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The Odyssey



The Odyssey 

Focus Questions:

What is loyalty and what does it mean to me? What are the central conflicts for the character of Penelope in Homer’s The Odyssey? What character traits motivate Penelope’s choices and the choices of those around her at the beginning of the story? 


§110.22. English Language Arts and Reading,

  1. (8)  Reading/variety of texts. (A) read classic and contemporary works (2-8);
  2. (10)  Reading/comprehension. The student comprehends selections using a variety of strategies. (A)  use his/her own knowledge and experience to comprehend (4-8);
  3. (12)  Reading/text structures/literary concepts. (F)  analyze characters, including their traits, motivations, conflicts, points of view, relationships, and changes they undergo (4-8);


What does the word loyalty mean to you? If two people were in a committed relationship and agreed to remain loyal to each other what might that mean? Talk about various definitions of loyalty; scribe answers on the board. Invite students to join you in an open area of the classroom to think more personally about some of these questions. 

Exploding atom:  Bring all the students together in a tight circle. Explain that you have some questions that you would like each student to answer for themselves; there is no right or wrong answer to these questions. When we stand in this position, very close together we are showing that we agree with a question. So if our answer is “yes” to the question being asked we stand right here. Next have students “explode” out so the circle is very wide. When we stand in these positions we are showing that we DON’T agree with a statement that is being given, this is our “no” position. If this is “no” and clumped together is “yes,” where do you think “maybe” or “sometimes” might be?” Once students understand the activity fully ask the following questions:

  1. I know what it’s like to be away from someone I care about.
  2. It’s hard to be away from someone you care about for an extended period of time.
  3. If I had to be away from the person I cared most about for a month, (this could be a boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend) without any contact (no email, no phone calls, no letters) I would remain loyal to them.
  4. If I had to be away from the person I care about most for 1 year, I would remain loyal to them.
  5. If I had to be away from the person I care about most for 5 years, I would remain loyal to them.
  6. If I had to be away from the person I care about most for 10 years, I would remain loyal to them.

Invite students to return to their seats for the processing of the activity.

Processing activity:

  • What did you notice about yourself during this activity?
  • What did you notice about the group during this activity?
  • By then end of this activity most of were standing much more in the “no” area, why do you think someone wouldn’t remain loyal to someone else for ten years?
  • The story we are going to explore today is about a King and Queen who were separated for TWENTY years and the way their loyalty was tested.


The next book we are going to be reading in class is the epic poem The Odyssey, by Homer, which was written over 2,500 years ago. The Odyssey is the sequel to The Iliad which we read last semester. If you remember from The Iliad the story takes place in ancient Greece. Odysseus—King of Ithaca and many other men had left to fight in the Trojan War. Odysseus helped lead the charge in the Trojan horse that brings about the fall of Troy. When Odysseus leaves to fight the war he leaves his wife Penelope and his children at home. The Odyssey tells two stories: it is the story of Odysseus’s journey home to his wife, Penelope in Ithaca; and it is the story of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife and queen, who has been waiting 20 years for her husband to return. For our work together today we are going to think about both of these stories, what might have happened to Odysseus to keep him away from twenty years and what happened to his wife, Penelope who was left waiting for him at home.

Transition: Let’s start by imagining what might be happening with Penelope over the long time she is waiting. 


Activity 2: Role on the Wall- What’s happening with Penelope?

Draw a very simple outline of body on the board, label it Penelope. What do you think the people around Penelope might have been saying to her as she loyally waited for her husband?  Brainstorm phrases that might have been said to Penelope, write these around the outside of P.’s body. Who might be saying these things? After each phrase, brainstorm who might have said it to her and write those names beside the phrases. How does hearing these things make Penelope feel? Write down P.’s feelings inside the outline of her body. Connect certain statements to certain feelings and people. What are some of Penelope’s character traits? (e.g., the factors about who she is that motivates her decisions)

Transition: It sounds like there were certainly people around Penelope who were having an effect on her. (Note this response may change depending on what students say!) Some said positive things and some of these were negative things. Let’s explore these situations a little bit further.


Split class into groups of two by counting around the circle. Ask each pair to sit together. Each pair needs to make a decision. One person will play Penelope and the other will play a character who is invested in Penelope waiting or not waiting for her husband to return. Refer to Role on the Wall notes. (this can also be assigned…students choose to be an apple or orange. Apples play Penelope. Oranges play someone who is invested in Penelope’s decisions). Once groups are cast they are given the task. In just a moment, you will engage in a brief improvisation. Will all the Penelope’s raise their hands? Terrific. I remind you that we can play across race/ethnicity and gender in our improvisation. Before you begin, please agree on who the secondary character will be. If there is a name (real or made up) for the other character please decide on this as well. Once this is done,

Penelope will find a place in our room to sit and work at her loom. Penelope, you are weaving a tapestry. Second character you enter and offer the first line to start the scene. Any questions? I encourage you to use the dialogue we created on the board to get you started.  Students move to places and begin. The improvisation is facilitated through parallel play with all the scenes unfolding at the same time. The facilitator freezes the action and “spotlights” certain groups’ conversation then asks all the groups to resume their conversation. The facilitator wraps up this activity by naming some of the motivations of various characters by asking each character to complete the phrase: ‘I feel….”

Transition: It sounds like Penelope was under a lot of pressure to change her mind during the time her husband was away. Let’s take a moment and find out a little bit more about how all this pressure felt for Penelope.

Activity 3: Hot seating Penelope and Suitor/Servant/TALK SHOW

Ask all of the Penelopes to come to the front of the room to answer some questions about what has been happening with them. I hear that a lot of people have come to see you. Who has come to see you and what did they have to say? How have the visitors affected your choice to wait for your husband? Take a few questions from the audience for the character of Penelope. Scribe some of the key information we learned about the character on the board.

Ask all of the Suitor/Servants/Family to come to front of the room. Invite each character to introduce who they are before they talk. Who are you and why did you decide to go talk to Penelope about her missing husband? How did the conversation go? Did you get what you wanted? Why or why not? Take questions from the audience if there is time and interest. Thank the characters and discuss/scribe some of key information we learned from the folks around/serving the Queen.

Transition: We will all step out of characters, now. Let’s return to our seats and reflect on all the exploration we did today. 


D: As we look at the information we generated about Penelope, what are the key character traits that drive Penelope’s decision to remain loyal to her husband? (If needed: these might be a word/phrase listed here or something that summarizes these ideas) As we look at the information we generated about the people around Penelope, what motivates the people around Penelope to tell her certain things?
A: Which character around Penelope do you predict might have the most influence on her choice to remain loyal to her husband? Why? What’s another answer to this question?
R: We started our class today thinking about our personal relationship to loyalty. Think now about who has influence on the decisions that you, as a sixth grader, today, make to remain loyal to someone. Who do you think affects a sixth grade students decisions to remain loyal? As you think about your own decisions to remain loyal to friend, to family, or even to yourself I invite you to consider what motivates your decisions? Who puts pressure on you to make a certain decision? And why they might be putting this pressure on you? The more clear you are about what you want, based on who you are, your character traits, the better you will be at making decisions about what to do in a situation.
Tonight we’ll begin by reading the first two chapters of the story. Read closely. Let’s see if any of our predictions about Penelope and whom we think SHE MIGHT BE and the people around her are true.

Extensions/Applications : 

Activity: Stage Pictures - Where in the World is Odysseus?

What happened to him?

  • Generate predictions as a group; make a large master list on the board. Encourage all ideas.
  • Break students into groups of three and have them pick one idea and ask them to explore that idea through the creation of three stage pictures that tell the beginning, middle, and end of the story. 

Activity: Journal Entry

Write a journal as if you are Penelope or one of the stakeholders based on some of the ideas that came up in the improvisation. 

Students will make predictions about some of the themes in the Odyssey and find connections to their own lives.