Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

The Sirens

Is It a Bird or Is It a Fish? 

Margaret Salesky, Lindsey Link, Shelby Blackwood | Published: November 11th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course World Literature
  • Time Frame Time Frame 3- class period(s)
  • Duration More 150 minutes


In this lesson, students will be asked to determine what a siren is. Students will read an excerpt from "The Odyssey" and other texts and watch selected videos. They will examine the various texts and videos from different perspectives to draw conclusions about the mythical siren.

Essential Question(s)

How does perspective affect meaning? 



Students listen to video entitled the "Song of the Sirens" and reflect as they listen.


Students examine both texts and videos in order to predict what a siren is.


Students read and annotate "Excerpt from the Odyssey: The Sirens."


Students participate in a Socratic Seminar.


Students complete an "I Used To Think . . . But Now I Know" Chart about the physical description of a siren.


  • I Used To Think . . . But Now I Know (attached; one per student)

  • T-Chart handout (attached; one per student)

  • Drawing materials (colored pencils, pens)

  • Highlighters

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; illustrated version (optional)

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; illustrated version (optional)


Show slides 3 and 4 of the attached Lesson Slides, which identify the essential question and the lesson objectives.

Distribute the attached I Used To Think . . . But Now I Know handout.

Review the I Used To Think… But Now I Know strategy with students. Instruct them to use the left-hand side of the page, the "I Used to Think" side, to sketch what they think a "siren" looks like as they watch the video. Once they have finished their diagrams, show slide 6 and share the video, Song of the Sirens.

Once students have watched the video, give them a few minutes to finish their sketches. When they complete their drawings, ask volunteers to share out what they have drawn.


Transition to slide 7. Distribute the attached T-Chart-What is a Siren? handout and a copy of the article "Siren" from the Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ask students to read the article either independently or with a partner.

Display slide 8. Instruct students to take notes in their T-Charts as they and their partners read the article collaboratively. These notes should include textual support of what a siren is. Once students have completed the reading and added notes to their T-Charts, have them share out their perceptions with the class.

Display slide 9. Show the first of two short videos that depict different meanings/definitions of "siren." Remind students to take notes in their T-Charts as they watch these clips.

Have students watch the following scene, Pirates Meet Mermaids at Whitecap Bay, excerpted from the 2011 film "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," directed by Rob Marshall.

When the clip is over, invite students to share with their partners what they have written.

Show slide 10. Share the second short clip, The Truth Behind the Mermaid Myth, with students. When the second video is over, invite students to volunteer what they have written in both columns of their T-Charts. Ask them to share how the information they have read and watched helped to inform them of what a "siren" is.


Show slide 11. Assign the attached Excerpt from The Odyssey: The Sirens. Ask them to annotate the text as they read, using a modified version of Why-Lighting to identify support as to whether a siren is part bird or part fish.

Transition to slide 12. Have students prepare to answer the question, "What is a siren?" Instruct them to have textual and video support ready to share. Have them write 1–2 questions to share with classmates to aid them in understanding what a siren is.


Begin the class with slide 13. Have students discuss collaboratively their understanding of the concept of the "siren." Is the siren a half-human, half-fish? Or is it a half-human, half-bird? Advise the class that the discussion will be structured as a Socratic Seminar.

Review slides 14-16 with the class. Once the first group in the inner circle completes their discussion, have the students switch spots with those in the outer circle.

Once both groups have had a chance to participate in the Socratic Seminar, ask students to reflect and evaluate as a class. Have students self-reflect on their participation throughout the activity and complete a general evaluation of the activity as a concluding activity.

Consider the following guiding questions as a concluding exercise:

  1. At any point, did the seminar revert to something other than a dialogue? If so, how did your group handle this?

  2. How did group members demonstrate they were actively listening and building on others' ideas?

  3. How has your understanding of the texts been affected by the ideas explored in this seminar?

  4. What parts of the discussion did you find most interesting? In what parts were you least engaged?

  5. What would you like to do differently as a participant the next time you are in a seminar?


Show slide 17. Have students retrieve the handout, "I Used To Think . . . But Now I Know." Ask them to reflect on their earlier work from the "I Used to Think" portion where they sketched what they believed a siren looked like. Have them complete the "But Now I Know" portion, comparing their "before" and "after" perceptions. Remind them to include any pertinent information they gleaned when they Why-Lighted the Excerpt from The Odyssey: The Sirens.