Mythology in the Classroom

Throughout my years as a middle grades teacher, I tried to include a variety of reading materials for my students to choose from.  One interesting and unique genre I delved into was mythology.

Students in my classroom had the opportunity to see short clips featuring classic myths.  These clips were available on streaming services, like the kind provided by Discovery Education.  These brief visuals served as an appetizer for longer film and reading experiences.

Though cartoonish, such clips added media connections to reading samples from anthologies.  It helped that part of our curriculum standards later on included myths, and that authors like Rick Riordan popularized mythology through fiction.  For a while, many of my students toted Riordan’s books around of their own interest and accord.

Riordan has written stories based on Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse myths.  His writing style is conversational and often told from the perspective of his adolescent characters, making the works relatable for young readers.  The books have even spawned a wider series written by other authors, exploring lesser-known myths.

Riordan also writes in a series that unfolds and builds student attention.  I found that my students could gather and sustain interest, especially when they were able to start a series from the beginning on.  I enjoyed Riordan’s work so much that his first young adult novel, The Lightning Thief, was an assigned text more than once in my class.  This author even features a lesson outline on his website — being a former educator, he is quite thoughtful that way.

In addition to these youth-oriented selections, there were other representations of mythology that proved popular.  We read portions of The Odyssey and watched film segments detailing aspects of the story on then-freely available sources like Schmoop.

These resources proved accessible for slightly older students.

We read Zuni and Native American myths, including one entry by Zora Neale Hurston, in our classroom textbook.  These stories showed classical elements like trickster figures and even gave students the opportunity to encounter dialect in fiction.  

Mythology makes its way into comic books and graphic novels with stylish renderings of classic stories like The Odyssey, as well as adaptations of many of Riordan’s works.  No other kind of book was consumed nearly as much in my classroom experience as the graphic novel.  It could be argued that prolific modern-day publishers like Marvel have created their own freestanding mythologies, featuring characters like Thor and Black Panther.

Now, other authors like Neil Gaiman, Madeline Miller, and Joanne Harris are exploring mythology.  Gaiman has one book that details Norse myths for older readers, as well as a book for younger readers called Odd and the Frost Giants.

Nothing pleased me more than sharing Gaiman’s voice on audio book with my students, artfully reading Odd.  Miller has written Circe, which is a new release I had the opportunity to review a few months ago, a follow-up to her book, Achilles.  I am pleased to report it is literary and accessible, a wonderful read.

Finally, Harris relays modernized stories of the trickster figure, Loki.  Harris has a set of two books that work well with humor and a more contemporary spin; also fine reading that reaches into this genre. 

What about movies beyond short clips?  Films like Gods of Egypt and Clash of the Titans offer more grown-up fare for visual consumption, as well.  These films can be screened in their entirety, but I often prefer to show well-chosen clips to illustrate concepts and describe characters.

Obviously, mythology is profligate and engaging, with many authors and filmmakers acting as viable choices for learning and exploration.  These rich cultural stories are worth sharing and serve as yet another example of a genre to highlight for reading interest.

[JD DeHart is a writer and teacher.  He writes about books and authors at readinglitandresources.blogspot.com.]

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