11 September 2011

Popsicle Stick Odyssey

It seems it was a mistake not to start my English classes with the Odyssey in the past. I have had the most successful start to a year that I may have had in all my nine years of starting classes. Full disclosure: it might be the kids, not me.

But on the off-chance it is me, here are some things that worked:
  1. Accepting excerpting. The textbook doesn't print the whole thing, and I am not really excited by the whole thing, so I might as well just pick the parts that do excite me, so I can harness that whole I-love-this-so-much-it's-contagious vibe. Ninth grade me would have a fit, having been sorely disappointed with junior high teachers for not exposing her to more Shakespeare before high school. But honestly? I'm typically not dealing with ninth grade me. And even if I were, I pull out the "I wanted to whet your appetite so you could seek out more!"

    I went with "The Cyclops," "The Sirens," "Scylla and Charybdis," "The Suitors," "Penelope," "Odysseus' Revenge," and, because time permitted, "Penelope's Test."

    My standards? Most-alluded-to passages and most gore--despite the fact that I have deliberately relegated my husband's sizable horror movie collection to the least visible, least accessible shelf possible. I like my gore literary and all in my head, thank you.
  2. Tie-ins. I got my first taste of The Odyssey from DuckTales, so why shouldn't my students? (See at the bottom, then fast forward to about 11:40). Also, to prove the ubiquitousness of allusions to The Odyssey, I quick downloaded a little Police to my phone when we got through "Cyclops" and DuckTales ahead of schedule (God bless Android phones and Amazon MP3 store!) Also, I had "7 Things McDonald's Knows About Your Brain" up my sleeve, perfectly linking allusion to The Odyssey and our school's first STEM topic: why we eat what we eat. And did you know that the textbook already came complete with multiple allusive texts? We're talking a poem each for cyclops, sirens, and Penelope! From the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Margaret Atwood! Awww yeah, got some ladies in the house!
  3. Action! Apart from my dramatic and, dare I say, theatrical renditions of the goriest scenes of stabbing, monster attacks, and suitor slaughter, I also had the young ones act things out.

    "The Cyclops" is rather long, so to rehash, I assigned each table a scene from the story for a tableau. Alas, they mostly stayed away from the gore, and I had not come prepared with huge googly eyes for them to use, but I was somewhat impressed with their zeal for depicting the under-sheep cave escape, barely refraining from physically binding their classmates to the chair-sheep.

    I also had them capture the action of "The Suitors" on whiteboards, and some took extra care to elucidate the preponderance of suitors hanging out at O's palatial home. Most got the stool flying at Odysseus, but strangely, mostly only females thought to put Penelope in the picture, so that was an interesting sidetrack.

    Finally, came the popsicle sticks and Chuck Norris. I could not resist the opportunity to harness the ideas that had popped up throughout class discussion, like Odysseus as the Chuck Norris of his day, or the sirens singing the McDonald's theme song (Bada bop ba baaa!)m or 1,000 Ways to Die...in a Cyclops Cave. So rather than a quiz or a timeline or some other such "practical" or "analytical" application, I gathered some images of Chuck Norris, Lady Gaga (x3), Jack Black (for Antinous), and Jennifer Aniston...plus the cyclops from Clash of the Titans and a childhood favorite, Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. And I gave them popsicle sticks.
(From top left) Cyclops, Odysseus, Scylla, Sirens, Antinous, & Penelope
That's right: an Odyssey puppet show. They're still filming, but what I've seen makes me glad to be an English teacher again.


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