Writable Spotlight Sequence: The Hero’s Journey

The “Hero’s Journey” sequence was contributed by Matthew Winkler, an 8th teacher at The Rectory School in Pomfret, Connecticut. You can find him at matthewpwinkler.com. To find & assign this sequence, get Writable!

The goal of this lesson in Writable is to familiarize students with the monomyth, or hero’s journey. The lesson starts by introducing students to the basic concept, then asks them to identify an example, and finally asks them to generate an example from their own personal experience.

After students have completed this unit, I hope that they are able to detect the underlying pattern of the hero’s journey in the next movie they see or the next book they read. Furthermore, I hope they reflect on their own lives and recognize the times when they have accepted a call to adventure, faced a challenge, and grown from it.

Students prefer to write about subjects in which they are experts. The first essay asks them to write about a favorite story, and the second one asks them to write about themselves. They feel confident writing about both topics. Students expect to read a new story in English class, so this unit takes them by surprise. It’s a new way to think about all the stories they already know. I think of it as a kind of X-ray machine, allowing students to examine the mythical bones inside most books and movies. Many students have a “Eureka!” moment: “Wait! I just realized that X is a hero’s journey story! It has all the steps!”

When asked to apply the monomyth template to a personal experience, most students move from skepticism (pre-writing) to surprise (drafting) to validation (revising). Students love finding out that they were the hero in a modern myth and they didn’t even realize it at the time. That connection drives home the purpose and origin of all stories, as lessons in living.

If there is a book or movie that you hold dear, compare it to the hero’s journey. If its story arc matches up fairly well, use it as an example. Share your favorite scenes with your students, and share your enthusiasm, too. Make Hollywood work for you. For students who write about a movie in their first essay, ask them to pick one scene that represents a particular stage of the monomyth, Play/link the most relevant scenes for your class. Get into it!

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