A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away), I started teaching hero’s journey when a colleague and I began teaching Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman. If you haven’t read that book, or any of his work, PLEASE DO. He is one of the best YA authors out there, in my humble opinion.
In preparation for this unit, my colleague, Heather Sanders, and I started researching Joseph Campbell’s work on the archetypal hero’s journey. There was such a wealth of information that I was shocked I hadn’t heard of it before. How did I get through college as an English major still ignorant to this greatness? Luckily for me, I’ve never been one to rest on my curricular laurels, and I’m constantly looking for cool stuff to incorporate. Thanks to our librarian at the time, each grade, 6-8, was reading a Shusterman book in anticipation of the author visiting our school. When Heather and I read Full Tilt, and she mentioned hero’s journey, we knew it would be a perfect fit.
Fast forward to today. I still teach hero’s journey, but with different pieces. In 6th grade, it was Greek mythology. 7th grade was The Iliad. This year, with my 8th graders, it’s The Odyssey. I also begin teaching annotation with The Odyssey, so it’s the perfect marriage of annotation and a focus for those annotations. We start with the character archetypes present in the journey. You can get my powerpoint and notes on character archetypes here. Then we use a movie they are all familiar with to track a journey. I let each class choose the movie based on how many kids have seen it (we try to go for 100% so they can all connect with the information). This year we did, Cars, Finding Nemo, Lion King, and Kung Fu Panda.
Once the students recognize the cycle in a piece they are familiar with, it is much easier for them to begin finding the steps in the piece I’ve assigned. We also talk about how The Odyssey begins in media res, so they have to figure out which step starts the cycle since it doesn’t begin at the beginning. It’s challenging!
As in my last blog post, I cannot stress enough the importance of giving the students a focus when teaching annotation. The hero’s journey, and the character archetypes within it, are a great way to do just that. Plus, it’s much more fun than your typical annotation assignment!
If you have a fool-proof way to teach annotations, I’d LOVE to hear about it!