Historic Heroes

What role do heroes play in society and how are they represented?


Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration


In a world with few real heroes, students will recognize the positive character traits of heroes as depicted in music, art and literature. All cultures and societies have produced folk, military, religious, political, and artistic heroes. In this lesson, the class will break into groups and write a working definition of a hero which they will present to the class. Students will discuss multi-media representations of heroes as well as cultural differences among who is considered a hero. The teacher will provide various works of art depicting heroes, and the students will choose one hero to research for an essay.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify characteristics that are common to heroes, and recognize qualities that are exceptional in certain heroes.
  • Recognize heroes from many diverse cultures.
  • Discuss how heroes can be any type of person who has accomplished an inspiring action.
  • Work in groups to create a working definition of a hero.
  • Present their findings to the class.
  • Examine works of art, literature and music that depict historical, legendary, or contemporary heroes.
  • Individually select a hero from one of these media to research as the subject of an expository essay topic.
  • Research the style, medium, and time period in which this hero was depicted.

Teaching Approach

  • Arts Inclusion
  • Interdisciplinary

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Self-Directed Learning
  • Research
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Direct Instruction

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • Projector
  • Speakers
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should read The Hero in Classical Music.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students will need:

Prior Activities

Hero Quotes

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Post hero quotes around the classroom

Accessibility Notes

English Language Learners should be encouraged to reference the art, literature, and traditions of their native cultures.


Resources in Reach

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

Build Knowledge
Assessment Rubric


The hero plays an important role in every culture through its art, music, drama and especially its literature. It reflects the values of a culture as well as its ideals.


1. Begin by introducing the concept of a hero in society.

2. Read aloud a well-known account of a hero and heroic action, such as a Greek myth.

3. Using this character as an example, have the class begin to draft a list of the characteristics and qualities of a hero that were presented in the story. Widen their concept of a hero by guiding the discussion to talk about heroes from areas such as politics, religion, history, folktales, and art.

4. Brainstorm a list of as many heroes as possible and then create a chart with the heroes on one axis and the characteristics on the other. Check off the qualities as they apply to each hero. You may wish to distribute the Heroic Qualities handout located under 'Resources in Reach' so students can create their own charts.

Build Knowledge

1. Have student groups create working definitions of a hero. Break the class into small cooperative learning groups. Instruct the groups to create a working definition of a hero including every possible description of this individual. Encourage them to explore and answer the questions in the small group Discussion Questions handout, located under 'Resources in Reach'.

2. Have each group present its findings to the class. Keep running lists of the traits that were most common amongst the groups and of the most unusual adjectives and descriptions for a hero.

3. Lead the students in a group discussion of the variety of types and qualities of heroes.

4. Introduce different works of art depicting deeds of heroic figures, available on the following Web sites:

You may wish to project the images from the Internet using an LCD projector or pass out copies of the works to the class.

5. Comment on the various examples presented. Identify styles of art, media, historical periods, composition, and interpretation of subject matter.


1. Students will independently examine depictions of heroes in a variety of media, including art and music.

Encourage the students to examine these depictions of heroes while keeping in mind the depictions of heroes questions in the Discussion Questions handout located under 'Resources in Reach':


Each of the students will select a work of art depicting a hero and write an expository essay on this piece. They may either select from the reproductions shown in class or select a work of art on their own, subject to approval. Students will each write a two-page, double-spaced expository essay on this work of art. You may find the hero analysis writing prompt under 'Resources in Reach'.

Assessment Rubric

Evaluate students’ essays on the following criteria using the Assessment Rubric located under 'Resources in Reach'

Recommended Resources

Key Vocabulary

hero: a character whose actions are inspiring

mythic: existing only in myth; legendary, relating to traditional stories originating in pre-literate societies

composition: the organization of parts; design of a work of art

descriptive analyses: method to classify and explore an artists' style, medium, historical period, and

interpretation of subject matter

medium: a mode of artistic expression, technique, materials

style: a distinctive or characteristic manner

theme: an idea, point of view, or description embodied in a work of art

Extending the Learning

Have students refine their scripts in a writer’s workshop format (integrating peer and faculty feedback). Then, have them cast and rehearse the scene. Scenes could be performed for other students or parents and teachers.


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 9-12 Theater Standard 2: Acting by developing, communicating, and sustaining characters in improvisations and informal or formal productions

Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 4: Directing by interpreting dramatic texts and organizing and conducting rehearsals for informal or formal productions

Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 5: Researching by evaluating and synthesizing cultural and historical information to support artistic choices

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

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



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Maggie Hepworth
Original Writer

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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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