January 30, 2013 15:48 Age: 5 yrs

Dressing for Success: Using Costumes to Teach Greek Mythology

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By: Casey Bauer

Casey Bauer is a fourth-grade teacher at AF Bushwick Elementary.

My school started using network reading plans right before the start of the Greek myth unit. Not only was I anxious about our shift in curriculum, but I was also terrified of Greek myths. I was immediately transported to my freshman year of high school when we read The Odyssey in English class. I could barely understand the verse, let alone keep track of the many characters. All I could think was, “If I struggled so much in high school, how will my fourth-grade students fare?”

I pondered how I could make the unit my own, bringing in my personal style while still maintaining rigor and driving toward the Common Core Standards. It didn’t take long for me to decide: I would play dress up. I would create a symbol for the various gods, goddesses, heroes and monsters in the myths and wear a symbol each day of the unit that corresponded to the day’s myths. The students would have to wait until after the reading the myths to guess the meaning of my symbol. This solution not only sparked my creative energy and excitement about the unit, but it also addressed a critical component of the Common Core Standards that requires students to make connections between the text of a story and a visual or oral presentation of the text.

On day one of the unit I wore a cardboard cutout of a stomach filled with four miniature swaddled babies – one with a trident to represent Poseidon, one with a helmet to represent Hades, one with a lightning bolt to represent Zeus, and one with an arrow to represent Apollo. The stomach itself was meant to represent Cronos, the titan who ate his own babies (the future gods) in fear of them usurping his power. We gathered on the rug and read the first myth – the introduction to the gods and goddesses. The students were enthralled. When I was done I asked, “Okay, so who am I?” to the immediate response of all hands in the air.  When I called on one of my hesitant participants she said, “But Ms. Bauer, Cronos didn’t eat Zeus. Zeus was hidden away and killed Cronos later on to save his brothers and sisters. So you shouldn’t have a baby with a lightning bolt.”

I looked down at the picture I had drawn with Zeus as one of the eaten children and blushed. “Yes, you are exactly right,” I said, and I knew the lessons would be a success.

As the unit progressed, students were engaged and some of the most hesitant readers were contributing more than ever. The students retained a strong understanding of the mythological characters even as we read more and more myths. Most importantly, the symbols I wore encouraged the students’ recognition of mythological representations, references and connections in other mediums. Thankfully, my initial worries weren’t warranted: the unit was a joyful success.


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