top of page

Free Unit for The Odyssey

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

The Practical EnglishTeacher is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.



So. I am going to start this post the way I start every post, which is by saying: “I used to really enjoy teaching The Odyssey.” Last week my IB 11 students asked me if there was a book that I didn’t like teaching and I couldn’t come up with an answer. I’ve liked most of the books I’ve had to teach, albeit for different reasons. I liked The Odyssey because I enjoyed challenging my 9 Intensified with the language and structure of the story. I also enjoyed watching the kids’ reactions when they figured out what was going on: “Wait…he has a wife! Why is he with this goddess?”


I taught The Odyssey for four years and then switched to 11 AP, so I never did quite get the unit the way that I wanted it, but I think you will still find a lot of helpful materials and ideas to get you started. The unit below was for one of my 9 Intensified or "honors" classes. Most of the links are to Google docs with assignment information.


The last time I taught this unit was 9 years ago, so I don’t remember every detail of every lesson, but I tried to include a “day-by-day” breakdown according to my old notes. Each “day” is for a 90 minute block class. In general, my lessons usually have vocabulary time and writing time, as well as some reading time built in when we are reading longer texts. Please enjoy these free unit for The Odyssey.


Intensified Unit Plans

Essential Questions:

  • What do you do in the face of adversity?

  • Is there such thing as free-will?

  • What is a “hero”?


Objectives:

  • Students will be able to explain the story of The Odyssey (map)

  • Students will be able to annotate effectively enough to ace detail oriented reading quizzes

  • Students will be able to identify strategies to use in order to access hard texts

  • Students will be able to defend their ideas with text excerpts (class discussions)

  • Students will be able to use topic and transition sentences in a compare/contrast essay

  • Students will be able to identify the following literary devices in literature: foreshadowing, allusion

  • Students will be able to show how Odysseus travels through the Heroic cycle

Assessments:

  • Reading quizzes

  • Map building

  • Hero paper


Reading Timeline

*We are on block scheduling


  • Day 1-Book 1

  • Day 2-Book 2

  • Day 3-Book 3

  • Day 4-Book 4

  • Day 5-Books 5 & 9

  • Day 6-Catch up day

  • Day 7-Book 10 and parts of 11 (1-255, 449-580)

  • Day 8-Books 12 & 16

  • Day 9-Catch up day

  • Day 10-Book 17 to line 645 (20 pages)

  • Day 11-Catch up day

  • Day 12-Books 21 & 22

  • Day 13-Books 23 & 24


We used this version of The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald:



Day 1

Objectives:

  • Build background/active schema to get students to read The Odyssey

  • Students will be able to call out a basic plot summary before heading out the door and name the main character

  • Students will be able to name one god or goddess involved in The Odyssey


Lesson:


Homework: Finish your God/Goddess research



Day 2

Objectives:

  • Students will gain further familiarity with assigned god/goddess to improve comprehension down the road

  • Students will be able to describe the style/structure of the first few pages of The Odyssey


Lesson:

  • Vocabulary: Continue to look up vocabulary words

  • Writing time/Journal: Odysseus and his crew want to make it home, yet various temptations continually arise and attempt to sway them from their course. Describe a time in which you had several temptations or distractions attempting to thwart your pursuit of a goal. What were the temptations, distractions, and goal(s). Were you thwarted? If so, how? If not, how did you overcome those temptations and distractions?

  • Share out gods & goddess research (homework from previous night) /classmates take notes

  • Create gods & goddesses playing cards (18-20 minutes). This idea was a pain in the ass to set up but was fun in the end. Basically, I wanted the kids to make playing cards of the gods & goddesses to that we could review them easily and play review games. I gave each student 1/4 of a sheet of blank paper and asked them to draw a picture of the god or goddess that they had researched. I then asked them to label the picture but not identify what the god or goddess was in charge of. Once the kids made their card, I taped 4 together so that I could copy them easily. Then I printed them on card stock to make "decks." Below are the directions that I gave the kids:

Directions:

  • You will get 1 rectangle to work with

  • Draw your god or goddess based on your imagination or a picture you found on your phone

  • MAKE IT GOOD!

  • Do not label what your god/goddess is in charge of-just their name

  • Use one piece of tape to tape it to a square on the far table so that I can copy them and make “playing cards”



  • Annotate 1st page: After the playing cards, we annotated the opening page together. I photocopied the first few pages of the poem and handed them out to kids so that they would have a lot of margin space to work in. I asked them to use both margins and to put a summary of the lines on the left and notes about structure and style on the right. We only got through the first page this day.

Homework: Read and annotate the next five pages to the best of your ability. We will go over these together next class.



Day 3


-Vocabulary: Have kids look at the vocabulary list and use six words in three sentences; have them share out with classmates at table.


-Writing time/Journal: Throughout The Odyssey, characters-from the goddess Athena to Odysseus himself-disguise themselves. Disguise helps characters to evade capture. When Odysseus arrives home, disguise enables him to identify which characters truly love him, as only those characters are able to see through his disguise.

Think about other books or movies that feature characters playing dress up. Write about how a disguise can help a character reveal or hide something.

-Create mnemonics: On a sheet of looseleaf, for each god and goddess, have students create a mnemonic that helps them remember each one. (Example: Roy G. Biv to help remember the colors of the rainbow.)


-Close reading: Continue close reading from last class.

Homework:

  • Have students finish reading Book 1 and then have them read Book 2. In order to have them demonstrate engagement with a text, have them annotate or complete the study tasks.



Day 4

Before class: Make copies of the gods & goddesses "cards" so that you have a few decks.


Lesson:

-Vocabulary: Vocabulary study time. Ask students to study their vocabulary words in any way that is helpful for them. Next class, they will have a vocabulary quiz where they will need to choose the synonym from for each word (multiple choice vocabulary test)



-Writing time/Journal:Much of The Odyssey focuses on the initiation of Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, into adulthood. Think about what sort of rituals Telemachus must perform and what sort of behaviors or adventures he must undertake.

Does contemporary society contain any initiation rituals? Provide an example of how one culture in our society marks the transition from child or young adult into mature adult. Does the initiation differ for men and women differ from culture to culture? If so, how?

-Study: Review Gods & Goddesses by playing "Go Fish." Students will take a "Gods & Goddesses" quiz next class. This is a matching quiz where the kids match the god or goddess to what they are in charge of.


"Go Fish" Directions for kids:

  • Cut up your cards

  • Deal them so that everyone gets 5 cards

  • Leave a pile in the middle to “fish” from

  • Ask “Do you have the Goddess of War?”

  • If you create a pair, you get to go again.

  • Person with the most pairs wins

-Informal Class Discussion (20 minutes): Initial impressions of characters.

  • Q: How do you feel about Telemachus? Penelope? Antinoos? Cite text to support your ideas.


-If time: Reading time


Homework:

  • Study for multiple choice vocabulary quiz for books 1 & 2 of The Odyssey.

  • Study for gods & goddesses matching quiz.


Day 5


Assessments:



Day 6

Lesson:

-Vocabulary time (20-30 minutes): Give students their new vocabulary. This list has vocabulary from Book 3 of The Odyssey as well as activities for the students to complete: Book 3 Vocabulary



-Writing time/Journal (10-20 minutes): Women seem to have strange and contradictory roles in The Odyssey. Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, for example, is a complicated character. She has not seen her husband, whom she loves deeply, for twenty years. In his absence, she entertains numerous suitors, and she never refuses to marry-she only puts off making a decision.

What do you think the role of women is in this epic? How do you think Homer portrays them? Compare the various female characters in order to construct a short argument about women in The Odyssey.

-Discussion of journal with added questions:


1. We have only had two major female characters this year.

Compare/Contrast Penelope to Juliet. Or compare any characters we have met

so far to others we have read about.


2. Superstition: Signs and reading signs were a big part of ancient Greek culture. On page 24 two eagles sore overhead and a sign reader says that it means that Odysseus is going to come home triumphant and the suitors better beware. How do you feel about superstitions? How would you have reacted if you were a suitor listening to him predict this? How did the suitors react?


3. Suitors: How would you characterize the suitors?

-Reading time: Read book 3 of The Odyssey



Homework: Read Book 3 of The Odyssey. Complete this study guide: Study Guide for Book 3


Day 7


-Vocabulary time (20-30 minutes): Continue working on Book 3 vocabulary.


-Writing time: The story of Agamemnon came up early in the novel and was then fully explained in Book 3. On returning home from war, Agamemnon is slain by Aigisthos, who was cheating with Lady Klytaimnestra, Agamemnon’s wife. When Agaememnon’s son, Orestes is old enough, he comes back from exile and kills his mother and her lover in revenge. Orestes is celebrated for doing his duty.

So, I have two questions based on this. As a writer, why place this story right here in Book 3? What purpose does it serve?

Also, it makes me reflect on revenge. How is the avenger treated nowadays? Do you have any revenge stories?


-Review of passage: Create a lazy sonnet for lines 136-198 (pages 39-40) A lazy sonnet is 14 lines with the last two lines rhyming, but only one word per line.


-Writing time: As people more or less hospitable nowadays?


-Discuss journal

Homework: Read Book 4 of The Odyssey



Day 8

-Vocabulary time (20-30 minutes): Continue working on Book 3 vocabulary.


-Writing time/Journal: In Book IV, Telemachus has traveled to Sparta to meet with Menelaus. Helen is present, home after being away in Troy. I find the whole situation between Helen and Menelaus intriguing-first, because she “ran away,” and second, because Menelaus goes and gets her back. Now they are living together in a seemingly normal way. What would you do if your husband/wife ran off with someone else??????? Would you go and get them back? If you did, how would you treat them afterwards?


-Discuss journal


-Review the structure & plot of the story: I skip books 6-8 when teaching The Odyssey, but I go over the events with the kids before they get to Book 5. Help students to understand the structure of books 5-8 by walking them through this handout: Structure Review


-Book 5 Close Reading (45-60 minutes)-Doing this close reading also helps students to learn a little more about Odysseus and to understand some of the plot.


Homework: Read books 5 & 9 of The Odyssey (Due the class after next.)



Day 9

Today was a work day. I had kids finishing odds and ends and then reading.


Lesson

  • Finish Book 3 vocabulary activities and turn in

  • Reading time: Read books 5 & 9 of The Odyssey

Homework: Read books 5 & 9 of The Odyssey. Be prepared for a reading quiz on these books. Study for a vocabulary quiz for Book 3 of The Odyssey.


Day 10

Lesson




Reading quiz for Books 5 & 9 of The Odyssey. For reading quizzes, I usually just ask kids a few questions and have them write their answers on scrap paper. Here are some questions that you could use for books 5 & 9.


Book 5

1. Who was sent to tell Calypso she needed to release Odysseus?

1. What direction does Hermes give Calypso?

2. Why does Calypso think the Gods are making her get rid of Odysseus?

3. What is Odysseus doing when we first meet him?

4. Calypso approaches Odysseus and tells him he can leave the island. What reason does she give for her sudden change of mind?

5. How many days does it take Odysseus to build his raft?

6. Who sees Odysseus about to make landfall and makes life miserable for him?

Book 9

1. What goes wrong with the Kikones after Odysseus and his men plunder them?

2. What happens when Odysseus’s men eat the lotus leaf?

3. What is the name of the Cyclops?

3. What does Odysseus tell the Cyclops his name is originally?

4. What type of tree do Odysseus and his men use to stab the Cyclops in the eye?





"Main Event Sort": The kids often struggle with the structure of The Odyssey, so I spend a lot of time reviewing it. For this activity, I typed up the main events from The Odyssey and then asked kids to cut up the main events and arrange them in two different ways: first as the events were presented in the book and then as the events unfold chronologically. Here is the handout with directions and events: The Odyssey Main Events Sort


The journal builds on the organizing activity and asks students to reflect on why Homer structured The Odyssey the way that he did.


Journal: The Odyssey has an elaborate structure: the epic features both numerous flashbacks to Odysseus’s adventures and subplots that star Odysseus’s son Telemachus and his wife, Penelope.

How do the epic’s different storylines and episodes enrich the reading experience? How do they make the act of reading more challenging? Write a paragraph explaining your views.


Reading Time: Read Book 10 and chosen lines of Book 11 (Lines 1-255 & 449-580)


Homework: Read Book 10 and chosen lines of Book 11 (Lines 1-255 & 449-580)



Day 11


Lesson

Vocabulary: Give kids their new vocabulary words for books 12, 16 & 17. Have them start looking up definitions.

  • Book 12: carousal/carouse, travail, maelstrom, cuirass

  • Book 16: quandary, resign, adversary, sullen

  • Book 17: impudence, tactician, forsaken, prudent, mendicant, dire, guise, infallible


Journal: Odysseus and Achilles Chat

In the passage below, Odysseus visits the underworld and has a meaningful conversation with the deceased hero Achilles. What does Achilles try to impart to Odysseus and to us? Do you agree? Respond to the exchange between the two heroes.

“But you, Achilles,

there’s not a man in the world more blest than you…

Time was, when you were alive, we Argives

Honored you as a god, and now down here, I see,

you lord it over the dead in all your power.

So grieve no more at dying, Great Achilles.”

I reassured the ghost, but he broke out, protesting,

“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!

By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man-

Some first-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive-

than rule down here over all the breathless dead.” (Book 11)

Discuss Journal


Clarify Confusion: Give students a sheet of scrap paper and have them write down questions or comments on parts of the book that they are confused about. Take as much class time as needed to answer all of the questions.


Movie Clip: At this point in the unit I start showing movie clips to help students comprehend the story. It's also fun to do some quick compare & contrast discussions to talk about the book versus the movie. This is the DVD we used to pass around at my school:



It looks like it has also been chopped up into a mini series that can be streamed:



For this lesson, I showed the clip of the wind god & Circe, which took about 35 minutes.


Homework: Read books 12 & 16 of The Odyssey.


Day 12

Vocabulary: Have students continue to look up vocabulary definitions for books 12, 16, & 17.


Journal: Whereas The Iliad concerns itself with physical strength and heroic deeds in war, The Odyssey deals more with wits and cunning. In fact, Homer repeatedly emphasizes Odysseus’s clever mind, showing how it makes Odysseus superior to others.

Reflect on times from The Odyssey in which intelligence triumphs over physical strength. Do you think this is a trait necessary to survival nowadays?


Reading Quiz: Here are a few questions that you could use to do a quick reading check for books 12 & 16.


Book 12

1. Who do they go back and bury on Kirke’s island after they come back from the underworld?

2. When you sail up to the Sirens, what is surrounding them on the ground?

3. What do the men have to do to Odysseus so that he can hear the Sirens' song?

4. What did Odysseus put in his men’s ears so that they could not hear the song?


Book l6

1. What is the swine herd’s name?

2. How do the dogs react when Telemachus approaches Eumaeus house?

3. What news did Eumaeus deliver to Penelope?



Story Clarification: Have students create clarification or discussion questions. Have the students turn the questions into you and then use the questions to facilitate a discussion between students. (30 minutes)


Homework: Catch up on reading





Day 13


Vocabulary: Create five sentences using 8-10 of your vocabulary words.


Compare & Contrast: Watch movie scenes/stop to compare to book via class discussion.

  • Skylla ~8 min

  • Calypso ~15 min

  • Father and Son~ 10 min

Reading time


Homework: Read Book 17 of The Odyssey.


Day 14


Vocabulary: Use 8 more vocabulary in 3 new sentences.


Fate vs. Free Will Discussion (45 minutes):

  • Have students sit in a circle

  • Give students time to jot down an answer to the question: "To what extent do fate and free will play out in our lives?" Use this article, The Odyssey, and your own life to answer this question.

  • Have students share out their ideas.

Homework: Read books 21 & 22 of The Odyssey.




Day 15


Vocabulary: Look through your vocabulary words and group them by meaning.


Writing Time (20 minutes): This epic contains any number of magical, comical, and dramatic events. For instance, the crew opens a leather bag and unleashes a hurricane, the witch Circe turns men into pigs, and Penelope constructs elaborate games for her suitors, among other situations. Which event from the entire epic is your favorite?

Update your favorite event to take place in the twenty first century. Take as much poetic and dramatic license as necessary making sure that you account for contemporary fashions, attitudes, behaviors, and language.



Reading Quiz for Books 21 & 22: Here are some questions you could use for a short reading quiz for books 21 & 22:


Reading quiz for Book 21

1. Who gave Odysseus the bow the suitors were trying to string?

2. Who told Eumaeus to stop crying?

3. What # try does Telemachus almost string the bow?

4. Who sets up the ax-heads (like literally digs the trench and sets them up) for the suitors to shoot through?

5. True or False: The swineherd and cowherd said they would fight for Odysseus if he came back.

6. What does Odysseus show the swineherd and cowherd in order to prove his identity?

Reading Quiz for Book 22

1. Where does Odysseus hit Antinoos with the arrow?

2. Who did Odysseus order tied to a plank and hanged from the roof?

3. Who else does Odysseus have hanged?

4. What did Odysseus make the woman servants do after the slaughter?

5. How many men were saved from the slaughter?




Comprehension Check: Check students' comprehension and give them a chance to review by assigning them pages and having them reenact the scene within those pages. I don't have a list of the scenes, just the page numbers. I used this version of The Odyssey when I was assigning the pages.


Here are the pages & directions:


Student directions: Find a partner. You will be assigned 3 pages. You have 5 minutes to create a 15 second reenactment of those pages. Go!

Pages 391-393:

Pages 394-396:

Pages 397-399:

Pages 400-402:

Pages 403-405:

Pages 409-411:

Pages 412-414:

Pages 415-417:

Pages 418-420:

Pages 421-423:

Pages 424-425:


Homework: Read Book 23 & Book 24 (due the class after next)



Day 16


Vocabulary: Today I put the vocabulary words on the board and challenged students to use the words during the lesson. (carousal/carouse, travail, maelstrom, cuirass: quandary, resign, adversary, sullen, impudence, tactician, forsaken, prudent, mendicant, dire, guise infallible)


Lesson on the Heroic Cycle/Discussion: Introduce students to the hero's journey. Here is a nice visual from Wikipedia:

A visual of the hero's journey.
A visual of the hero's journey.


Once the kids understand the journey, as a class, discuss how Odysseus does (or does not) fit this template.


Writing Time/Journal: How does the heroic cycle apply (or not apply) to your life. Remember to try and use some vocabulary words.


Homework: Finish reading books 23 & 24.


Day 17

Reading Quiz for Book 23

1. Who delivers the news to Penelope that Odysseus is home?

2. What is Penelope’s reaction to the news that Odysseus is home?

3. What does Odysseus do to cover up the death of the suitors for awhile?

4. How did Penelope finally know it was really Odysseus?

5. Which goddess makes the night longer than it actually is?

6. Whom must Odysseus make a sacrifice to in order to die old and on his island?

7. At the end of the book, where does Odysseus tell Penelope to hide?

Comprehension Check/Review of Books 23 & 24: Have each student choose a page from last night's reading and draw a visual of that scene, changing or leaving out one or two important details. Once everyone has their drawings ready, students should find a partner and trade their sketch with them. Their partner should try and figure out the details that were missing or altered. Once everyone has guessed, switch up the partners until the review is complete.


Homework: Study for books 12, 16, & 17 vocabulary quiz.

Day 18




Start group essay: I like to assign group essays when the kids need to do some more writing but I do not have the time or energy to grade thirty full essays. This gives them a chance to write and makes my grading a bit lighter. This handout has all of the directions for the group essay, as well as checklists that the writers should use to see what they should include in each paragraph. At the end, there is a small rubric.

Day 19


Finish Group Essay: Give students time to finish their group essay.


Assign Individual Writing Assignment: Once students complete their formal group essay, I assign this individual writing assignment where kids have more flexibility in what to write about. I have lost the rubric for this, but I think I used Vicki Spandel's 6-Traits, which I used to use all the time when I had more time to let the kids write creatively.



Here is the assignment sheet: "Individual Writing Prompts for The Odyssey."


Workshop Time: Let kids work on whatever writing they need to complete.


Day 20

Writing Time: Give kids time to work on their writing.


Movie Time: For fun, show them some of the movie. They've earned it at this point.


Survey: Quick survey to see how the kids liked studying The Odyssey.

This unit is just one way of a few that I used to teach The Odyssey. There are many right ways to teach this poem, which can be liberating or overwhelming. I hope that these materials will give you some support and direction your first time through The Odyssey.



Other Helpful Resources for The Odyssey

(that I did not use in the above unit)


Above is a unit that I used with my 9 Intensified students. That was just one way to teach The Odyssey, and I have a lot of other materials that may be helpful to you if you want to teach the unit in a different way. Below are other Odyssey-related activities that I have used but did not use in the particular unit that I posted.


First are the materials that I used to help my struggling readers. I used to try and teach The Odyssey to my Intensified kids AND my struggling readers, but abandoned that idea after I realized that my struggling readers were NOT reading and were simply waiting for me to summarize the story. Nowadays we have this beautiful graphic novels that the 9th grade teachers can use to teach The Odyssey to our struggling readers, but we did not have those when I was teaching ninth graders.



SO ANYWAY, here are the materials that I used to try and support my struggling readers in reading The Odyssey.


Materials for Struggling Readers & The Odyssey





Fun Materials for Regular or Intensified


  • Puzzle game This activity is great for review at the end of the book before kids have to take a unit exam. I got this activity from Jim Burke's The English Teacher's Companion. (Burke is one of my favorite teacher-authors and I find that my teaching improves tremendously every time I go back through one of his texts.)

  • Crafty Scene Review: Have students choose three scenes that are confusing to them, and using junk that they've brought from home, old magazines and craft materials, have them create a visual of one of their chosen scenes and then display it to the class.


  • Hands-On, 3-D Map Project (paid product): One year I was teaching The Odyssey at the end of the year and the kids were restless. I thought it would be fun to have them build 3-D maps of Odysseus's travels so that they could do something with their hands. I had the kids build the maps and find supporting quotations for their creations. It was one of my favorite projects but I never got a chance to do it again.



Journal Prompts

  • Why is Odysseus so paranoid about Penelope’s faith to him?

  • Why does Penelope wait so long for Odysseus to get home? Twenty years is quite a bit of time.

  • What does it mean to “make a name for yourself”? How can you connect this idea to The Odyssey?

  • What other “coming of age” stories have you read over the years? In what ways does the story compare or contrast The Odyssey?

  • Why are names important? Why does it matter that the suitors keep referring to Telemachus as “Odysseus’s son” instead of by his own name?


YA Books Connected to The Odyssey

A girl with a port wine scar has to find her confidence. She lives with an emotionally abusive father and a mother who accepts the status quo, but a trip to China changes all of this. Besides the obvious personal journey, there are clear allusions to The Odyssey.

Marcelo has Asperger's and is getting to the end of his high school career. His father wants him to work in his law firm for the summer, so Marcelo has to break out of his comfort zone and learn to get along in the real world.

​Classic hero journey.


If I find any other materials for The Odyssey as I am clearing out my old files, I will post them here. I hope some of these activities are helpful to you!


If you have any materials that you would like to share with others for The Odyssey, please post them in the comments section below.