Study Guide

Beowulf Teaching Guides

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What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with FUN, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life. You get:

  • Class activities with instructions
  • Discussion and essay questions
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter
  • And more!
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Here's a sample of what you can expect!

Objective: In this activity, your students will have the opportunity to briefly study the original language of Beowulf. They'll research descriptive words and phrases in the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary online and attempt to express each Anglo-Saxon phrase in modern English. They'll also learn to identify kennings (worth going over a second—or third—time even if you've already talked about them) and to understand them as a type of metaphor that was typical in Old English texts. Finally, they'll create their own modern kennings for people, places, or things that are important to them.

Length of class: 1-2 class periods

Materials needed:

- Computers with Internet access

- Copies of Shmoop's "Are You Sure This is English?" handout for your students, and a copy of the Answer Key for you

Step 1:

Begin by reading through Shmoop's discussion of Beowulf's genre with your students. The main points we want them to take away from this part are:

- Beowulf is an epic poem, like The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Aeneid.

- Beowulf, like many other epic poems, was likely performed aloud (by a scop, which they'll know if you already did our "Shop Till You Drop" activity).

- Two of the primary literary devices used in Anglo-Saxon poetry are alliteration and caesura.

Once you're sure they've got that info, you can add to their knowledge of Anglo Saxon poetry by sharing this excerpt from the British Library's Beowulf page:

- Beowulf is much admired for the richness of its poetry—for the beautiful sounds of the words and the imaginative quality of the description. About a third of the words in Beowulf are words known as kennings. Kennings are words that are in themselves metaphorical descriptions, and were a typical feature of AS poetry. Kennings combine two words to create an evocative and imaginative alternative word. By linking words in this way, the poets were able to experiment with the rhythm, sounds and imagery of the poetry. Beowulf contains over a thousand kennings.

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In this activity, you'll have the opportunity to briefly study the original language of Beowulf. (That would be Old English, which is nothing like modern English. It's hard to believe it's even the same language at times.)

You'll translate a few Old English phrases into Modern English attempt to name the person or thing described in the Anglo-Saxon phrase. You'll also learn, once and for all, to identify kennings and to discuss them as a particular type of metaphor typical to Old English texts. In short, it'll be totally bitchin'. (What do you mean no one says that anymore?)

Step 1:

Begin by reading through Shmoop's discussion of Beowulf's genre with your classmates. There are a few main points we want you to take away from this reading. If you can answer the questions below, you got them:

1. What is Beowulf's genre? Hint: It's the same as the genre for The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and The Iliad.

2. How, historically, did people typically learn the story of Beowulf? Did they read it? Did they watch it on television? Or did they hear it performed orally by, oh, someone like a scop? (If you don't know what a scop is, you may want to check out our "Shop Till You Drop" activity.

3. Name two of the primary literary devices used in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Hint: they rhyme with "consideration" and "manure-a." Sort of.

Once you've got that info, you can add to your knowledge of Anglo Saxon poetry by reading this excerpt from the British Library's Beowulf page:

"Beowulf is much admired for the richness of its poetry—for the beautiful sounds of the words and the imaginative quality of the description. About a third of the words in Beowulf are words known as kennings. Kennings are words that are in themselves metaphorical descriptions, and were a typical feature of AS poetry. Kennings combine two words to create an evocative and imaginative alternative word. By linking words in this way, the poets were able to experiment with the rhythm, sounds and imagery of the poetry. Beowulf contains over a thousand kennings."

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