12th Grade ELA : Unit #3 - The ILIAD : Lesson #1

ILIAD Background Continued & ILIAD Book 18

Objective: SWBAT demonstrate applied comprehension through collaborative writing, discussion, and reader response.
Standards: RL.11-12.1 RL.11-12.2 RL.11-12.3 RL.11-12.4 RL.11-12.7 W.11-12.4 W.11-12.10 SL.11-12.1 SL.11-12.6 L.11-12.1 L.11-12.2 L.11-12.5
Subject(s): English / Language Arts Differentiation
60 minutes
1 Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers - 0 minutes

My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions.  The lesson below outlines background review on the Iliad and independent reading on Book 18.  This lesson originally appears in a unit on Beowulf and the Iliad on CC.BetterLesson.

2 Warm-Up: Revisit Background and Collaborative Summary - 42 minutes

My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions every other day.  Last class, I presented background on the Iliad, including the three-part "History of the Trojan War" presentation and "Achilles in Minutes" from YouTube.  Since our literature anthology Language of Literature (McDougal Litell, 2003) limits student exploration of the Iliad to excerpts of three books, Book 18 The Immortal Shield, Book 22 Desolation Before Troy, and Book 24 A Grace Given in Sorrow, students need context for what they are going to read. I choose to provide an explanation of events in the Trojan War so that students understand the literary context for the excerpts. 

Due to time constraints last class, students were not able to write a written summary of the Iliad background to show understanding.  Since my class has not met for four days, students ask me to recap the background clips so that they may fill in information gaps in their notes (Student Work: Notes on Trojan War) and review the content one more time before writing a summary.  

I show the background presentations again, stopping after each part of the "History of the Trojan War" and allowing students to compare notes with a partner while adding essential information to their notes. We watch "Achilles in Minutes" again.  This provides the opportunity for students to discuss what they learn and come to consensus about information vital to answer the summary prompt (Warm-Up: ILIAD Background Summary). Then students work in pairs to create summaries (Student Work: ILIAD Background Summary) of the background for the Iliad. 

Students address some events below during their discussions prior to writing the summaries:

  • The Judgement of Paris: Paris sets things in motion by choosing Aphrodite as the fairest goddess, thereby being awarded Helen of Sparta, King Menelaus' wife.  Aphrodite convinces Helen to fall in love with Paris at first sight.
  • Helen travels to Troy with Paris, and Menelaus launches war against the Trojans.
  • Achilles, the Greeks' greatest warrior and demi-god as son of the goddess Thetis, refuses to fight the Trojans because Agamemnon takes his slave Briseis.
  • Achilles' cousin and friend Patroclus fights in his stead and dressed in his armor, being killed by Hector since he mistakes Patroclus for Achilles.
  • Achilles anger over Patroclus' death fuels his rage and desire to kill Hector.  He wants to avenge Patroclus and kills Hector.
  • Achilles kills Hector and dishonors his body.
  • Priam, Hector's father, appeals to Achilles for his son's body back.


While I think the summary activity is effective for students to show understanding of the background, letting students complete the activity in pairs provides opportunities for discussion and clarification about the content.  Since the background includes the basic events of the excerpts students will read, I feel better about solely exposing them to excerpts in the curriculum prescribed by the school district.  While students are not reading the complete literary work, they have context for excerpts and will still be reading and analyzing complex text, which is aligned to the Common Core State Standards' focus on text complexity. 

3 ILIAD Setup: Review and Paraphrase of Book 18 - 20 minutes

I decide to continue framing our study of the Iliad with the hero's journey so that students focus upon Achilles as an epic hero, not the fact they are not reading the entire Iliad.

We review the characteristics of the epic and hero (PowerPoint: The Epic), and I ask students to read the excerpts with their learning about the hero's journey, archetypes, and the epic in mind, including their recent study of Beowulf. I appeal to students to examine the excerpts they will read from the Iliad as the portrayal of an epic hero, of a person overcome by circumstances, or a combination of both, focusing on heroes as people with emotions, challenges, and flaws.  We discuss heroes from previous literary works or films students have experienced in this same way:

  • We discuss how Anakin Skywalker's anger transforms him. (Star Wars)
  • We discuss Spider-Man's anger regarding unfortunate events in his life, including his uncle's death and how he reacts to them. (Spider-Man)
  • We discuss Antigone's determination to follow the gods' laws and bury her brother against her uncle's wishes. (Antigone)
  • We discuss how Julius Caesar is too trusting of those around him, the conspirators, who murder him. (Julius Caesar)


From the background on Achilles, students identify him as someone controlled by anger, not thinking about his actions.  I ask them to keep an open mind as they read.

Next, I bridge to the new Big Idea for this lesson since students have background on Achilles' anger and how it affects his life in the Iliad.  I ask students to consider that the quote from Gautama Buddha applies to Achilles and his hero's journey: “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger."

Since students are only reading an excerpt of Book 18 in our literature anthology, I read a paraphrase of Book 18 in its entirety from The Iliad and the Odyssey: The Story of the Trojan War and the Adventures of Odysseus (Dorset Press, 1991) (Picture Book: Paraphrase of the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY). This text comes with pictures of scenes in the plot so that students may visualize events that occur.  I place the book on the Elmo document camera so that everyone can see the text and the pictures; before I read, I ask students to explain the pictures as a way of prereading and activating their prior knowledge from the background presentations and discussion.  

I begin reading and think I lose their attention. My class is usually more interactive. I am too afraid to simply allow the students to read the excerpt out of the literature book.

While my reading of the picture book provides additional context, I should have had more confidence in students' abilities to read the excerpt, and simply allowed them to tackle the text on their own. Later in the day when I teach this lesson to subsequent classes, I merely provide copies of the picture book as resources if students wanted to read the entire paraphrased story of Book 18; some students use the picture book; and some students choose to only read the excerpt from the literature book. I recognize their independence as readers and thinkers.  



4 Independent Reading: Book 18 - 38 minutes

Since students have the context of the Iliad and need time to process the complex language of the excerpts, they will be reading the excerpts from the Iliad independently in this lesson and the next lesson.

Instead of assigning the reading for homework, I do the following:

  • allow them time to work in class and state beforehand that they may use the opportunity to ask me or a peer for help with difficult sections of the text, which, owing to my guided instruction on reading strategies for students, becomes a think-aloud by me or the other student or a rereading and interpreting of the text as a pair to assist the student in need
  • point out that they may access the paraphrase of the text, my Iliad picture book, which provides  the text in its entirety as opposed to the excerpt the students have in their literature books.


Moreover, my students are Honors students, who are also taking Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses while engaging in various extra-curricular activities as seniors.  Over the years, I have found my students at this level tend not to complete homework unless I give them some time to begin it in class. 

To understand Achilles' journey as a hero, students need to read independently about his transformation over the three excerpts and reflect upon his actions. However, we will debrief in small-groups and then as a class to sort through interpretations and to clarify questions.

Students begin working on an independent reading assignment for Book 18 (Assignment: ILIAD Book 18)

Since our class meets every other day, I ask students to finish the assignment for homework (Student Work: ILIAD Book 18) if necessary.  We will continue independent reading of the excerpts next class, and doing so in class, they will be able to debrief about any questions and observations with a partner or with me prior to continuing their independent, in-class reading.


Reflection on Instructional Strategies
Student Ownership

I like to provide students with support for navigating complex texts while, at the same time, teaching them to become independent readers and thinkers. This year, I have engaged in the process below:

-modeling my reading process, discussing what I face when reading a text for the first time or after multiple readings and then reading along with students, engaging in a think-aloud that shows my questions and interpretations about the text as they evolve; at times I ask them to help me make sense of what I am reading through sharing their thought processes when interpreting a text

-providing guided practice opportunities in small-groups with their peers

-engaging students in independent practice by allowing them to read, reflect upon, and respond to the text in written reader responses, and also creating questions and/or observations about the text, including where the text leaves matters uncertain, which inform their discussions in the peer-to-peer, small-group, and all-class settings.

However, as my students become more independent, I allow them to read and reflect on their own first, offering assistance when needed during small-group and all class debriefings if, and only if, a peer does not.  At this point, my students are answering one another's questions, offering assistance to one each other through guided practice, and attempting to make sense of the text independently first before asking for help from me or a peer!

Working on the CC.BetterLesson portal to narrate and reflect upon my units and lesson plans engaged me in metacognition, where I pinpointed this process, which I realize I have been using throughout my career, but have refined as a result of aligning my instruction to the Common Core State Standards.  

As a result of my professional growth through using CC.BetterLesson, my students are becoming more proficient and enthusiastic readers and thinkers, who have a desire to discuss their claims about the text and to confirm those interpretations with textual evidence.