Building Book Love’s real-world writing assignment is a winner!
This semester, I’m all about making Beowulf relevant for my high school seniors. I’ve done a couple of things to accomplish that:
- I’ve assigned readings of contemporary articles to show them how Beowulf is in the minds of professional writers and bloggers.
- I’ve extended the Beowulf unit to one on the Hero’s Journey.
In my research to find ways to infuse Beowulf with relevance, I came upon this awesome essay activity on Ashley Bible’s Building Book Love website.
It’s an assignment called “Life Lessons of Beowulf.”
Check it out here on Bible’s website. She conveniently includes links to four articles that directly cite Beowulf in modern day life. These articles are from publications such as Forbes and websites such as The Art of Manliness.
These real-world articles apply events from Beowulf to create lessons — words of wisdom, if you will — regarding leadership and content marketing, among other business-related topics.
Bible cites Kelly Gallagher’s ideas from his book Write Like This, where he advises that teachers actively seek out articles “in the wild” for students to emulate.
So in that spirit, I asked my high school seniors to write an article (or personal narrative essay… whichever you prefer) that explains the top five lessons they learned from Beowulf that they can directly apply to a personal passion, interest, or a current or future job.
Students were to write an introduction and a conclusion, and between those would be five sections, each a separate life lesson. They were to put the lesson in boldface followed by an explanation with examples under it. They would also need to cite Beowulf (with a direct quote) at least twice with in-text citations.
This was an effective assignment!
Students made real-life connections between contemporary life and ancient Anglo-Saxon literature. They created interesting essays that have encouraged me to keep it in the mix for next year.
Of course, not all students were so successful.
Some chose to skip the direct quotes, and some did even less.
And true, I created and assigned this project while I was home early in my bout with Covid-19 and wasn’t able to preface it or demo it in class. We weren’t able to do any close-readings of the articles, annotate them for structure, or really pick them apart. Of course, all students had access to the articles, and some chose to close-read them on their own, but many didn’t. It wasn’t the best situation.
Maybe next year, right?
Despite all that, I still rate this as an awesome assignment. Whenever I can pull in relevant real-world mentor texts to pair with Beowulf — or any literary text — we all win!
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