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ELA 10: World Literature—Semester A

Or, why bad things happen to good people.

Shmoop's ELA 10 course has been granted a-g certification, which means it has met the rigorous iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses and will now be honored as part of the requirements for admission into the University of California system.

Why would a culture imagine that the world exists on the back of a Turtle? Why do we create stories about larger-than-life heroes who grapple with their own mortality? Why do we like watching dramas about guys killing their fathers and marrying their mothers? What's the use of stories, anyway? 

Those are some of the big questions we'll answer in this 10th Grade World Literature course aligned to Common Core Standards. On Shmoop's whirlwind tour of some of the literary biggies of the pre-modern world, we'll

  • investigate myths and creation stories from around the world, investigating what we can learn about a culture based on its myths.
  • use Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to think about narratives and how to write an awesome story.
  • fight alongside the heroes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and The Epic of Gilgamesh and investigate their themes.
  • learn why it's supposedly a good thing to bawl our eyes out at a tragedy about a Theban king. 
  • get angsty with Hamlet and learn about the features of Shakespearean tragedy.
  • think about big ideas like war, heroism, mortality, and power. 

For the teachers out there, this semester focuses on the basics of literary analysis, using textual evidence to explicate literary and informational texts, putting together short argument essays, and writing short narratives.

And that's all in the first half. ELA 10: World Literature—Semester A is a two semester course. This is Semester A but you can find Semester B here.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Myth, Heroes, and Social Power

This unit is all about myth. We're talking myths about creation, the apocalypse, and heroes and their exploits from Greece, Rome, Japan, North America, and Europe. At the same time, we'll ask ourselves why these stories were so important to their cultures and what we can learn about a culture and its values by reading its stories. The unit wraps up by using Campbell's Hero's Journey to investigate narrative patterns and introduce us to the basics of creating writing.

Unit 2. Ye Olde Blockbusters of Ancient Epic

Ever wondered how to win kudos in 2000 BCE? In this unit, we'll read (sections of) the blockbusters of the ancient world, i.e. epics: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and the Iliad. We'll focus on the biggies of literary analysis: characterization, theme, and figurative language and continue to master our narrative writing technique.

Unit 3. Grecian Mama's Boy

This unit explores the beginnings of drama with Sophocles' Oedipus the King. If you think you know tragedy, just wait until you meet the guy who outwitted a sphinx, killed his father, and married his mother. Oh yeah, there was that whole self-blinding business, too. As we hone our literary analysis skills through close-reading of literary and informational texts, we'll also learn how to put together an organized literary argument paper.

Unit 4. Hamlet, Power, and Corruption

Who would win in a battle, Sophocles or Shakespeare? You'll debate the merits of their respective tragedies by reading through Hamlet. (Sophocles has got some hardcore characters, but Billy's got the angst down.) We'll learn the ins and outs of Shakespearean style, read some outside texts to give us a different perspective on Hamlet, and wrap things up by comparing and contrasting Shakespearean and Sophoclean (a.k.a. Aristotelian) tragedy.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 1: We Love a Good Story

We at Shmoop love a good story. Have you heard this one?

Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world
Took the midnight train going anywhere
Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit
Took the midnight train going anywhere

A singer in a smoky room, a smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night

It goes on and on and on and on…

Okay, we may have borrowed that one from Journey. How about this one?

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;…

And what's the difference between "The Night Before Christmas" and the Thanksgiving story told to kindergartners when they're making hand turkeys?

Despite the three different mediums (or media, if you want to be accurate about it) here— song, poetry, and folk story—these three examples are narratives that tell stories. What's more, they're stories that have worked their way deep into American culture. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean we care about Journey's Small Town Girl and her escapades, but that doesn't stop her story from being blasted over the airwaves.

A drawing of an African warrior with a tall spear, grass skirt and should wrap, a gigantic shield, and a very tall feathered headdress.
'Does this headdress clash with my 'battle-axe-wielding-bird' image?'

People have always loved to tell stories. Seriously, we heart stories.

Stories are entertaining, they teach us important cultural information (like how our country was born out of a fruitful relationship between immigrants and Native Americans as exemplified by Thanksgiving… Oh wait…), they teach us moral values (sharing is good, kids), and they show us appropriate, culturally-sanctioned emotions, like that warm, fuzzy feeling many people get around the Christmas holidays, or how we should feel pride and glory at ruthlessly vanquishing our enemies. Check out this song about a Zulu king:

He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown...

Is this guy Shaka some weird shape-shifting bird, axe figure? Nope. He's just a freakin' awesome fighter whose ability to kill other dudes earns him a story which makes him look like a mythic hero.

As you may have just figured out, one kind of story which is particularly important to a culture is called a myth. There's a lot more going on in mythology than just the sheer entertainment value of the stories (although, boy, have they got that covered).

The cool thing is that instead of looking at these myths simply as relics of the past—a fun read, but totally irrelevant to our lives—we'll find that myths have a social purpose. We'll ask what these stories were doing for their cultures.

  • Credit Recovery Enabled
  • Course Length: 18 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 10
  • Course Type: Basic
  • Category:
    • English
    • Literature
    • High School

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