Teacher Lesson Plans:
FIND GREEK STORIES IN THE NIGHT SKY
DECORATE AN ANCIENT GREEK AMPHORA
Teacher Lesson Plan: MEET HERACLES
1. Observe images of the Greek hero Herakles and analyze what they are seeing;
2. Understand how Greek myths were used as part of religious rituals, teaching
lessons in schools, and entertainment;
3. Read stories about Herakles;
4. Divide into groups and illustrate different sections of the twelve short stories;
5. Bring the illustrations and stories together to create a large wall display
• Image of Herakles (use this image of an object from the Coming of Age
• Stories of Herakles' twelve tasks. A particularly accessible version of
The Many Tasks of Herakles can be found in the book Usborne Greek Myths for Young
Children, retold by Heather Amery and illustrated by Linda Edwards, 1999
• A large sheet of drawing paper for each student
• Drawing materials
1. Explain to students that they will be focusing today on Greek myths. Myths
are traditional stories about heroes or supernatural beings that often explain
things in nature or people's behavior, or they might teach a lesson. In ancient
Greece, myths were used as part of religious rituals like daily prayers, lessons
in school, or entertainment at a festival. Explain that today, they will be learning
about the Greek hero, Herakles, sometimes known as Hercules.
2. Read aloud the following short story about how Herakles saved the day with
his amazing strength when he was just a little baby.
The great god, Zeus, had a son called Herakles. The other gods and goddesses gave
the boy wonderful gifts, making him immensely strong and very brave but also kind
and gentle. Hera, Zeus's wife, hated her baby stepson. One day, she sent two deadly
snakes slithering into his cradle. Although he was only a few months old, Herakles
strangled them both and tossed them aside, laughing and gurgling. Hera then hated
him even more.
3. Show the image from the Coming of Age exhibition and explain that this art
object shows us Herakles. This bronze metal piece was probably once a decorative
attachment for a lamp. Promote careful looking and thinking using the following
" What details make this statue look like a baby?
" Can you find the snake? [Hint: It is coiled around part of his body.]
" Can you see part of a club? Where is it?
" If Herakles could talk, what do you think he would be saying to that snake?
" Does he look scared?
" What lesson could this object and this story have helped children learn?
[Note to teachers: Your students may ask why Herakles isn't wearing any clothes.
You can explain that there are many ancient Greek art objects that show people
not wearing clothes, and that historians think there are several reasons why-the
hot weather, the pride in an athletic body, and the belief that the human body
was an amazing and perfect creation.]
4. Herakles' bravery and strength were things that people could try to imitate.
However, ancient Greeks would have understood that they could never be as strong
or brave as Herakles because he was a hero who had a special relationship with
the gods. Ask the class:
Do you have any heroes that you admire, even knowing that you could never be
just like that hero?
5. Continue telling Herakles' story:
When Herakles grew up, he was taught to use a bow and arrow, to wrestle, and to
play the lute. He married Megara, the daughter of King Creon, and had many children.
He was soon famous for his brave deeds and great strength. But Hera was watching
him, furious that he was so happy and successful. One day, she made him go crazy
and, in a terrible rage, he killed all of his children. When he was sane again,
Herakles was horrified at what he'd done. He went to the temple of the gods and
begged to be told what he had to do to be forgiven. "Go to King Eurystheus
at Tiryns," said a priestess, "and work for him as a slave, doing whatever
tasks he gives you."
6. Tell students that all of his work for King Eurystheus became known as The
Many Tasks of Herakles. Divide the class into twelve groups and give each group
one of the twelve stories, or tasks. Ask each group to take a turn reading its
7. After each group has read its story, tell the group that they will be creating
illustrations to go with their stories. Each student will be drawing a picture
to illustrate their group's story, just as modern children's book illustrators
draw pictures to help tell a story.
8. Explain that students have two choices for how to draw their illustrations.
They can draw an illustration that could serve as the cover of a book-that is,
a general picture that helps tell the overall story. Or, they can choose to illustrate
an important moment in the story, which could serve as an illustration inside
9. After they have decided what they are going to illustrate, ask students
to check in with you and explain what they plan to draw, and at that time you
can hand out the drawing paper.
[Note to teachers: You may need to vary these instructions depending on the
size of your groups. Every student should create at least one illustration.]
10. After each group's members have finished their illustrations, place them
and the stories in a place where others can see them, perhaps in a book format
or as a wall display. If you wish, your students could read their stories aloud
to the class and share their drawings too. For more information about Herakles,
visit this website from Tufts University: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu.
Plan: FIND GREEK STORIES IN THE NIGHT SKY
For thousands of years, people have looked up to the stars to help them navigate
across oceans or deserts, to understand when to plant and harvest, and to help
preserve their myths. To make it easier to "read" the skies, they grouped
the brighter stars into recognizable shapes, called constellations. In this worksheet,
you will figure out how to find three shapes in the night sky: the Big Dipper,
Polaris, and Cassiopeia.
To see the stars well, it is important that you choose a viewing location away
from city lights and buildings that can block your view of the sky. You don't
need special instruments like telescopes to find these stars, but be aware that
some stars are brighter than others.
The Big Dipper is formed by seven stars-three form the dipper handle and four
form the bowl of the dipper. In the evening sky during the fall, it looks right
side up (in the spring-time, it looks upside down). Try to find this shape in
the night sky: <Insert drawing>The Big Dipper, which is part of a larger
constellation that the Greeks called Ursa Major, has many names. In Britain, it
is called the Plough. The ancient Mayans saw it as a parrot and called it Seven
Macaw. Before African American slaves were freed in America, it became a symbol
of freedom for runaway slaves, who followed the "drinking gourd" to
the northern states.
Once you have found the Big Dipper, find the two stars in it that are furthest
from the handle. Then, extend the line about five times further until you find
a fairly bright star called Polaris, the Pole Star. There are not any other bright
stars near it. Look for it like this:
The Pole Star, or North Star, stays in almost exactly the same place in the
sky, due north. If you face the Pole Star, you are facing north. To your right
is east, to your left is west, and right behind your back is south.
Cassiopeia is a constellation that is located exactly across from the Big Dipper.
The Pole Star should be between the two star groups. Cassiopeia is a group of
five bright stars that make a small "w" shape, and it is thought that
this constellation represents Queen Cassiopeia sitting in her chair. Try to find
this shape: <Insert drawing>The Story of Cassiopeia
According to ancient Greek myths, Cassiopeia was married to King Cepheus and
they had a daughter named Andromeda. Cassiopeia was very vain, and she bragged
that her daughter was more beautiful than the nereids, who were beautiful sea
creatures. Poseidon, god of the sea, got so mad when he heard this that he sent
a sea monster, in the shape of a big whale, to kill Andromeda. She was saved by
Perseus, a warrior who rescued her with the help of the winged horse Pegasus.To
learn more about finding constellations in the night sky,
check out these books and websites:
Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey
Astronomy Activity Book by Dennis Schatz
A Field Guide to Stars and Planets by Donald H. Menzel and Jay M. Pasachoff
Tips for Finding Stars and
Constellations by Ken Wilson, Science Museum of Virginia
Involved Doing Science Union College
Middle School Planetarium Coldwater, Michigan
Teacher Lesson Plan:
DECORATE AN ANCIENT GREEK AMPHORA
(back to top)
Below you will find a retelling of an ancient Greek myth about
a great hero named Perseus and a frightening monster named Medusa. Ancient Greeks
often decorated pottery with paintings that told stories about Greek gods and
heroes. Read The Ancient Greek Myth of Perseus and Medusa and then create your
own drawing on the amphora vase that is provided to help tell the storyd.
Blown by the wind, a huge wooden chest floated along on the sea and landed
gently on the island of Seriphos. A fisherman found it, lifted the lid, and was
astonished to see a woman and her baby son inside it.
They had been put there by the woman's father, King Acrisius, who had been
told his grandson would kill him. Because he couldn't bear to kill his daughter,
Danae, and his grandson, Perseus, he had them put in the chest and set it adrift
on the sea.
The fisherman took Danae and Perseus to Polydectes, the king of the island, who
was very kind and generous to them. Perseus grew up to be a clever and strong
young man, but he was unhappy because King Polydectes wanted to marry his mother,
and Perseus knew that, although Danae was grateful to the king, she refused every
time he asked her.
Polydectes decided that if Perseus was out of the way, Danae would change her
mind. He called Perseus to him and said in a friendly voice, "Perseus, you
have lived in my palace for long enough. It's time you proved what a brave and
strong young man you are. I want you to bring me the head of Medusa, the Gorgon."
Polydectes knew very well that many men had tried to kill Medusa, but failed.
She was a hideous monster with snakes instead of hair, and anyone who looked at
her was instantly turned to stone. He was sure that Perseus, too, would fail.
Perseus stared at Polydectes and didn't feel very brave. But he knew he couldn't
refuse the challenge. "I'll go at once," he said, "and I'll bring
you Medusa's head."
The gods were watching Perseus and decided to help him. When he started his journey
to Medusa, the goddess Athena appeared in front of him. "Take this shield,"
she ordered, and she told him how to use it. The god Hermes gave him winged sandals
so he could travel quickly, a helmet that made him invisible, a sickle (a tool
with a curved blade), and a special bag.
With these gifts, Perseus flew far over the sea to the northern mountains where
Medusa lived. At last, he landed on a rocky plain and followed a path to a cave.
On each side were the statues of brave men who had looked at Medusa and been turned
to stone. It was very quiet as Perseus strode along; even the animals and birds
didn't go near this place.
When he reached the cave, Perseus did as Athena had told him and looked at
his shining shield, using it like a mirror. He could see Medusa in it. The monster
was so hideous that he shivered with fright. She heard his footsteps but couldn't
see him because he was wearing the helmet that made him invisible. She crawled
out of the cave, the snakes on her head hissing and spitting.
Keeping his eyes fixed on the shield, Perseus sprang toward her. He raised
the sickle and cut off Medusa's head. There was a terrible cry, and Medusa lay
dead. Perseus picked up her head without looking directly at it, for even now
it could turn him to stone. He opened his bag, stuffed the head in, and tied it
up tightly with cord.
(This version of "The Ancient Greek Myth of Perseus and Medusa" was
adapted from a story in Usborne Greek Myths for Young Children, retold by Heather
Amery and illustrated by Linda Edwards.)