A Modern Spin on Ancient Greece Using Percy Jackson
Rick Riordan's books provide a wonderful platform for the study of mythology.
By Erin Bailey
One of the best ways you can motivate your child is by trying to capitalize on his or her current interests. A child digs dinosaurs this month, weave it into a study on the ways that animals adapt to survive. Another child just learned to jump rope, it’s the perfect chance to write new jump rope rhymes or tie in some lessons about cardiovascular fitness. One of the hot topics in my house lately has been Greek mythology - thanks to the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan.
My son has been devouring this fast-paced series and can’t wait to get his hands on the latest installment. Obviously, I’m thrilled when he begs me to read “just a few more pages.” What parent doesn’t want their child to read more? I found that you can strike a balance between what your child enjoys and needs to learn. With this in mind I devised some history, literature, and writing lessons that are completed with virtually no grumbling since Percy and his friends are the main attraction. Here are some ways to tie popular literature into classroom curriculum.
Percy Jackson and Greek Mythology
Each Percy Jackson book introduces major and minor Greek Gods, as well as a full complement of mythological monsters. My son keeps a notebook in which he records the gods’ attributes, known relatives, and a drawing rendered from the descriptions in the books. He also finds story passages which underscore each god’s personality. We learned after finishing The Sea of Monsters, to leave plenty of pages between entries for new information gleaned about gods in later books.
Because Mr. Riordan has now incorporated the Roman versions of the Greek gods, we’ve studied how a dominant society might adopt pieces of a conquered civilization into their art, system of government, and folklore. Eventually, we will be able to talk about how early Christians adapted well-established deities into their belief system.
Making the Connection to Real-Life Experiences
Connecting the gods to everyday life can reinforce key concepts. When I forgot to mail my brother’s birthday card, I asked which god might be able to carry it faster – we decided it would be Hermes. During our terrible drought this summer, my son wrote a letter to Zeus asking for rain. I even heard him muttering to Hephaestus when his Lego city was wrecked!
To broaden your child's reading, you could have him read Greek myths. There are many simplified versions that are perfect for elementary age children. After reading the stories, you can compare the characters presented in the original stories to Mr. Riordan’s version. Then you can identify the qualities of protagonists and antagonists and the delineation between beginning, middle, and end. This can lead to exercises in storytelling and writing. My son has used the original myths to develop new quests for heroes like Jason and Hercules.
Writing Book Reviews
Writing book reviews is a great way to practice supporting an opinion with facts. Several websites post book reviews by young writers which offers students the chance to see their words in print. It also allows young readers to see the difference between a helpful review versus one filled with exclamations that reveal nothing about the book. Students will see that their writing has a purpose and they need to make an effort to do a good job.
Creating a Comic Strip About the Greek Gods
Finally, you can have your child make a comic strip about what they had learned. My son loved retelling one of the myths in comic strip form. Using Comic Strip Creator, kids can create their own comics online. Because of the limited space available, children are forced to condense the main ideas into just a few words. Sometimes it’s good to be brief!
Now that Mr. Riordan has introduced the Kane Chronicles in his latest books (which delve into Egyptian mythology), we may stay in the ancient world for a very long time. Here are some fine lessons on ancient cultures.
Ancient Culture Lesson Plans:
This lesson from the BBC has upper-elementary students analyze book reviews for quality, then has them write reviews using persuasive language.
This lesson for elementary students focuses on how to use artifacts to discover what ancient life was like. First, students view wall paintings from ancient Egypt, then they create their own.
Middle school students investigate the differences in land use between the ancient Greeks and Romans. They also explore the aspects of Greek culture that the Romans adopted.
Middle school students read the myth “Pandora’s Box," then discuss modern day symbols of hope and evil. They decorate their own cardboard Pandora’s box.