“It’s the Minotaur vs. Fenris”, I announce as the pair is selected from a name randomizer on the BarryFunEnglish website.
Students look at their playing cards.
“Agility?” I ask.
“Fenris…a 4,” one student responds.
“Minotaur…a 3,” another student adds.
“Round One to Fenris!” we agree.
This monster smackdown game is taking place in the Hero & Monster English IV elective class. There are 16 students in the class, several of whom who petitioned our department for a class on mythology, monsters, and heroes this year. The class was created in response to their petition. During the first week of school, they wrote the essential questions they will be studying
- What is the difference between a hero or monster?
- What criteria do we use to determine who or what is a hero?
- What criteria do we use to determine who or what is a monster?
- Created Monsters (serial killers) vs. Monsters created (Boogey man; Monsters, Inc.)
- Is there a difference? Why or why not?
In order to quickly provide them with a pantheon of mythological monsters, I devised this monster smackdown game where each student was first assigned one mythological monster. The monsters on the list originated in different cultures: Norse, Algonquian, Greek, Roman, Persian.
- The Hydra
Each student had to research the monster and create a trading card. We used the template on the BigHugeLabs website. The student had to rate the monster on five qualities: agility, appearance, intelligence, strength, and a “special” or “hidden” talent on a scale of 1-5. One the cards were made, I printed them out on on card stock using a business card template (12 on a page). This was the most costly part of the exercise (time & ink). Before we played the smackdown, each student had one minute to “sell” the monster to the rest of the class, an advertisement for the proceeding game, and pass out that trading card to each classmate.
To play the monster smackdown, I placed each monster’s name into a randomizer. I used a virtual dice creator to call out the competitive quality being tested in the smackdown. What I did not tell the students was that they would be battling on a different location. These locations were also randomly selected and included:
- nuclear power plant
- frozen pond in a wilderness
- aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean
- Wamogo High School’s senior parking lot
- Drive-in movie theatre
- Nevada Salt Flats
- Mount Rushmore
- Iceberg floating from the North Pole
- Grand Canyon
- Little Susie’s closet
Each monster had an opportunity to have his or her monster qualities tested against an adversary; students defended their individual monster’s abilities on different battlegrounds.
“Charybdis would so rule in the Grand Canyon,” yelled Jed, “He’s already a whirlpool!”
“But the Sirens would make him go mad with their singing,” Sam calmly replied, “he would swallow himself up.”
The class voted Sam’s as the better response.
There were contentious battles between Medusa and the Wendigo (malevolent cannibalistic spirit from Algonquian myths) and between the Scylla and the Kraken. My Sphinx was eliminated on round one (apparently being able to riddle is not all that great a monster power).
The winner of the monster smackdown was the Jormangandor, a “midgard” serpent that is so big he encircles the globe and holds onto his own tail.
“The world will end when he lets go of his tail!” proclaimed Eric.
“How can he fight then?” challenged Matt.
“I don’t know,” blustered Aaron, “but either way, he beats your Cerberus!”
The chief complaint about the game were from students who noted that some of their peers had not properly filled out their cards; spelling was not the only issue.
“This Medusa card is wrong. He has two ‘5’s rated -one for intelligence and one for appearance!” said Zach. He turned to confront the card-maker, “Look, if this game is going to work, you need to fill the card out properly.”
I said nothing; peer-to-peer correction is far more enduring than my suggestions.
There are a few changes I would make with regards to the scoring, but several of the students have offered to come up with a more complex system of rating and handicaps. I will also be investigating the Trading Card Creator on the Read,Write,Think website (NCTE) which allows for more detailed information on each subject; we still need to create our hero cards. Overall, the game received enthusiastic support, even from the principal who was found his way to the raucous activity that Friday morning. He left with a set of trading cards of his own.
We will be tackling “movie” monsters next. The list will include Dracula, the Balrog, Frankenstein’s Monster, Harry Potter’s Dementors, Godzilla, and King Kong. In keeping with that medium, students will make 30 second movie trailers using Animoto software. For that challenge, we will hold an Academy Awards of Movie Monsters.
The monster smackdown game provided students a quick review of monsters they encounter in literature, the allusions they need to comprehend complex texts. Already we have encountered the chimera in our reading of Frankenstein, “…because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical, under such circumstances I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented my imagination…” (ch 2).
“What does that mean?” I asked Steve, who had researched the Chimera.
“Changing and adding shapes to make something different? My monster changed shapes,” he replied hesitantly.
“Yes, to make something new and fantastic. Was your monster fantastic?”
“Of course,” he responded, “fantastic like me!”
These mythological monsters are the result of wildly imaginative stories from every culture; they are fanciful, fascinating, and fantastic…apparently, just like my seniors.