The English Teacher

Beowulf Lesson Plans

Below are my notes for teaching Beowulf. They are not the only way to write a lesson plan. They are one way to write a lesson plan. They are also not intended to substitute for reading the book, either for a teacher or a student. There are many basic resources available to study Beowulf.

These notes have helped me to remember the pertinent points of the book which I wished to emphasize to my students. *They may help teachers new to the book deepen their understanding of it or perhaps see how they might create their own lesson plans.

My first experience with lesson plans was in English Methods I, and the class was assigned to write a lesson plan unit for 10th-11th graders. I had no idea how to write one. Perhaps neither did the other students. [That was one of the purposes for which I thought I was taking the class.] When we turned in those lesson plans, they were critiqued in detail, some of them in front of the class. Errors were pointed out. That was the total instruction in planning lessons for the beginning teachers in that class. English Methods II had little more instruction in lesson planning.

As is mentioned elsewhere in the website, when writing lesson plans, teachers should keep in mind that they are "teaching students" rather than simply "teaching Beowulf" or some other topic. Lesson plans should be adapted, modified, changed, according to the needs of the students. Plans can be kept on the computer and printed off each year and put in a notebook for classroom use. During the school year comments, suggestions, and ideas can be written on the paper copy and then added to the plans on the computer to be used the next year.

Some administrators require a copy of the teachers' lesson plans each week and may expect them to be strictly followed. But they should be aware that in the classroom students needs may vary from the predicted ones. Strict insistence on following lesson plans exactly may not be in the best interests of students who might need further explanations or reteaching of various subjects and concepts.

Teaching Beowulf:

The book is divided into two main parts with Beowulf battling a formidable 'monster' in each one.

Therefore a point of study is, as one compares Beowulf's first battles with his last, what are the major differences? What are the similarities

What part do the frequent anecdotes play in the book? Much of the book is didactic; how and why is this so?

It contains, advice for kings, qualities of a hero, qualities of a villain, and boasting- [how is boasting seen differently than in our time. When is it ok to boast?].

It emphasizes weapons and one can consider how they are looked upon differently than they are today? Are there similarities in how Hollywood presents them?

It presents the roles and place of women and one can see how their viewpoints contributed to those society has had or has regarding women's roles today.

It shows how men dealt with the emotions of anger, revenge, fear, and it shows the existence of almost continual feuds that seem similar to those between some nations and peoples today.

It shows the importance of leaders and their part in the destiny of their people, and their roles in relation to the roles of their followers.

With the existence of monsters, and feuds, etc., we are presented with subsequent attitudes toward life, death, and material possessions.

All of these concepts are presented with and through a 'Christian overlay.' That is, the original story may essentially be termed pagan, with a Christian writer making it religiously appropriate for the ideas of his day. It is important to know, therefore, that there are at least two major and sometimes conflicting attitudes woven throughout Beowulf. Otherwise students looking for the 'correct answer' may become confused when values and opinions seem to shift back and forth.


Shild, an abandoned child, came to Denmark, changed his own fate, became a strong king. Son was Beo, a strong king. Elaborate funeral for Shild.

[Note: Assign the Prologue and ch.1 Assigned Prologue, Ch 1-3. When I began teaching it and found that students can read that fast, but not understand that fast.]

Points to consider:

["New" cultural ideas as far as many students are concerned.] "Good king" concept. Hrothgar's genealogy. Note: These were actually values that people lived by, as in Christianity, 'turning the other cheek.' [Students noticed there were no women's names. Actually few... those are as daughter or wife (a role)] Notice societal roles, confining and shaping, the lives of women and men.

Since Beowulf is didactic we hear about other lives and lessons besides Beowulf's in the many anecdotes. [Definition: didactic- 1.) intended for instruction 2.) preaching or moralizing.]


Beo is king, then Healfdane, whose oldest son, Hergar, died and Hrothgar became a mighty king- and decided to build a magnificent hall, Herot. The Christian songs in the hall stir up the evil monster, Grendel.


Grendel goes on the rampage, kills thirty men, rules Herot at night for 12 years. Story spreads abroad. The Danes sacrifice to old stone gods. [The Christian 'religious explanation' as to why Grendel is not yet defeated?]


Beowulf 'hears' the story [after 12 years?], and takes fourteen of the bravest Geats and sails to Denmark. He and his group are met by the Coast Guard.

Discuss Ch 2-3 Assign 4-7

Author(s) 'lessoning' by multiple authors [Didactic] -Simple tale of original authors- -Fitting it to the 'rightness' of the world, as they see it.

[Class acts out parts of Ch. 3-5] Note, when students begin a 'difficult' story, it helps their understanding a great deal to act out the incidents. This 'acting out' consists mainly of students taking the roles of the characters, standing before the class with the other characters, and speaking their parts. For instance, when Beowulf and his men are confronted by the Coast Guard officer, they can better understand the power dynamics as the officer says, that it will be better for them all if he spoke quickly. The officer knows that he will be dead doing his duty as well as Beowulf and his men will die and this dynamic can be seen when acted out.

*When acting out Grendel's confrontation with Beowulf I use a large arm for Grendel made from rolled up cardboard and he loses it during this enactment. I usually play Grendel so that I'm not making a student the 'bad guy.' At other times students have come in to find Grendel's arm hanging on the classroom wall.

[In other literature it is also helpful to use this technique, such as for the background to The Odyssey, the Trojan War, or the scene from Dracula when Jonathan cuts himself shaving, etc. ]


Beowulf explains his mission and the coast guard accepts his story, acknowledging Beowulf's impressive stature as a 'complete' warrior, and points him to Herot. Note: A teacher can be aware throughout the book of the implied points as well as the explicit ones for a richer understanding of the book. Here the coast guard tells him his ship will be 'kept safe' until Beowulf makes good his words... meaning that he should be who he says he is, if he wants to return home with his ship, or perhaps return at all. [Note continuing existence of coast guard in later works such as Dracula.]


At Herot Beowulf declares his arrival to Wulfgar who urges Hrothgar to listen to Beowulf.


Beowulf announces that he has come to kill Grendel.

[Discussed 4-6 Assigned ch 8.]

See whether the class can discern the original 'pagan' author- influence/culture and when the later Christian/author/preacher 'comes in.' [Definition: didactic- 1.) intended for instruction 2.) preaching or moralizing.] In relation to the 'two' authors: *The audience should be comforted in the 'Love of God' but notice the times when the 'bleaker' tone is ascendant. *One wonders where Odin, Frey, etc. are... Were they deleted from the original? *The Odyssey has many references to gods. Was the original Beowulf like that?

Ch 6-7:

Questions!!! Assigned ch 9-11

'Zillion' questions from class. Who's related to whom? What Beowulf did. How Hrothgar helped his father, etc.

Test on ch. 1-6 with focus on ideas and content. Writing mode: narrative and descriptive.

Write on one side of the sheet in ink, skip lines. *Teacher looks for imaginative and accurate content. 'Dear Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle... I am one of five students selected to go back in time to Hrothgar's court. I want to tell you about what happened so far, and what we learned to do so that people won't notice that we are 'foreigners.'


Hrothgar relates Edgetho's 'debt' to him, and Grendel's atrocities.


Unferth's insult to Beowulf. Beowulf's reply relating his accomplishments. Is he boasting?

QUIZ- Ch 9 & 10 [to make sure students are reading two chapters ahead]
1. What role does Hrothgar's queen play?
2. How does Beowulf prepare for battle?


Beowulf finishes reply to Unferth's 'challenge/insult' and says that if Unferth were what he implies he is, that Grendel would not be plaguing the Danes right now. Welthow, the Queen, serves ale to the fighting men.


Beowulf prepares by removing and putting away his armor and being watchful.

TEST- Essay question. [open book, open notes]

How would your life be different if you were a young woman/young man living in Beowulf's days.. in Hrothgar's kingdom?

Other questions- 1. How did the people act the same way we would today? 2. How did the people act differently than we would today?


Out of the marsh comes Grendel [fee, fie, foh, fum], who eats one Geat, and then 'Uh-oh' runs into Beowulf of the mighty grip. [Grimm Brothers type details]

CHAPTER 12: Grendel departs without his arm.

[--Third level 'why' presented here. 'See Teaching Strategies' section.] *What questions do you learn from the answers? i.e. Magic turns away swords. Grendel dies- reason- "crossing" God.


Notice everyday details... already Beowulf tale being added to songs sung. Horses: red, brown, pale yellow, with hard hooves.

Didactic anecdotes- 'Good' king Siegmund, 'bad' -vain- king Hermod who only has courage.. probably means kings were prone to vanity.


[Distinguish between the Christian 'add-on' interpretation which distorts the pagan original tale, such as Grendel 'crossing' god.. when the concept of a Christian God didn't exist in that context, with the 'quality' statements of faith and doctrine and philosophy which can exist apart from, or without distorting the tale.] i.e. line 929 "...but the Almighty makes miracles When he pleases, wonder after wonder, and this world Rests in his hands." Hrothgar's praise. Beowulf's "I wanted to be better." Unferth shuts up.

Assigned 15-16, discussed part of 9, 10, and part of 11 *Discussion progress lagging behind reading schedule because of fulness' of discussion.


Hrothgar gives Presents to Beowulf and his men.

[Beowulf test 3A Ch. 13-15]

CHAPTER 16-17:

Anecdotal aside about Finn. Finn [Frisian] kills King Hnaf and half of his men [Danes] and then Hengest who remains loyal to Hnaf kills Finn and all the remaining Frisians. Then Hengest takes Finn's queen, Hnaf's sister, a willing prisoner, back to Denmark. [Consider why the narrator adds this story at this time in the book.]

[Tests (BeowfT2A, B, and C.)

(BeowfT2C) Quiz:

1. Describe the events between Finn and Hengest in detail.
2. How is this incident didactic?

[Mid Term grades due about this time]

Beowulf quiz ch 17-18

1. What seems to be the main reason Finn's group attacks Hnaf's group?
2. What is the genealogy of the necklace? Ch. 18. [Analytic, Speculative, Interpretive]


History of the necklace. The queen, Welthow, asks Beowulf to protect her son. She is aware that her husband is older, her sons still young, and that there are those who would want the throne. [Consider how a wise woman would need to act in such a society]
Danes sleep in Herot.


Grendel's mother comes and snatches 'best of Danes.' The narrator observes that 'a female, even a female monster, must flee from warrior's [male] weapons.'


Hrothgar tells of Grendel's mother and her lair in a nearby, 'bottomless' lake.


At the water's edge, purpose of revenge, 'to obtain rest from mourning.'


Beowulf sinks for hours- begins battle with Grendel's mother, ['fame comes to the men who mean to win it.' p.71] cuts off her head with a giant's sword (magic).


Beowulf cuts off Grendel's head, carries it to the surface, four men carry it on their spears to Hrothgar's hall. [Notice he leaves Grendel's mother's body there.. male/female bias?]


Beowulf recounts his battle, gives Hrothgar the golden sword hilt the blade of which melted as he cut off Grendel's head. Hrothgar begins advice to Beowulf.


Hrothgar's advice concludes. *Hrothgar's Philosophy.. 3 main points/ p 77-78, lines 1723- 1768 Beowulf a hero, Unferth gives him Hrunting in apology for insult.

[Team test- 2 people- using books explain Hrothgar's advice to Beowulf. Draw numbers/letters to pair off.]
[See Website]


Beowulf and Hrothgar give parting comments. Beowulf pledges to help Hrothgar and his son. More gifts given.


The Geats return home with a treasure laden ship to Higlac and Higd. Anecdote of Thrith, who has men who look at her executed... sent to marry Offa and she becomes 'high and noble' with a generous heart. p. 83-84.


Higlac, Ongentho's killer, [king of Sweden]. Queen again serves drinks to 'men.' Beowulf gives quick summary of battle with Grendel. Then he talks of politics- marrying off Hrothgar's daughter, Freaw, to Ingeld for peace, which Beowulf feels won't work.


Continues Beowulf's tale. Ingeld [a Hathobard] & his men will fight with the Danes [It is hard to stop a feud once started. Note* this anecdote fills the characteristic of the 'aside' of oral tradition.] Then Beowulf continues his account of his battle with Grendel.


Beowulf recounts how he kills Grendel, and then his mother, and how he earned treasure for each of those battles.


Beowulf takes the treasure that he has earned and passes it on to his king. Armor and [4] horses for Higlac, necklace and [3] horses for Higd. Note: We learn that Beowulf was scorned as a boy, thought of as 'slow' and lazy. Higlac gives him land and houses as thanks for a loyal follower of exceptional service. After Higlac dies and his son, Herdred, is killed by the Swedes, Beowulf becomes the king for fifty years.


Then a thief finds a dragon guarded treasure and steals a cup. The dragon awakes and is enraged at the theft and wants to 'take it out' on Beowulf's land and people.

Makeup quiz for Finn episode quiz:

1. Who is Thrith, and why is this character included in the story of Beowulf?

Beowulf Test: Chapter 25-31 [to p.91]

1. What does Beowulf tell Higlac about Hrothgar's daughter?
2. What does Beowulf do with the gifts he received from Hrothgar?
3. How does Higlac respond [give details] to Beowulf's return?
4. What parts of this section of the story make it seem an authentic tale of that time and place? OR What details might not a modern author know about?

ASSIGN NOTES ON GODS OF THE NORTHLAND [from Myths and Their Meaning- p. 262-268. *Note to other teachers. I decided to introduce the Norse gods to the students after they became comfortable with Beowulf as a book. Since this was the first book of its type that the class had read, I felt that the task of having them remember the Norse gods, and then think about how they might have fit into the book would be too confusing. Other teachers with different classes might decide differently with good results.

MAKEUP TEST: p. 91-97

1. How does Beowulf become king and how long does he rule?
2. Describe the thief and what he finds.
3. Describe the guardians of the treasure and their actions.

Heavy Duty discussion questions.. [*** these questions were a great challenge for the class. Perhaps have them discussed in groups.]

1. What did you find in the Norse myths that might have caused people to act as they did in Beowulf? [Gods killing giants, cow licking stones, male and female gods living apart, Odin's wife from another group-not sister, humanity living in a giant's skull, fighting and drinking in Valhalla,]

2. What did you find in the myths that might have caused people in those times to act differently than you do? [Gods killing giants, cow licking stones, male and female gods living apart, Odin's wife from another group- not sister, living in a skull, fighting and drinking in Valhalla and instantly healed.]

3. What beliefs do you live by. [2 or 3 general statements, representing rest?

4. TODAY- what beliefs cause people to act 'differently' than you do. [From our view-HOLY WAR-Jihad, etc. *This question was written years before 911. ]


Thief sees the sleeping dragon, takes one cup and FLEES. Flashback/recounting: The treasure belonged to a noble race, now wiped out by battle and the passage of life. [CONSIDER THIS PHILOSOPHY, SIMILAR TO THAT EXPRESSED BY HROTHGAR TO BEOWULF. IS THIS THE PRE-CHRISTIAN VIEW OF LIFE FROM A WORLD DOOMED TO DIE FROM FROST GIANT'S AND EXISTING INSIDE A SKULL?] The treasure is guarded by warriors until a last warrior is left. The warrior 'curses' the treasures, that 'no one living can enjoy them.' Eventually he dies and a dragon takes up residence guarding the treasure [from the living.] Thief gave cup to an angry master. Dragon pursues thief in vain..waits until dark [like Grendel] for his revenge.


Dragon goes out and burns lots of dwellings, including Beowulf's hall. [Note that most things connected with the dragon and the treasure hoard and where it is hidden has highly varying sizes and locations, as a right-brain' story might, as opposed to the objective description of other incidents.] Beowulf [wonders if he has broken God's laws somehow] makes shield of iron. Prediction of his death. Recounts the highlights of his past: Higlac killed by Frisians. Higd [Higlac's wife] offers him crown- He instead supports Herdred who protects Swedish exiles. An angry Swedish king Onela comes with his army and kills Herdred and leaves.


Beowulf, now king, supports Swedish exiles with army and gold until Onela is killed for killing Herdred. Then Beowulf defeats all contenders until the dragon. Now old age rests on him. [line 2421] He recounts how Hrethel took him in, loved him like his own three sons: Herbald, Hathcyn, and Higlac. But Hathcyn kills Herbald with an arrow while hunting. ***Hrethel despairs, losing an heir, and no revenge to be taken.


Hrethel dies. Hathcyn [king] killed by Swedes, but immediately revenged. Beowulf becomes a strong power for Higlac until Dagref the Frank kills Higlac and loots his corpse. But Beowulf catches Dagref and crushes him to death before he can leave with the loot. *End of Beowulf's recounting of his past. Beowulf says farewell, will use weapons because of dragon's poisonous, flaming, breath. "No one but me could hope to defeat the monster." [p.102] [This is probably the calm realistic truth of a man who knows that this is how his life will end.] Beowulf goes into lair and battle... dragon charges, begins to melt shield. Beowulf knows Fate against him. Sword breaks-Beowulf stares at death. All but one of Beowulf's trusted followers have fled for their lives.


Wiglaf supports Beowulf [Higlac had supported his father] (are they kin?) with special armor and sword. He calls to the other trusted followers to support their old king who "doesn't deserve an end like this." Higlac rushes to aid Beowulf and leaves behind his shield. Beowulf, with one more effort, mortally wounds the dragon, with his stump of a sword but the dragon bites Beowulf in the neck.


Wiglaf wounds the dragon with his sword sufficiently for Beowulf to kill it with his dagger. [2 cousins' together kill it]. Beowulf begins to die from the poison in his neck. Has no son to leave armor to. Asks Wiglaf to bring him treasure to see before he dies.


Wiglaf goes in and retrieves treasure for Beowulf who sees it and thanks God for it. [He got the treasure for his people, but wasn't he doing it to save them from the dragon?] Beowulf to be burned [cremated], wants a tower built and gives helmet and mail shirt and leadership to Wiglaf, last of his 'kin.'?? [Treasure again is present for the last of a race.]


Wiglaf left alone with Beowulf's corpse. [*Many different editorial 'versions' from the authors' of this story already-who kills the dragon- who needs whom- why it was done, etc.] Beowulf's men who fled come out; Wiglaf brands them as cowards and shame will come to them and all their kin.


Messenger sent to the Geats with the news, Beowulf's dead; Wiglaf is with him. He recounts the peoples that will war with the now leaderless Geats: the Franks that Higlac began raiding and whom Beowulf held off. Also Swedes whom Hathcyn attacked [Ongentho] but got ambushed by. But Higlac showed up to attack the Swedes on the other side.


Ongentho wounds Wulf, is killed by Efor, Wulf's brother, with a battleaxe. Everyone is going to be after the Geats.' -End of list of enemies.- It is decided that all the 'treasure' should be burned with Beowulf. The Geats face a gloomy future. The men cast the dragon, 50 feet long, into the sea, Beowulf lying dead. Hoard has 'spell'; only a few can see it.


Lots of philosophy- 'Men destined to die' vs God's will. Wiglaf talks, takes seven nobles to see and get treasure to burn with Beowulf. (Beowulf worth more than treasure.) They roll the dragon off the cliff into the ocean.


Funeral pyre lit and Beowulf burned. OLD WOMAN predicts that the Geats will be overrun. She seems to know 'what goes round comes around' and 'they'll get theirs.' [Question: why is this old woman placed here in the book? Is this a woman's comment on all the men's actions and male dominated society that creates such continual misery with their warrior ways'?] They build the tower and twelve Geats ride around the tower praising Beowulf, best of kings.


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