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EDSITEment! - A Story of Epic Proportions: What makes a Poem an Epic?

Example Web Site and/or Technical Equipment Required


Website Example:

Tech Product Equipment

Computer(s), Internet access

Activity Description

This lesson will introduce students to the epic poem form and to its roots in oral tradition. Students will learn about the epic hero cycle and will learn how to recognize this pattern of events and elements- even in surprisingly contemporary places. Students will also be introduced to the patterns embedded in these stories that have helped generations of storytellers remember these immense poems.


  1. Review the lesson plan, then find and bookmark relevant websites and useful materials. Download and print out the documents you will be using in class, such as the chart of elements of the Elements of the Epic Hero Cycle (PDF), or its interactive equivalent.
  2. Review the background materials on epic poetry (scroll down to the actual "Epic" entry on the web page), the Elements of the Epic Hero Cycle (PDF), the oral transmission of epic poems, and the use of mnemonic devices, accessible through the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource, Internet Public Library.


View Detailed Lesson plans

Activity 1. What are the elements of an epic poem?

  1. Review with students the definition and elements of epic poetry
  2. Distribute the charts listing the major elements of the Elements of the Epic Hero Cycle (PDF)
  3. Ask students to work together to fill in examples of each of the epic hero cycle elements on their charts.
  4. Ask students to share their results.
  5. Read aloud to the class, or distribute copies for students to read, the opening paragraph of two or more traditional epic poems from the list compiled by the class.
  6. Ask students to identify elements such as the opening invocation in the opening lines of these poems or the connection of the hero to his homeland.

Activity 2. Pass it On!

  1. Explain to students that epic poetry has its roots in oral, rather than literate tradition.
  2. Divide students into small groups where they will work on definitions of "oral tradition" and "literate tradition."
  3. Ask each group to choose a fable, fairy tale, or other story they all know. Ask them to identify the most important characters, objects and actions in the story.
  4. Next, ask students to compare their list of story elements with other groups in the class.

Teacher Tips


Ask students to write a definition for epic poetry, and to give at least one example of a traditional epic poem, such as The Iliad. Ask students to fill in the right side of the chart with the corresponding information from an example of a story that follows the epic hero cycle. Ask them to name at least one modern story that follows the epic hero cycle.

Ask students to define "oral tradition" and "literary tradition." Have them write a short essay explaining at least one mnemonic device that would have helped bards in remembering poems that were thousands of verses long.

More Ways

  • Explore the texts of some of the most well know epic poems, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid on the EDSITEment-reviewed website, The Perseus Project.
  • Learn more about the great epic tradition of India in the EDSITEment lesson plan, The Lessons of the Indian Epics: The Ramayana.

Select subjects and subcategories

English Language Arts

  • Literature
  • World Literature
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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN200091-A2 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.