Teach Epic Poetry Structure: A Practical Guide for Beginners
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is Epic Poetry?
  2. How to Introduce Epic Poetry to Beginners
  3. Teach the Structure of Epic Poetry
  4. How to Analyze an Epic Poem
  5. Practical Exercises for Understanding Epic Poetry
  6. How to Guide Students to Write Their Own Epic Poetry
  7. Common Challenges and How to Address Them
  8. Useful Resources for Teaching Epic Poetry

Teaching the art of epic poetry can be a daunting task. Yet, with the right guidance and structure, it can turn into a fun and engaging learning journey. If you're wondering how to teach epic poetry structure to your students or just interested in the subject, you've landed on the right page. This practical guide is designed to walk you through the process step by step, providing you with clear, easy-to-follow instructions and some insider tips. So, let's dive in and explore the captivating world of epic poetry together.

What is Epic Poetry?

Epic poetry, a form of literature that dates back to ancient times, has fascinated readers and listeners for centuries. These long, narrative poems tell grand stories about heroes and their extraordinary adventures. The most famous examples include Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey", and Virgil's "The Aeneid".

So, what makes epic poetry unique? Here are some key features to note:

  • Length: Epic poems are lengthy. They unfold across multiple books or chapters, allowing for a detailed narrative.
  • Heroic protagonist: The central character in an epic poem is a hero who often possesses superhuman abilities or high social standing.
  • Grand setting: Epic poetry takes us on a journey across vast settings. It could be across continents, into heavenly realms, or even through hell.
  • Divine intervention: Gods and other supernatural beings often play a part in the narrative, either aiding the hero or placing obstacles in their path.
  • Elevated style: Epic poems often use formal and elegant language to match the grandeur of the narrative.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what epic poetry is, you're ready to start teaching it. In the following sections, we'll delve into how to introduce epic poetry to beginners, teach the structure of epic poetry, analyze an epic poem, and more. Stay tuned!

How to Introduce Epic Poetry to Beginners

Stepping into the world of epic poetry can be overwhelming for beginners. So, how can you introduce this vast, complex form of literature in a way that's engaging and not intimidating? Here are some tips:

  • Start simple: Begin with a brief, fun introduction. Explain what epic poetry is in simple terms, like 'a long story about a hero’s adventure'. You could also show them a short video or a fun comic strip that encapsulates the essence of an epic poem.
  • Storytelling is key: Epic poems are essentially stories. Narrate a summary of an epic poem as a story, focusing on the main events and characters. This can make it easier for students to grasp the basic structure and plot.
  • Show, don't tell: Use visual aids—maps, pictures, or even props—to bring the story alive. This can help students visualize the grand settings and epic journeys.
  • Break it down: The language of epic poetry can be complex. Break down the text into smaller parts, explain the meaning of difficult words, and discuss the significance of certain phrases or lines. This can help them understand the text better.
  • Make it interactive: Get students involved. Ask them questions, encourage them to share their thoughts, or have them enact a scene from the poem. This can make learning more fun and engaging.

With these tips, you should be able to introduce epic poetry to beginners in a way that sparks their interest and curiosity. Remember, the goal is not just to teach epic poetry structure, but to instill a love for this art form that encourages them to explore it further on their own.

Teach the Structure of Epic Poetry

Now onto the meat of the matter - how to teach epic poetry structure. You've piqued your students' interest with an introduction. Now, it's time to dive into the structural elements that make an epic poem, well, epic. Here are some key structural components you should cover:

  • Length: Epic poems are long. They span several books or chapters. This length allows for in-depth character development, intricate plots, and grand settings. Make sure to highlight this aspect when discussing the structure of an epic poem.
  • The Hero: Every epic poem has a hero. The hero is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance. In the Iliad, it's Achilles; in the Odyssey, it's Odysseus. When you teach epic poetry structure, always identify the hero.
  • The Journey: Epic poems often involve a long journey. This journey can be literal, like Odysseus' journey home in the Odyssey, or metaphorical, like Dante's journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven in the Divine Comedy.
  • Invocation to a Muse: Epic poems often start with an invocation to a muse. This is where the poet asks for divine inspiration to tell their epic tale. Pay special attention to this when you teach epic poetry structure, as it's a unique feature of this genre.
  • In Medias Res: Many epic poems start in the middle of the action, a technique known as 'in medias res'. This can be a bit disorienting at first, but it's a great way to grab the reader's attention right from the start.
  • Epic Similes: Epic poems often contain extended, elaborate similes, also known as Homeric or epic similes. These similes serve to intensify the heroic stature of the characters and the grandeur of the action.

By focusing on these elements, you can effectively teach the structure of epic poetry to your students, offering them a solid foundation to appreciate and analyze this remarkable form of literature.

How to Analyze an Epic Poem

Understanding the structure of an epic poem is just the first step. Now, let's get down to how to analyze an epic poem. Analysis is like cracking a code — it's about finding the hidden meanings and subtext within the text.

  • Look for Themes: All epic poems explore big, universal themes like honor, courage, love, loss, and destiny. When analyzing an epic poem, try to identify these overarching themes. What is the poem trying to say about these themes? How do the characters' actions and choices reflect these themes?
  • Consider the Hero: The hero is at the heart of any epic poem. Analyze their character — what are their strengths and weaknesses? What challenges do they face, and how do they overcome them? How does their journey reflect the poem's themes?
  • Examine the Language: Epic poetry is known for its grand, elevated language. Look at the choice of words and phrases. How do they contribute to the poem's overall mood and tone? What about the use of similes and metaphors? Remember, every word in a poem is carefully chosen and loaded with meaning.
  • Don't Ignore the Setting: The setting of an epic poem is often as important as the characters and the plot. Whether it's the bloody battlefields of the Iliad or the fantastical lands of the Odyssey, the setting can tell you a lot about the story's themes and the characters' journeys.
  • Think about Structure: You've already learned how to teach epic poetry structure. Now, it's time to put that knowledge to use. How does the poem's structure contribute to its meaning? How does it impact the pace, flow, and development of the story?

Analysis can seem daunting at first, but with practice and guidance, it can become an exciting journey of discovery. So, roll up your sleeves and dive into the rich, complex world of epic poetry.

Practical Exercises for Understanding Epic Poetry

After you've done some analysis, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get hands-on. Here are some practical exercises that you can use to deepen your understanding of epic poetry structure and its various elements.

  1. Create a Character Profile: Pick a character from an epic poem and create a detailed profile for them. Include their physical description, personality traits, motivations, and relationships with other characters. This will help you understand the character's role in the poem and their contribution to the story's themes.
  2. Map the Journey: Epic poems often involve a journey or quest. Draw a map of the hero's journey, marking important locations and events along the way. This can help you visualize the story's progression and understand how the setting influences the plot.
  3. Write a Scene: Choose a scene from the poem and write it in your own words. This exercise will challenge you to engage deeply with the text and understand its nuances. Remember to maintain the grandeur and elevated style typical of epic poetry.
  4. Analyze a Passage: Select a passage from the poem and analyze it in detail. Look at the language, imagery, themes, and structure. What is the passage saying, and how does it contribute to the overall story? This exercise will sharpen your analytical skills and deepen your understanding of epic poetry.
  5. Compose a Poem: Finally, try your hand at writing your own epic poem! It doesn't have to be long — even a few lines can be a great start. Focus on creating a grand, heroic tone and incorporate some of the themes and structures you've learned about.

Remember, understanding epic poetry is a journey — one that requires patience, curiosity, and a willingness to engage with the text on a deep level. But with these practical exercises, you'll be well on your way to mastering the art of epic poetry analysis.

How to Guide Students to Write Their Own Epic Poetry

Now that your students have an understanding of the epic poetry structure, it's time for them to take on the exciting challenge of writing their own. Here are some steps to guide them through the process:

  1. Choose a Theme: The first step is to settle on a theme for their epic poem. Encourage them to think about big, universal themes like heroism, adventure, or love. The theme will provide a backbone for their poem.
  2. Create the Hero: Next, they'll need a hero. This hero should embody the values related to their theme. They'll need to think about their hero's qualities, weaknesses, and the journey they will take.
  3. Plan the Plot: Now it's time to map out the story. Using the theme and the hero as foundations, they can start to outline the major events in the poem. Will their hero face a monstrous foe, go on a dangerous journey, or perhaps both?
  4. Write in Verses: Epic poetry often uses a specific verse structure. The traditional style is dactylic hexameter, but they can choose a verse structure they feel comfortable with. Remind them to use elevated language and vivid imagery.
  5. Revise and Refine: The last step is to revise their work. They should read their poem out loud, listen to the rhythm, and make sure it flows well. Encourage them to refine and polish until they're proud of their work.

Remember, writing an epic poem is a big task, but it's also a lot of fun. Encourage your students to let their imaginations run wild and to enjoy the process. And who knows? You might just be teaching the next Homer or Virgil!

Common Challenges and How to Address Them

As you dive into teaching epic poetry structure, you might find a few bumps along the way. Let's address some of the common challenges you might face and offer solutions to smooth out the learning process.

  1. Understanding the Language: The elevated language and complex metaphors in epic poetry can be challenging for beginners. Combat this by breaking down passages into simpler terms and encouraging students to translate lines into their own words.
  2. Feeling Intimidated by the Length: Epic poems are, well, epic in length. This can be daunting for many students. You can ease their concerns by focusing on one section at a time and reminding them that they don't have to write a book-length poem on their first try.
  3. Struggling with the Verse Structure: Writing in verses can be a new experience for many students. Provide lots of examples and practice exercises to help them get the hang of it. Remember, it's okay to start with simpler structures before moving on to more complex ones like dactylic hexameter.
  4. Having Difficulty Creating a Plot: Coming up with a compelling plot for an epic poem can be tough. Inspire your students with examples of classic epic plots, and help them brainstorm ideas based on their own interests and passions.

Remember, every challenge is an opportunity for learning. With patience, practice, and your expert guidance, students can overcome these hurdles and truly enjoy the process of creating their own epic poetry.

Useful Resources for Teaching Epic Poetry

One of the best parts of teaching epic poetry structure is the wealth of resources available to help you make the process fun and engaging. Here are a few of my favorites that you might find helpful.

  1. Classic Epic Poetry: Books like "The Odyssey" by Homer, "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri, and "Paradise Lost" by John Milton are invaluable resources. They offer students a firsthand look at epic poetry in action and serve as great sources of inspiration.
  2. Modern Interpretations: Modern adaptations of classic epic poems, like "The Penelopiad" by Margaret Atwood, can make these ancient stories more relatable and accessible to students. Plus, they're a great way to demonstrate how epic poetry continues to evolve and influence contemporary literature.
  3. Poetry Writing Guides: Guides such as "The Ode Less Travelled" by Stephen Fry offer clear, practical advice on writing poetry, including sections on verse structure that can be particularly helpful when teaching epic poetry.
  4. Online Resources: Websites like SparkNotes offer helpful summaries and analyses of famous epic poems, while YouTube channels like Crash Course offer engaging video lessons on everything from the basics of poetry to in-depth discussions of specific works.

Remember: teaching epic poetry structure isn't just about understanding the technical aspects. It's also about fostering a love and appreciation for this rich literary tradition. With the right resources, your students will not only master the structure of epic poetry but also discover the joy of creating their own epic tales.

If you enjoyed this practical guide to teaching epic poetry structure and want to explore more ways to enhance your creative skills, check out 'Composing Complex Illustrations using Basic Shapes' workshop by Juliet Schreckinger. While this workshop focuses on visual art, the principles of breaking down complex concepts into manageable parts can be applied to teaching epic poetry as well. Expand your creative horizons with this unique workshop!