Give students examples of stories they may have heard with morals. The following are three examples:  Pinocchio (don’t tell lies); The Tortoise and the Hare (never give up or get lazy); The Ugly Duckling (don’t judge people by their looks).  Have students work in groups to write the moral of 2 or 3 of the folktales they read for class.  Have them write them on sheets of paper and share with the class.

Activity 3: T-shirts

Give students white t-shirts and fabric markers.  Have them design a t-shirt to take home.  It should have the moral from one of the stories written on it, along with a picture that reminds them of the story.

Week 14: African Gods at the MFA

For our fifth trip to the MFA, we’ll look at the gods and folk beliefs represented in much of the African art at the museum.  Then we’ll head to the studio to make masks.

Week 15: The Last Olympians by Rick Riordan

Activity 1: Write Your Name in Greek

Students can use a chart of Greek characters to write their name in Greek.  If there is time, they can try to write sentences as well.  To see the chart, click here.

Activity 2: Make a Graphic Organizer

Working in groups, students will create an illustrated representation of one chapter. The graphic has the following components: a picture in the middle which is a symbol for the chapter; at least three colors used to color the object, with each color representing something, like“Red stands Percy’s anger at being expelled;” four quotes from the chapter and an explanation of what it means and why you picked it in a sentence. You can see a sample, which I found on Rick Riordan’s website, here.

Activity 3: Charades from the Entire Series

We will play charades, as we did in week five, activity two.  Eventually, you can click here to see the clues.

An Addendum

Because the boys and I love unit studies, we are doing a bit more with the myths than we can fit into the 15-week class we are doing with other homeschoolers.  Here are a few more ideas and resources:

  1. See Time Fly -  This series of books provide a timeline of the history of Western Civilization. The purpose is twofold: (1) to develop concept imagery for language comprehension and critical thinking, and (2) to teach an imaged timeline of history. Each “flight,” or section, provides high-imagery paragraphs and beautiful artwork to help students visualize important events, periods, or people who changed history. We used the book for our Ancient China unit, and we all love it.  For this unit, we are reading the sections on Ancient Greece and Rome and Scandanavia.
  2. Timelines – I am a kind of obsessed with making sure that the kids have something I never did, a sense of how all of the history I learned fits together, in other words an imaged timeline.  In addition to the See Time Fly series, we have a giant timeline around the ceiling of the boys’ room, from which we hang picture of things we are studying.  And then we enter those dates into our Wonders of Old books, which they can keep throughout high school, building an ever more elaborate internal timeline.
  3. A Wall Map of the World – By now, our wall map is tattered and smudged with peanut butter.  But the boys still love maps, and as we study more parts of the world, the connections they make continue to grow.
  4. The Magic of Reality - This app, based on the book by Richard Dawkins, won the non-fiction book app of the year, and it’s pretty amazing.  He goes through lots of the world’s myths, and the phenomena they were attempting to explain, and then shows the scientific explanation for the phenomena.  The book has a very strong anti-religous message, so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, which is why I didn’t it include it in the unit we did as a group.  But we are devout Christians, and love the app. We don’t agree with his interpretations, but the science and the technology are great.  The connections to myths are too great to pass up.  And the parts we disagree with are leading to some wonderful discussions about why we disagree with his understanding of myths and religion.

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If you want to read more about some of the ideas on this page, you may want to read these posts:

On The Importance Of Timelines

How And Why To Run A Book Club For Kids

On How Much 8-Year-Old Boys Love Art Museums


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