What role do monsters play in various cultures and how are they reflected in various art forms?


Key Staff

English teacher with opportunities for collaboration with performing and visual arts teachers.

Key Skills

Creative Thinking: Creativity and Innovation
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres


This lesson is intended to have students investigate the idea of "monsters" in society. How have monsters been viewed, what purpose do they serve, why are they necessary? Students will begin by defining the idea of what a monster is. They will then read Beowulf. The reading of Grendel by John Champlin Gardner will follow. Students will design and present their own conceptions of a monster.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the concept of a monster by creating and presenting (with a visual) a monster of their own conception.
  • Use Internet resources to research monsters.
  • Read and discuss Beowulf by John Champlin Gardner.
  • Write a brief, concise story about his/her monster and how it came to be.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • VCR
  • DVD Player
  • Printer
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers will need to be well-versed in both Beowulf and Grendel. They should have a working knowledge of the role of monsters in various cultures and how they are represented in the arts.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with the role of monsters in society and various cultures.

Students should have basic research skills.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab
  • Media Center or Library


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction


  • Test internet connection
  • Make necessary photocopies

Accessibility Notes

ELL students should be encouraged to draw comparisons to the concept of monsters in the literature and arts of their native countries.


Resources in Reach

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

Build Knowledge


1. Since music can serve as an excellent way to catch students' attention, play Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by J.S. Bach, Modest Mussorgsky's Night on a Bald Mountain, or some other "spooky" piece of music as a starting point.

2. Ask the students what the inspiration for this music might have been. Do they know other examples of music that seem to be inspired by a fear of monsters or that attempt to instill a sense of monsters approaching? (Examples include might include Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King, and the soundtrack from horror movies such as The Shining and Jaws.)

3. After asking students for examples, discuss monsters. Begin with a discussion of the idea of monsters. Use the following questions to guide the conversation.

  • Why do you think monsters exist?
  • Can you give examples of monsters from your childhood?
  • Can you give examples of the way we see monsters in our society?
  • What are the positive aspects of monsters?
  • What need did monsters fill in society in the past, what need might they fill now?

One or more of the following musical selections:

  • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by J.S. Bach
  • Modest Mussorgsky's Night on a Bald Mountain
  • Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King,
  • Soundtracks from horror movies such as The Shining and Jaws

Build Knowledge

1. Have students view the video clip, Understanding the Music: Danse Macabre in which NSO Assistant Conductor Emil de Cou shares details about the original story that was the inspiration for the music and discusses how musical sounds effects are created.

2. Students should discuss how the composer, Camille Saint-Saens, musically portrayed the different characters in the graveyard. Ask students for suggestions of stories that contain "monster-like" characters; record their responses on the board . Then move to a discussion about the fact that Beowulf, one of our earliest written pieces of literature, is a monster story.

3. At this point, the class will begin conducting research on the Internet for Web sites about monsters. If computers with internet connection are not available in the classroom, then be sure to reserve time in the computer lab or library.

4. Instruct each student to find a site that deals with monsters. They should be prepared to report to the class about a specific monster (e.g.: Frankenstein, Golem, Dracula). Students should use the Monster Research Guide that can be found in the Resource Carousel to record their findings.

5. Have students present their findings about specific monsters to the rest of the class. They can enhance their presentation by either printing out images of their monster or using an LCD projector to share them with the class.


1. The class will read Beowulf. Read part of this story aloud and ask questions throughout the reading process to make sure the students are grasping the tale. Use the following as a basis for class discussion:

  • What is the role of women in Beowulf?
  • Is Beowulf an ideal hero and king? What are his character flaws?
  • From whose point of view is the story told? How does thie affect the reader?

2. Following discussion at the end of Beowulf, the class should proceed to the reading of Grendel by Gardner.

3. Have a class discussion at the end of Grendel. Use the following questions as a starting point for discussion:

  • Why do you think Gardner chose to use Grendel as a narrator?
  • How does the fact that Grendel is a monster affect the way the story is told?
  • How does Grendel feel about language?

4. During the reading of Grendel, assign the "Monster" creation project in which each student is to create a monster of his/her own. Distribute the Monster Creation Worksheet that can be found within the Resource Carousel. Explain that students will be creating their own monster and doing a multimedia presentation for the rest of the class.

  • The monster should have a background, name, and history or developmental tale that explains its existence.
  • There must be a visual representation of the monster.
  • Students should select music that represents their monster.

5. Allow students time to do research for and write their monster story. Students will also need time to create a visual representation of the monster and select music to represent it.

6. When students have completed the assignment, allow time for students to present their work to the rest of the class.


1. Explain to the class that, even today, there are many cultures that believe in the existence of monsters, demons, and other such creatures. Point out that, while most of us consider the notion of their existence unlikely, belief in monsters is not necessarily an unreasonable belief, and that it is, at very least, supported culturally, albeit not scientifically.

2. Explain to students that they are going to write an original story featuring the monster they have created. You may choose to have students do peer editing or peer review once the stories are done.


Use the Assessment Rubric that can be found within the Resource Carousel to evaluate students' learning. You may wish to use these additional forms of assessment:

  • Short-answer quizzes on the reading materials as needed. These quizzes are to check for student understanding of character and plot development, particularly since the reading materials are quite dense.
  • Reading quizzes are recommended, to ensure that the works are read.
  • Oral participation during discussion should be noted.
  • A brief paper should be written comparing and contrasting the two works Beowulf and Grendel and the relationship between the two. Two concise, well-written pages will be reasonable for this essay.
  • A brief report can be written describing the Internet sites about monsters and discussing how it relates to our study.
  • The monster itself is presented in an oral presentation. Grades should be based on completeness of presentation, and then to a somewhat lesser degree on the creativity and imaginativeness of the monster. Is the visual appropriate? Does the story make sense? Has clear effort been reflected?

Recommended Resources

Key Vocabulary

  • Monster
  • Epic
  • Beowulf
  • Grendel

Extending the Learning

Edsitement.com has a related lesson plan titled Tales of the Supernatural, which explores the role of monsters in 18th and 19th century literature.


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Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Steve Klass
Original Writer

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