A study of heroes gives opportunities for working on research skills, reading, writing, critical thinking, and more. You can work within the content areas of social studies, science, literature, math, and even physical education. It suits Veteran’s Day, heritage months, the birthdays of famous people, and character education themes.
Begin with a chart. You can use incentive charts or a spreadsheet as we did:
We add the names of the heroes we study throughout the unit along the Y axis, and the characteristics of those individuals along the X axis. Then we note whether each of those individuals has each characteristic. In many cases, we just didn’t know, so we used a question mark to identify things we felt we needed to look into further.
At the end of the unit, have students write a definition of a hero using the chart. Artsedge has a multimedia resource that would enrich this lesson.
Along with the chart, create a timeline and a world map for a bulletin board that grows as you work on the unit (or click the links in this sentence to put your timeline and map in the cloud). Seeing where and when the heroes you study did their heroic deeds will help to give students a more complete understanding.
With the visual organizers in place, move on to study your selection of heroes. We recommend reading first, adding information to the chart, timeline, and map, and then moving on to research to fill the gaps in knowledge revealed by the use of the graphic organizers.
Books for this study:
- Heroes for My Son is a collection of brief discussions of people the author wanted his own son to know as heroes. For younger students, it’s a great introduction to the topic. With older students, be sure to discuss why the author chose these individuals and whether they would have made the same choices.
- The Children’s Book of Heroes is another collection of biographical sketches, stories, and even epics (we’re glad to see the epic hero Roland brought to life for a new generation).
- Goddesses, Heroes, and Shamans: The Young People’s Guide to World Mythology is an introduction to the wonderful hero tales found around the world. We have so many favorite books in this category that we can’t begin to make a proper list of them, but this book gives you an overview which you can then use to search for more.
Online resources for fictional and mythical heroes:
- Artsedge heroes theme resources
- Exploring American Tall Tales, also from Artsedge
- Paul Bunyan Lesson Plans
- Pecos Bill Lesson Plans
- Fairy tale heroes
Resources for historic heroes:
- Bio.com, a good starting point for biographical research
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Lesson Plans
- Galileo Lesson Plans
- Thomas Edison Lesson Plans
- John Muir
- Science Heroes
While all the lesson plans we’ve referenced have activities for specific heroes, we want to share a couple of activities that we like to use for this unit.
The Chronology Card Game is very fun game which isn’t made any longer, as far as we can tell. Nevermind — make your own for the classroom! Use blank playing cards or flashcards and have each student choose a hero or two to study more thoroughly as an individual project. Have students create collages for the heroes they choose. Make sure that each collage has the name and dates for the hero in question.
You can have students make physical collages, or you can bring in technology skills by having students create their collages with MSPaint or another graphics program. We made the example below in Photoshop.
To play, shuffle all the cards together and pass out a few to each player. Players put their cards into chronological order. One player will pick a card a random and read the name of the individual aloud. If the next player can correctly place the card among his or her cards — that is, say where in chronological order it would fit among the cards that player already has — then he or she keeps the card.
The first player to collect 10 cards in this way is the winner.
Mini History Day
Have students study a hero thoroughly and create a presentation on that hero. You can use presentation boards, but you can also have students use file folders so that all the presentations will fit onto a table in your classroom, or even onto the bulletin board.
Invite local heroes in to judge the presentations, or grade them as individual projects. Either way, be sure to consider the accuracy and thoroughness of the research, the quality of the presentation, and the thoughtfulness of the analysis.
Follow up with a Hero Sandwich writing assignment. It’ll give you a great bulletin board, too.