Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Beowulf Lingo: Decoding the Epic Vibes

Vocabulary in Beowulf

Margaret Salesky, Matthew McDonald, Amy Hall | Published: January 10th, 2024 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 11th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course


During this lesson, students will analyze the techniques used in classical literature compared to comic book writing to determine how they contribute to the meaning of unknown vocabulary words. Students will use excerpts from the original text, Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney, and the corresponding visuals and text in the graphic novel, Beowulf: The Graphic Novel by Stephen L. Stern & Christopher Steininger, as their mentor texts throughout this lesson.

Essential Question(s)

How do context clues, connotation, denotation, and different takes on a text help you clarify the meaning of words?


Engage: Students participate in a Honeycomb Harvest to match words, definitions, and images for modern-day slang.

Explore: Students receive a word from the original story of Beowulf. They write down their best thoughts on the meaning of the word. Using the new information and the excerpt from the original text, students use context clues to help them further determine the meaning of the word. Finally, students read the excerpt from the graphic novel to use the images and illustrations to further their understanding of their chosen word.

Explain: With a partner who analyzed the same term, students create a large Frayer Model on chart paper to share with the class.

Extend: Students go back to the original text and graphic novel to answer the question What emotion am I supposed to be feeling? as they review the Frayer Models their peers have created.

Evaluate: Students complete a Quick Write to answer the question How do context clues, connotation, denotation, and different interpretations of a text help clarify the meanings of words?


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Honeycomb Harvest cards (attached; one per student or pair of students)

  • Explore handout (attached; one term per student)

    • Flailing

    • Resolute

    • Onslaught

    • Mere

    • Heaving

    • Sinew

    • Loping

    • Stalwart

    • Renounce

    • Havoc

    • Desolate

  • Beowulf: The Graphic Novel

  • Sticky notes

  • Scissors

  • Plastic bags or envelopes

  • Paper for writing

  • Pen or pencil


20 Minute(s)

Use the attached Lesson Slides to introduce the lesson to students by displaying slide 1. Share the lesson’s Essential Question and Learning Objectives on slides 2 and 3 to the extent you feel necessary.

Display slide 4. Introduce students to the Honeycomb Harvest strategy. Group students in pairs and distribute the Honeycomb Harvest cards to them. If students need scaffolded instructions, use slides 5-6 to share an example. As they are working, monitor and ask probing questions to help them determine why they chose these connections. Slides 7-18 are provided to facilitate a share out with the entire class. Encourage questions and discussion.


20 Minute(s)

Move to slide 19 and pass out the attached Explore handouts to students. Instruct students to use their own words and prior knowledge to determine the meaning of the term they have been assigned. Once they have completed this, move to slide 20. Have students read the excerpt that includes the term within it, and using the new information and context clues, update their definition. Students should include how their thoughts changed or stayed the same and identify which context clues helped them. Move to slide 21 and instruct students to read the selection from the graphic novel where the scene is portrayed visually. Again, using the new information, ask to update their definition.

Use slides 22-24 to share the formal definitions of context clues, denotation, and connotation with students. Instruct them to return to their last constructed definition and, given their new understanding of this academic language, make any revisions necessary.

Move to slide 25 and instruct students to look up the formal definition of the term and respond to the question, How is this definition similar to or different from what you originally thought?


20 Minute(s)

Move to slide 26 and share the instructional strategy Frayer Model with students. Have those who worked on the same term partner up to create a Frayer Model on a sheet of chart paper as an Anchor Chart. Be sure to specify to them that when they provide an example of their term in a sentence, it should be a new sentence, not what was in the original text. Once students have completed their Frayer models, have them share out with the class.


5 Minute(s)

Direct students to review their term once more in the original text in comparison to the graphic novel. What feelings does each conjure up? Display slide 27 and share the instructional strategy How am I Feeling? What am I Thinking? Distribute sticky notes to everyone in the class. Ask the students to walk around to each Anchor Chart and answer on their sticky note, What feeling(s) does this word make you think of?


5 Minute(s)

Display slide 28 and share the instructional strategy Quick Write with students. Instruct them to answer the following question in 2-3 sentences: How do context clues, connotation, denotation and different interpretations of a text help clarify the meanings of words?