Literature Performance Odyssey with Drama and Student Leadership

They only had a 2 ½ weeks to teach the entire Odyssey. So, teacher Marynn Dause met with her students. They decided to follow the pattern of Homer and become storytelling bards themselves with powerful results. Marynn shares this innovative approach to teaching the Odyssey invented by her students along with their advice for using this method in your classroom.

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Marynn Dause: Literature Performance Odyssey

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Date: May 23, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with someone I made friends with on Twitter, Marynn Dause.

She is a ninth-grade literature teacher.

Marynn, you are doing something fascinating with teaching The Odyssey.

Tell us what you’re doing.

Marynn: Yes, hello, and hello to everyone listening.

My students and I were sort of stuck with two and a half weeks to tackle twenty-four books (or chapters) of The Odyssey by Homer.

We had 2 ½ weeks to cover 24 chapters

We have a very collaborative classroom, I let the students lead their learning as much as possible.

So, during our Monday morning meeting, I just said, “You know what, guys? We don’t have a lot of time. There are a lot of chapters, and frankly, I have never taught this in a way that has worked for all or my kids. I need your help.”

We brainstormed, and what we ended up coming up with was the kids said, “How did people originally interact with this text?” Because that’s something that I want to emphasize is the original intent of the author and how they wanted their audience to receive it. I explained about Homer as being a poet, a bard, an oral storyteller.

The kids said, “How did people originally interact with this text?”

They said, “Well, why don’t we do that? Can’t we just tell the story the way that HE would have?”

So I took their idea and did some research and ran with it, and what we ended up doing is we parcelled the story out and the kids took charge of learning the chapters, and reciting and performing them for their classmates exactly the way that Homer would have two and a half thousand years ago.

Vicki: Wow, so they memorized it? Or they just filmed it? Or how does this work?

Marynn: Different groups chose different strategies, and it really ended up depending on the strengths of the teams themselves. I gave them a wide variety of options. When we were planning the whole thing, I had the kids brainstorm different ways of storytelling and they came up with thirty-seven different ways to tell a story.

Vicki: (laughs)

Marynn: Yeah! (laughs)

We talked about different tools, and we worked on, “Okay, how are we going to do this?” But most of them ended up deciding that they preferred actually doing spoken stories.

Most of them preferred actually doing spoken stories

We had skits. We had popsicle stick puppets. We had miming. We had the type of thing where people hit a scene, they freeze, and the narrator steps forward and narrates what’s going on, and then they do that a couple of times.

So lots of different live performance options that the kids ended up preferring as they went along.

Vicki: Now did you film these? Did you capture these on film for the kids who weren’t there? How did that work?


Marynn: Yes, I did somewhat. We have to be a little bit careful about our photography rights and recording and that kind of thing with the students, but any time that we knew somebody was going to be gone, we would record it and send it just to that person.

Or, I mean we actually do have the books themselves. Sometimes the kids would say, “Don’t worry about it, Ms. Dause, I’m just going to read the chapter.”

One thing that I was really pleased by was that, as we went through this process of taking the story chapter by chapter, the kids began to feel more confident in their reading ability, and so they were not intimidated by the text anymore.

The kids began to feel more confident in their reading ability

They would say, “Oh, I’ve already done my chapters with my group. I can handle this one. It won’t be a big deal.”

Vicki: Wow. So did you cover it all in time? Were you able to get through, or did you get stuck? Sometimes teachers are afraid of projects because they’re like, “Oh, we just won’t get it done! They’ll spend the whole time playing!”

Marynn: I know what you mean.

We actually did, and it was one of those things where having the limited amount of time sort of lit a fire under us, you know what I mean? It’s like, “Okay, well… we have to get this done one way or the other. It is a curriculum requirement.”

“If we fail, and we’re right back to where we started, where we have less time to read the full things, so, go, go!” And the kids would cheer each other on.

What we did is we took two and a half days at the beginning — I teach on a four-by-four system, my classes are ninety minutes long — about two and a half days at the front end for the kids to read their chapters, annotate it like crazy, and a lot of them either wrote skits or sort of did bullet-point plans on a piece of paper, and then they would put together costumes.

Each table would perform one chapter, and we would do feedback from the group. I included a question and answer session after each performance so the audience could make sure they understood what had happened, and they got bonus points for asking questions. Answering questions was actually one of the requirements for the performers.

Answering questions was a requirement for the performers

Then we would take a day after each round and prep for the next one, and anything they couldn’t fit in in class, that was their only homework.

I usually assign three or four really quality-thinking assignments each week, but I said, “Look, guys, this is going to be a lot of work, so as long as you’re working on this, I’m not going to give you anything extra because I want all of your attention for my class focused on this effort.”

Vicki: Marynn, before we started recording, you showed me that you have a lot of observations from your students that they had — things they wanted to share.

Tell us the things the students want everybody to hear and know about this method of approaching The Odyssey.


Marynn: Absolutely.

I did tell them, “I can’t find anybody else who’s done this before, so you are learning for all the schools in America, you might be, so who knows.”

A couple of major points. I asked them for highs, lows, and for advice that they would give other schools.

I asked them for highs, lows, and advice that they would give

Vicki: Awesome.

Marynn: Their highs, summarized, were that:

  • this is very creative and interesting
  • it’s engaged and made the text come alive
  • I felt that I could move and understand it
  • it was interactive and fun, lots of stars around fun
  • It improved my comprehension,
  • I learned a lot out of my comfort zone
  • I remember the whole story

One little guy said, “Usually, when I read, there’s so much going on, I can barely keep up with the story. Forget the characters, it’s not going to happen. But now, when we’re talking about the characters, you can say, ‘Yeah, you’re Achaea remember? And I can remember, and that helps me comprehend.”

Some of their lows were, “It’s time consuming!” (laughs)

Vicki: (laughs) Yeah, they had to work, right? (laughs)

Welcome to teaching, right? But it’s great that they’re doing it.


Marynn: Several of the kids said, “It was a lot more work than I expected.”

I did think it was interesting that they pointed out, “This is really fun and most of us prefer to do live acting, but that didn’t fit everybody’s style.”

It really does depend on your learning style. You need to know performing techniques. I messed that up. I didn’t show them stage drama techniques until the second and third round, because I didn’t predict how much they would need to know.

They wanted to get that learning about the skills at the front end.

The other thing they noted is that, “If the performance is unclear, if the group has a tough chapter with a lot of details and a lot of characters, it can get a little muddy. It can be hard to understand.”

So they said, You really have to emphasize the Q&A structure.”

And we also, in the middle, we started having the groups to read a summary of their annotations before they performed. That way, we knew what we were looking for before they went on stage.

Vicki: But they recommend this for other classrooms?

Their advice column was actually the long one

Marynn: Absolutely, and their advice column was actually the longest one.

Vicki: So what’s their advice?

Marynn: I’m going to try to pick the most pertinent moments.

  • They said practice. Do not procrastinate. For the love of all that is good, make sure that you practice!
  • A lot of the kids said just do it. Just break out of your comfort zone.
  • Understand that everybody in the room is going to be doing the same thing, and the sillier you look, the more we enjoy it. So just GO.
  • They did actually recommend — several of them set up Google Remind accounts, like, and they used Remind instead of a group chat. So they would all be on a Remind group together so they could communicate when they were at home. That way, they didn’t need to know each other’s numbers, but they could still talk.

Vicki: Yeah. Wow.

Marynn:Yeah, I thought that was good.

Other than that, they said definitely work on your group collaboration at the front end. Like have a really clear conversation about who is going to be in charge of what, and how you are going to make sure it happens, first?

Vicki: (agrees)

Marynn: Several of them, I actually led some conflict resolution workshops because they found out the hard way that they didn’t know how to do conflict resolution.

Vicki: Yeah. And that’s so great about having teams and working in this way, because you’re teaching much more than your topic, and you’ve got done on time! We do want to say that!

Marynn: Yeah.

Vicki: So, Marynn, the thing I think I would like to most point out to our teachers, besides the fact that this is a fantastic teaching method…

But I like what you’ve modeled for us by going to your students and saying, “Students, what do you want to say to people about this method of teaching?”

Actually, we’ve had 301 episodes as of the day we’re recording this, and I’m sitting here thinking, “You know, we need to all do a better job of getting feedback from students and letting the students speak, and then we could be the voice for them.”

I think that you’ve really modeled something powerful that we all need to be doing a better job of when we’re talking about teaching strategies. Because I really like their recommendations and, you know, when kids say it’s time-consuming, or a lot of work, I hate to say that I don’t mind that, but the point is you don’t really give homework.

They’re really doing most of this work in class, so their goof-off time goes away. A lot of kids want a little bit of goof-off time and they’re just not getting it, and we’re okay with that.

So remarkable educators, I think this is a fascinating way to teach. It’s a teaching oddysey in itself, and we’ve just learned so much.

So thank you! And tell your kids thanks!


Marynn: Oh, I certainly will.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

I'm Marynn HS Dause, M.A.Ed, NBCT, and non-traditional innovator extraordinaire. My secondary ELA classroom in King George, Virginia is more laboratory than lecture hall, and my passion is helping teachers and students progress with excellence and purpose. I'm enthusiastic about the possibilities of edtech for better learning, excited about pedagogy, and always up for a new adventure. I'd be happy to collaborate with you on Twitter!


Twitter: @DauseClause

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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