Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Paradise Lost is one of the great epic poems of the English language, written by John Milton in the mid-17th century. Being a sprawling epic, this text represents a major project for students to tackle. The following activities can help students delve deeper into the poem and explore it with group work in the classroom. These activities are intended for high-school students, but can be adapted to slightly younger classrooms if desired.
Paradise Lost Activities
Divide the class into groups, and assign each a different section of Paradise Lost. The simplest way to do this may be to divide students in groups equal to the number of books in Paradise Lost, so that each group is responsible for one book. In their groups, students will discuss and analyze their section of the poem, making note of the major events, characters, and themes. Provide students with a very large piece of paper. Each group will design and complete a wall mural that represents the main events and themes of their section of the poem. They can choose to focus the entire mural on a single event, or create a sequence of interconnected events on their mural. In either case, remind students that they are being evaluated on ideas, not artistic skill. Once the groups are done, hang the murals around the classroom, creating a visual depiction of the entire poem on your walls.
- Materials: Copies of Paradise Lost, large paper, arts and crafts supplies as desired
Divide the class into small groups, and assign each group a section of Paradise Lost. In their groups, students are going to analyze their section of the poem in depth, looking not only at the events but also major themes and literary techniques. Each group will then write 10 discussion questions about their section of the poem. These should be questions that will prompt their classmates to confront their thoughts and feelings, as well as discuss the deeper meanings and structure of the poem. In other words, groups should try to avoid yes/no and ''what happened next'' type questions. When the groups have their questions, bring the class together. Let each group lead the class in discussion, and thus work through the entire poem as a class.
- Materials: Copies of Paradise Lost
Divide the class into small groups. In their groups, students are going to work together to write their own (short) epic poems in blank verse, following the style of Milton's Paradise Lost. For a writing prompt, consider one of the following:
- Students will write a final chapter or epilogue to Milton's Paradise Lost, building on the events, themes, and characters of his poem
- Students will pick a figure from modern American popular mythology, such as Superman, and write an epic poem about this character
- Students will pick a moment from American history, such as the American Revolution, and write an epic poem about this moment and the people involved
- Materials: Copies of Paradise Lost, writing supplies
Divide the class into small groups, and assign each group a section of Paradise Lost. In their groups, students will read through their section and prepare a dramatic reading. In this, one student (at a time) will act as narrator, reading the poem aloud. The other students will be the actors, performing these events silently as the narrator recites. Students may switch roles throughout their performance, giving all a chance to be narrator. If you wish to expand on this, give students a chance to create simple masks out of paper plates that reflect the personality of each character. Give each group a chance to present their dramatic reading to the class.
- Materials: Copies of Paradise Lost, paper plates and arts and crafts supplies if desired
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