The Odyssey is a classic–and rightfully so. Odysseus’s ten-year journey home from the Trojan War presents him as a fascinatingly flawed main character, whose struggles serve as symbolic representations of our own. Who hasn’t faced siren-like temptation, the neighborhood bully, or their own mortality? Odysseus’s journey encompasses all of these struggles and more.
Yet as many teachers know, the poem is not without its difficulties. Its lyrical language is sometimes difficult for teenage readers to understand, and when students struggle with comprehension, they miss out on the poem’s deeper meanings. One way to overcome this barrier is to scaffold (or support the reading of) the poem using Reader's Theater script-stories.
Teaching the Odyssey using Reader’s Theater script-stories overcomes this obstacle! Rather than using the script-stories to replace the original text, teachers can use them in conjunction with the poem to deepen comprehension of the story’s plot before students encounter the original text. Each script-story takes 30-40 minutes for the students to read aloud. In my own classroom, I follow this up with a short recall quiz and class discussion of the questions at the end of each script.
Here is how I teach the Odyssey in my own classroom: Students read five different script-stories that dramatize the events of the Odyssey.
- “Searching for Odysseus” The Odyssey begins with the story of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus: Odysseus has been missing for ten years following the end of the Trojan War, and suitors arrive in Ithaca, pressuring Penelope to marry them. Telemachus travels around Greece and interviews his famous father’s friends–searching for any clue to his whereabouts. At the end of the script-story, he learns that his father has been a prisoner on the island of Calypso the sea nymph.
- “On Calypso’s Isle”: In this script-story, Odysseus begs the nymph Calypso to release him, yet it is only when Athena appeals to Zeus that the nymph finally relents, allowing Odysseus to leave; however, Poseidon, Odysseus’s mortal enemy, destroys Odysseus’s ship, and he washes up on the island of Phaeacia. Here in the hall of the Phaeacian king, Odysseus tells all that befell him before he arrived at Calypso’s isle.
- “In the Cave of the Cyclops”: This script-story dramatizes the most famous portion of the Odyssey: Odysseus’s encounter with the murderous cyclops, Polyphemus, and his escape from the cyclops' cave.
- “Circe the Witch” This script-story dramatizes Odysseus’s stay with Circe the witch, her transformation of Odysseus’s men, and his eventual departure from her island.
- “Return to Ithaca” This script-story dramatizes Odysseus’s return to Ithaca, his confrontation with the suitors, and his reunion with Penelope and Telemachus.
Note: If you prefer not to tell the story’s events out of order (as they are in the original poem), you can always put the script-stories into chronological order.
Excerpts from the Odyssey: In between these episodes, I use excerpts from the epic poem. Naturally, this will depend on which excerpts are available in your classroom text. Most textbooks include a few key excerpts of the Odyssey and bridge the gaps with summaries. Whichever excerpts you chose to use, reading the script-story first familiarizes the students with the events in each episode, so that they are free to appreciate Homer’s original language.Art Analysis: The Odyssey has inspired some wonderful works of art, and I love giving my students the task of analyzing some of these. Using this presentation, I ask them to choose their favorite (and least favorite) painting and explain why they feel it captures (or doesn't capture) the story well. They love giving me their opinions!
Gamification: As a culminating activity, I gamify the Odyssey with the Odyssey Puzzle Challenge. Each puzzle is a reference to the Odyssey in some way and serves as a review before our exam. It is a fun way to end the unit! The Odyssey Puzzle Challenge is available here.
The Script-Story Collection: All of these script-stories are available in the textbook Reaching Olympus: The Saga of the Trojan War. Each script-story comes with a 2-page teacher guide, including summary, background, recall questions, discussion questions, and cultural connections. This physical textbook is available for sale here or in digital versions on this website. If you are only interested in the script-stories that deal with the Odyssey, there is a version available on TPT with the Odyssey only. Each of these downloads also include three worksheets that provide excerpts and additional summaries from the Odyssey and deal with the Lotus Eaters, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus’s journey into the underworld, and the slaughter of the Cattle of Helios. A name pronunciation guide is also available in the Reaching Olympus version.
Hopefully, you find these resources to be helpful! May your journey with the Odyssey be smooth sailing!