Battle of the Gods: Introduction to Mythology Lesson

9 Feb

Deus-RaFor the past few weeks, my grade 6 students and I have been sailing the Nile in a felucca, learning about powerful Egyptian pharaohs by exploring monuments of the ancient world. I cannot take credit for these excellent lessons, though. They come from the History Alive! curriculum we have adopted this year, and I am over-the-moon impressed with these engaging resources.

I teach the same students in humanities and English, so I wanted to develop lessons on Egyptian mythology that connected to our humanities work. I came up with a simple idea that worked out beautifully.

The students spent a portion of two class periods researching a couple Egyptian gods, filled out a “playing card” for each god to synthesize their learning, and then mercilessly tried to destroy their classmates with their newfound knowledge, reducing their peers to whimpering sycophants in awe of an obviously superior, juicy brain.

O.K. I may be getting a tad melodramatic there.

But, the lesson proved to be very entertaining and effective, while putting the majority of the heavy mental lifting on the students. Also, I can easily adapt this lesson for Greek and Roman mythology, which we will begin in another week or so.

The procedure:

  1. Each student received one Egyptian god at random and one blank gods sheet.

  2. Using Shmoop Snoops the Gods, students had two class periods to research their gods and fill out the sheets. They spent approximately 30 minutes in each class period on this step, and they could finish their research as homework.

  3. Students brought their completed gods sheets to class, and I quickly checked for completion.

  4. I then divided the room into teams of four.

  5. Students chose a team name and quickly shared their gods with one another. (I always award one point for the most creative name…as judged by me.)

  6. I then laid out some ground rules for the battle:

    1. When I say the words, “Let the battle begin…” your team must be absolutely silent. Any talking while I am speaking or another team is speaking will result in a one point penalty. (I  pounce on the first student who speaks. You should, too. It’s good for them…and they can always redeem themselves later in the game.)

    2. Next, I will give you a scenario. Then, with your teammates, you will have to decide to make an offering to a specific god. You should listen carefully to my exact words. Your team will have a real advantage if you do. For instance, I might give you this scenario: “Your DAUGHTER is sick, and she is not getting better.” You can then play an Isis card and explain, “We will make an offering to Isis because she is the goddess of healing AND the feminine. Since it is my daughter that is sick, Isis makes the most sense because she will be very capable of healing, and she will be more likely to help a girl.” Noticing the detail about a daughter being sick, in this case, gives you a chance to make a better argument and show off more of your knowledge about the gods.

    3. Each team will present their choice of gods. Only one member of the team may speak at this point. Note: this speaker must rotate each round so after four rounds, every team member has presented their team’s case at least once.

    4. Your team must give me the god sheet after you have offered your explanation, so you can only play your god once. Note: if your team has duplicates (e.g. two students have cards with Isis), then you can play Isis twice during the game.

    5. After the initial plays, each team will get ONE MORE CHANCE to add anything to their explanation or argue against another team’s decision. Any member of the team may speak at this point…but it must be only ONE PERSON who speaks.

    6. Listen carefully to the other team’s explanations. I really like it when students RESPECTFULLY disagree with each other and RESPECTFULLY argue with another team’s decision.

    7. At the end of each round, I will determine the team who made the best case, awarding that team one point.

    8. DON’T forget the rule about speaking out of turn. If you do, your team loses one point…the same number your team will earn if you win the round…so listening is just as important (and maybe even a bit more important) than speaking.

  7. I then asked a student for a random number between one and twenty-five. The chosen number became the first scenario. I kept track of each scenario as I went as to not repeat them.

  8. I randomly selected the first team to speak in each round, as the last team to play their god has an advantage over the others.

  9. I sat back and watched the magic happen.

You won’t be surprised to read that my students loved playing this game. They were incredibly focused, and they demonstrated a wide and varied knowledge of Egyptian gods. I kept my laptop open to research their answers when necessary. They certainly taught me many things, as I actually know very little about Egyptian mythology. This method was much more effective than simply asking to read or watch videos about the pantheon of gods. They were “picking up the information” they researched and immediately using it to summarize, organize, and evaluate, so much more critical thinking occurred.

Equally important, they started listening very carefully to others, both the members of their team and the opposition. After determining the winners in each round, I would give brief explanations as to why I made the decision: this team gave three separate facts about their goddess…this team obviously listened very carefully to the scenario…this team responded very well to the counter-arguments others threw at them. As the game progressed, the teams’ explanations became more focused and creative. Teams stopped playing the same gods and started looking for a competitive edge by making more original choices.

Also, the game is not fair. I certainly showed bias in the types of answers I awarded. When students would cry out, “THAT’S NOT FAIR!!!!” I would pleasantly respond, “Of course not. In almost every story about the gods, life isn’t fair. Gods–and this teacher–can be incredibly unpredictable. That’s the point…of this game and mythology.”

We will most definitely play this game again; the students have already begged me to repeat it…and how often does that happen at the end of a lesson? Of course, this approach can easily be adjusted to any culture. In a few weeks we will study Greek and Roman mythology, and I plan on pitting these capricious, compassionate, arrogant, clever, powerful, and passionate grade 6 students against each other again…and I’m sure they will love the drama that results, learning important lessons along the way. Funny how that formula still works, even after all this time.

 

Shmoop Snoops the Gods link

Egyptian Gods Sheets .pdf

Egyptian Gods Scenarios

4 Responses to “Battle of the Gods: Introduction to Mythology Lesson”

  1. Laraine February 9, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

    I loved this idea and can imagine it worked well. What I’m puzzled by is your using that Schmoop Whoop site, or whatever it’s called as the students’ resource for information about the gods. Some of the descriptions of the gods are so vague, I can’t imagine what the students wrote on their God descriptions, for instance, the main information for Hera, who is actually the goddess of marriage, was that she was married to a cheating sleaze, who made her very jealous and vengeful.

    Using that site, I can’t imagine that students found out much about the gods they are studying. Did you choose this site because you wanted to start off with a resource that was not intimidating? Your idea is so good and that site, in my opinion, is so god-awful (sorry, I couldn’t resist), I can’t figure out why you teamed up your clever idea and their rather empty descriptions, although that being said the descriptions vary in their goodness and badness. I thought the one on Ulysses was not bad.

    • rbneal February 10, 2014 at 2:59 am #

      Ouch! That response, by the way, is to the “god-awful” pun…not the critique. :) I’m really happy you responded.

      I chose the Shmoop site for a few reasons. First, I liked the tone of the pages. Some descriptions are a bit outrageous, but I thought the modernization of the mythology would help students relate to the stories more quickly. Second, I wanted the students to infer certain information. For instance, on the gods sheets the students have to list “powers” of the god or goddess, but those powers aren’t always directly listed on the Shmoop site. Instead, students have to read various pages and make educated guesses as to what the god’s power might be based on some of the stories, jobs, and descriptions they find. Finally, these pages were at the right reading level for my students. The other sites I found were written for more advanced readers.

      Of course, I am very open to suggestions. If you recommend other sites as resources, please list them in the comments. I would love to learn of other sites you might use, especially for Egyptian mythology. I found many more choices for Greek and Roman mythology…but Shmoop seemed the best one for the Egyptian pantheon.

  2. Laraine February 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    I will make it a point to look at some of the mythology sites I’ve used in the past. They may or may not be too high level, but having criticized Schmoop, I do feel duty bound to at least try to come up with one or two good substitutes.

    And in point of fact, I didn’t even look at Schmoop’s Egyptian pantheon. I focused on the Greek and Roman god descriptions, which in general I thought skimpy, and, truth be told, I’m not big on the updating of the language, which in some instances, but not all, I found deeply annoying. More to follow on mythology sites.

    Thank you again for a great idea though, despite my carping about Schmoop.

  3. Shea Allen February 13, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    This looks like a fantastic lesson plan, Robin! I appreciate you sharing it on your blog. I would like to try it with my students as we will be starting our unit on Egyptians soon. My students are looking forward to having your students comment on their blogs. They will be working on a Museum Box project to present their research on Mesopotamian inventions and artifacts. Hopefully, their posts for this will happen in the next two weeks. We will keep you posted.

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