Teaching Mythology in High School: Ideas for Myths and Legends

Teaching Mythology in High School:  Ideas for Myths and Legends
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Reading Strategies to Satisfy Ye Gods

If you’re not teaching reading strategies while teaching mythology, you’re limiting your students.

  1. Connect: The value of literature is derived from the shared experience all humans have. Discovering, for example, that Odysseus longed to be with his family, that Achilles brooded over a perceived slight, or that Zeus’s philandering caused Hera fits of jealousy and revenge make myths more meaningful. Students recognize that mythological heroes have flaws and make mistakes much like modern-day heroes.
  2. Record: Myths and legends have remained with us for thousands of years. There’s a reason. Make note of especially exciting aspects of mythological stories. Annotate if appropriate. In addition to recording thoughts, jot down questions and mark confusing passages.
  3. Analyze the Source: Consider whether or not the person writing the myth believed in its veracity. There’s a huge difference between Homer’s telling of the Odyssey and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales. The former’s audience believed; the latter’s treated them as fairy tales.
  4. Analyze the Truth: Do not read legends and myths as history. Read for enjoyment and attempt to discover the underlying truths. It is unlikely, for example, that Zeus struck down Odysseus' ship with a lightning bolt; it is likely, however, that sailors found the seas treacherous and uncontrollable, and that they were at the mercy of unseen forces.
  5. Suspend Belief: You know that cynical guy at the movies who ridicules and questions every event? Don’t be that guy. He’s annoying, has no friends, and makes himself feel better by criticizing others because he’s done nothing in his life. Myths, like movies, are not like real life. Deal with it.
  6. Visualize: Myths describe amazing settings and incredible creatures.
  7. Expect the Unexpected: Most myths have numerous versions. Just because Disney portrays Hercules as a victim of circumstance doesn’t mean he wasn’t a hot-headed, immature cry-baby (if you happen to come across the Hercules, don’t tell him I said that).
  8. Analyze Purpose: Explore and discuss what purpose the myth or legend had or has in the particular culture from which it emanates. What does the myth tell the reader about the culture? The Greeks, for example, celebrated fierceness and wisdom in battle as evidenced by The Iliad and The Odyssey.
  9. Evaluate: Different versions of the same myth exist as do different myths with the same message. Compare similar myths from different cultures and determine the purpose behind the differences.

Lesson Ideas

Use the following lesson ideas to complement:

  • To examine cultural influence try the following:
    1. Make a three-column chart.
    2. Label each column: Myth or Legend, Origin, Possible Purpose
    3. Use the activity for review or fill it out for each story you read.
    4. Write a paragraph analysis of one of the myths as it relates to the culture of origin. The topic sentence should state the title of the myth or legend and what the myth or legend states about the culture. For example, Athena turning Arachne into a spider shows the danger of pride in Greek Society and the deference one was expected to have towards the gods. Supporting details should include examples from the story with relevant analysis, interpretation, and insight.
  • To derive a message about life try the following:
    1. On the left side of your paper draw four rectangles.
    2. Write the hero’s name on the left side of the rectangle and the nature of his or her quest on the right side of the rectangle.
    3. Draw an arrow from each of the rectangles on the left to a large rectangle on the right.
    4. Write what message about life the heroes' quests teach.


  • Teaching experience.

This post is part of the series: Improve Reading Comprehension in Your Students

Help students understand what they read with these teaching ideas.

  1. Making Judgments Mini Lessons to Rely On
  2. Have Your Class Write Annotations: Teacher Tips
  3. Students Use Critical Thinking to Analyze Character Goals
  4. Strategies to Teach Myths and Legends to High School Students
  5. Strategies to Teach Plot Better