First off, questions:
- What version are you reading: Fagles? Fitzgerald? Lattimore? It makes a huuuuuge difference, because personally I think the Fitzgerald is a snooze-fest and while I very much enjoy the Fagles, it’s a huge text to tackle. Let me know.
- Are your students struggling to comprehend because they’re struggling readers, or are they just fine readers and are struggling to comprehend for other reasons? Example: my honors students struggle to comprehend the Iliad, which we read first, because it’s hard for them to process the inundation of characters, conflict, setting, culture, etc. that’s thrown at them right from the get-go.
I guess this can count for tips, but really just things I’ve done:
- I dislike “study guides” aka stop-reading-and-fill-this-crap-out-repeat guides, but I used one with my collab classes last year. To jazz it up, I handed out buzzers and turned it into a game — who can spot the next answer first. Might not do it the same way this year (for reasons above), but it was a fun joint venture.
- When I was in grad school, I taught The Odyssey as well. My cooperating teacher — who is brilliant — re-wrote the chapters himself and even had me write a few. It was pretty engaging to read from different characters points of view, styles, etc.
- He also spent one class period on a different stop of the journey (which they mapped on a bulletin board). Some stops (few) we read straight from the Fitzgerald. Some we read excerpts from Fagles. Some we paired video with poetry. The different mediums really kept them on their toes.
- He also did this to connect kiddos with the time period.
- With my honors students, I interspersed a Fitzgerald-like text (boring) with close-readings of the more interesting Fagles version. It kept the pace going, but gave us time to focus on language and delve further into character motivation, etc.
- OMG READ THE FAGLES VERSION OF THE SUITOR SLAUGHTER it’s a real crowd-pleaser.
- I don’t show the whole movie, but I have the Armand Assante mini-series version to share visuals after reading any given scene. You’d be surprised how much it helps — they struggle with visualizing the monsters, etc. and connecting why it’s such a struggle for Odysseus.
- I ended this unit with each student making and then presenting a travel brochure for one of Odysseus’ destinations. It was pretty cool to see what they came up with.
- This year: I really want to assign group presentations ahead of time for each destination. That way, before we start reading on any given day, a group presents research information on the real-life “assumed” location of his stops, history about the islands, etc. I’m still working out the kinks, but I think it’d be cool.
- Totally stolen from Mrs. V, nee-heymissat, but: let the kiddos sit however they want while you’re reading. I tell them: “Alright guys, get comfortable!” and they are suddenly on the floor, on the rug, laying down, feet on desks, etc., but their engagement is tops.
Try to find your spark/excitement again about the story, because in terms of motivation and engagement, I very very strongly believe that students should be feeding off of you, not the other way around. I absolutely know what it feels like to think you’ve “failed” at that (been there ugh), but I equally believe that each day is a new day to begin again. Model excitement and engagement, be confident in discovering the story together with your students, and let the rest unfold.
This is exactly what I needed.