teacher resources


Teacher Lesson Plans:



Teacher Lesson Plan: MEET HERACLES

Students will:
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 or book.

Materials needed for this activity:
• Image of Herakles (use this image of an object from the Coming of Age exhibition)
• 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 questions:
" 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 story aloud.

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 the book.

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.



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
Kids Involved Doing Science Union College
Legg Middle School Planetarium Coldwater, Michigan



(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.

The Ancient Greek Myth of Perseus and Medusa

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.)