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Teaching Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”  
-Christopher Reeve-
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” 
-Joseph Campbell-

Joseph Campbell, an American mythological researcher, wrote a famous book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  In his lifelong research Campbell discovered many common patterns running through hero myths and stories from around the world.  Years of research lead Campbell to discover several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through (no matter what culture the myth is a part of).  He calls this common structure “the monomyth.” It is commonly referred to as "The Hero's Journey."

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, claims that Campbell’s monomyth was the inspiration for his groundbreaking films.  Lucas also believes that Star Wars is such a popular saga because it taps into a timeless story-structure which has existed for thousands of years.

The Hero's Journey is a great technique for analyzing all kinds of stories--whether they be myths, legends, films, novels, short stories, plays, or even comic books.  Educating students about the Hero's Journey encourages them to think about plot structure, character motivation, and theme. It also leads them to consider what qualities they associate with heroes. Are heroes born or are they made? Are there heroes in real-life or must they be larger-than-life? Who are the heroes in our society. Listed below are some resources that I have found successful in my own classroom for teaching the Hero's Journey:

THE HERO'S JOURNEY (PDF)  This worksheet gives an overview of the Hero's Journey, as outlined by Joseph Campbell and others.  Each step is listed, along with examples from film and literature.

SAMPLE HERO'S JOURNEY UNIT (PDF) This outline provides a suggested unit using this site's resources.

WHY YOUNG PEOPLE NEED HERO STORIES NOW MORE THAN EVER (ARTICLE) This article explains the numerous real-life applications of the Hero's Journey, a message of hope that young people need to hear! 

DETAILED PRESENTATION ON THE STAGES OF THE HERO'S JOURNEY WITH LIFE-APPLICATION (SALE ITEM) This in-depth presentation covers the stages of the Hero's Journey, using visual examples from Star Wars and The Lion King. Each stage also has a "My Journey" section that gives each stage a real-life application. Also comes with a note-taking sheet with student use.

DESIGN-A-QUEST: CREATIVE GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS FOR MAKING YOUR OWN HERO'S JOURNEY (SALE ITEM) Want to give your students some practice writing their own Hero's Journey? This set of graphic organizers is perfect for young writers who want to invent some heroes of their own. Using your choice of written-response only or a creative, comic-book-style combination of artwork and written responses, these graphic organizers allow students to create their own hero story. This item also includes a sample Hero's Journey using Disney's Aladdin as an example.

MONOMYTH CHART (PDF) Students can use this worksheet to identify the various stages of Campbell's monomyth in film or literature.  This particular version works well with Star Wars, but is easily adaptable to other films or literature.  (Includes more stages than the Hero's Journey worksheet listed.)
STAR WARS: THE HERO'S JOURNEY (PDF)  This PDF identifies the stages of the Hero's Journey present in the 1977 film Star Wars (also known as Episode IV:  A New Hope).  As George Lucas used Campbell's monomyth to structure his film (and its sequels), it is a great film to use when teaching the Hero's Journey.
"MOVE OVER ODYSSEUS, HERE COMES LUKE SKYWALKER" (PDF)  This article examines the ways in which George Lucas used the Hero's Journey when creating Star Wars.
This PDF identifies the stages of the Hero's Journey present in the 1993 film The Lion King.  Although almost all the stages are present, they do not go in a progressive order (as the stages in Star Wars do).
INTRODUCTION TO THE HERO'S JOURNEY (YOU TUBE VIDEO) This video gives a brief, but informative, overview of the Hero's Journey. Some of the names of the various stages are altered, but the information and animation make this a great way to introduce the monomyth.
This worksheet gives an overview of the various types of heroes:  mythic heroes, anti-heroes, tragic heroes, Byronic, heroes, etc.  It also analyzes famous anti-heroes from pop culture and literature. 
ARCHETYPES FROM MYTH AND LEGEND PRESENTATION AND WORKSHEET (SALE ITEM) Archetypes are a great way to analyze mythology and literature. They also provide an easy way to introduce students to literary analysis. This presentation and accompanying worksheet covers common archetypes (such as the hero, the shadow, the ally, the mentor, etc.) from myth and legend with examples from popular culture.
THE HERO'S GUIDEBOOK (SALE ITEM)   Humorously illustrated with over 40 cartoons by the author, this book takes readers through the stages of the Hero's Journey using examples from books, films, and even video games. Important archetypes like the Hero, the Mentor, the Shadow, the Ally, the Trickster, and the Threshold Guardian appear as well.  Each stage of the Hero’s Journey also features writing tips for aspiring writers and a character education “Your Journey” section, which applies hero-story lessons to real life. 
GLOVE AND BOOTS ANALYZE ARCHETYPES IN THE HERO'S JOURNEY (YOU TUBE VIDEO)  In this video Glove and Boots, two thoroughly-amusing puppets, analyze the archetypes of the Hero's Journey in a humorous fashion using examples from The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and The Karate Kid. Warning:  There are some "bleeped" expletives in the video. Preview before using this with younger audiences.

HERO QUEST CLASSROOM GAME (SALE ITEM) Hero Quest GameThis classroom game, based on concepts from the Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell, asks students to create their own hero quest. In groups of two, students will create an original hero quest and then play it out. Click the link above for more details.

HEROES & THE HALL OF HEROES (PDF) This worksheet introduces students to the idea of superheroes vs. everyday heroes.  It also asks them to design a Hall of Heroes where the class must nominate certain figures, whom they feel have changed the world for the better.

This article recounts the accomplishments of actor Christopher Reeve, including his heroic struggle with paralysis.  Using this article as a springboard, students can compare Superman, the character embodied by Reeve, and the actor's real-life heroic struggle.

SONG ANALYSIS WORKSHEET:  "SUPERMAN" BY FIVE FOR FIGHTING (PDF)  By listening to the song and analyzing the lyrics, students can understand that being a hero is not always easy.  This also serves as a great way to analyze mood.

This fan-created music video, uses the song "Superman" by Five for Fighting and scenes from Superman Returns to create a moving rendition of the song.  (Appropriate for classroom use.) 

SONG ANALYSIS WORKSHEET:  "HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO" BY BONNIE TYLER (PDF)  By listening to the song and analyzing the lyrics, students can examine the qualities of a hero as defined by the song.  They can also examine the female conception of the male hero.

This fan-created music video uses the song "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler and images from popular superhero movies, as well as Saturday morning cartoons. (Appropriate for classroom use.) 

Using guided questioning, this worksheet helps students identify the various stages of the Hero's Journey in a story from a film, video game, or novel of their own choosing. 

This assignment asks students to analyze a comic book, looking for the heroic characteristics applied to a certain superhero. They must decide who considers their subject a hero, what makes him or her a hero, and also draw a picture of the character. (Requires classroom set of comic books.)

This personal essay by Oliver Stone examines the concept of a hero.  What makes a person heroic?  Can this definition change over time? This is a great springboard for student conversation.

THE WRITER'S JOURNEY BY CHRIS VOLGER (BOOK ON AMAZON.COM)  This informative guide to The Hero's Journey, written by a Hollywood script writer, is informative and insightful. I recommend it for anyone who wants a deeper look at the Hero's Journey. Read more or buy this book on