Elements of Myth

How can myths help to explain nature and science?


Key Staff

Language Arts teacher

Key Skills

Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Creativity and Innovation


How can myths help to explain nature and science? Students will explore these themes in this lesson. Students will read and explore several myths, identifying the elements of this literary form. They will then act out a myth in groups. They will write scientific, research-based reports, as well as fantastical stories about physical phenomena, making note of the differences between these two approaches to explaining the world.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Read for a variety of purposes (for literary experience and to be informed)
  • Write for a variety of purposes (to express personal ideas and to inform)
  • Activate prior knowledge and relate it to a reading selection
  • Identify special vocabulary and concepts
  • Identify a main idea and supporting details
  • Read and interpret myths
  • Identify structures of literature
  • Respond to literature through writing and discussion
  • Read for a variety of orientations and purposes, including: reading for literary experience and reading to be informed
  • Write for various audiences and address the following purposes: to inform and to express personal ideas

Teaching Approach

Arts Inclusion

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Research
  • Role Playing

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

The role of mythology in the ancient world was critical; it pervaded virtually every aspect of the lives of the ancients. Students will read, write and perform myths to help them understand the various purposes served by myths.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should have a basic understanding of mythology.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Photocopy necessary handouts
  • Test Internet connection

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Ask students to think back to their early childhood and try to remember questions they may have asked adults about the world around them. For example, "What are the stars?" or "What does the sun do at night?" List their contributions on the board.

2. Explain that, long ago, people also asked these types of questions about the world around them and that they developed stories to answer these questions. These ancient stories are called myths and usually involve gods and goddesses. People created myths thousands of years ago to tell how the world and things in it came to be, and to explain how people act or why things exist. Generally, these stories can be classified into two main categories: creation myths and explanatory myths.

3. Remind students that there was a time when no one understood why every year the growing season ended and the earth became cold and barren for several months. With no scientific information to explain this phenomenon, how do students think ancient peoples reacted? Might they have seen the winter months as punishment from the gods? Could they have been fearful that perhaps one year the spring and summer would never return?

4. Explain that the myth of "Persephone" provides an explanation of why the seasons change. Read the story to find out what this explanation is.

5. After reading, have students respond to the questions in the Persephone Myth Analysis handout, either through discussion or writing:

  • Literal: Why does Hades kidnap Persephone? How does Demeter react to her daughter's disappearance? Why does Zeus send gods and goddesses to plead with Demeter? How does Demeter learn where her daughter is? Why must Persephone return to the underworld each year?
  • Analyzing: Describe Persephone's reaction to her new home. Give three or four examples of the gods and goddesses showing "human" emotions. What yearly occurrence does this myth explain?

Extending: Name at least one other aspect of nature that might be explained by the strong emotions of a god or goddess.

Build Knowledge

1. Distribute the Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel. Have students review the elements found in the myth. Elicit from them that myths—like other stories—contain the following elements: characters, setting, conflict, plot, and resolution. In addition, myths usually explained some aspect of nature or accounted for some human action. Frequently, myths included a metamorphosis, a change in shape or form. It is one of the elements that make the myth such imaginative reading. This power is frequently found in Greek myths. Arachne was transformed, and spiders were created. Throughout Greek mythology, there is a theme of magical changes of shape.

2. Read aloud "King Midas" or have students read it to themselves and tell why the metamorphosis that takes place in Midas's body is especially appropriate for his character. Have students research collections of myths from around the world either in the library or on the Internet. Students should read the myths and identify the elements in them as well as classifying them as either creation myths or explanatory myths on the Myth Elements worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Students should share their findings with the class.

3. Invite the class to brainstorm some of the "why" questions they asked when they were little children, such as: "Why is the sky blue?" "Why are there clouds in the sky?" or "Why do we get goosebumps?" Write students' questions on the chalkboard.

4. Divide students into pairs and have them choose one of the questions and answer it in two ways: as a teller of myths and as a scientist. Tell them to use their imaginations to write the fantastical explanation. To answer as a scientist, they will have to do research to find the facts that explain the phenomenon, and then write a brief, factual report. Students should begin by using the Myth Planning worksheet located within the Resource Carousel.


1. Divide the class into cooperative groups and have each group choose a myth to dramatize for the class. Together, the group can reread the story to determine which scenes they will act out. In addition to deciding who will play the various roles, the group should choose a member to be the narrator and work together on what the narrator might say to begin the story and link the scenes. The group can also appoint students to other roles, such as director, prop or set designer, sound engineer (to provide sound effects and music), and announcer (to introduce the play and the participants). Have students plan their skit using the Myth Performance Planning worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Each group will present its skit to the rest of the class.


1. Compare and discuss the various interpretations and presentations of each myth.

2. Discuss how the fantastical stories (i.e.: myths) compare to the scientific explanations. Have students explore some of the interactive creation myths on The Big Myth. Students should consider how the elements of characters, setting, conflict, plot, etc. are brought to life in each story that they watch.


Students will be evaluated on their written responses and research on myths.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 1: Script writing by the creation of improvisations and scripted scenes based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 2: Acting by developing basic acting skills to portray characters who interact in improvised and scripted scenes

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 5: Researching by using cultural and historical information to support improvised and scripted scenes

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Language Arts Standard 6: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Language Arts Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes


Science Standard 11: Understands the nature of scientific knowledge

Science Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Kathy Cook
Original Writer


  • Bennett, William J. The Book of Virtues. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
  • McCarthy, Tara. Multicultural Myths and Legends. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 1999.
  • Millet, Nancy, and Raymond Rodrigues. Explorations in Literature. Glenview, IL: Scott Forseman and Company, 1989.

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Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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