How to Teach The Lord of the Rings to Young Children

How to Teach The Lord of the Rings to Young Children

by Mary Shaye Brost

While The Lord of the Rings tells of an ancient, fantastical tale, its significance and relatability is not lost on even the smallest of children. When Frodo is beginning to doubt his role in the saving of Middle Earth, Galadriel reminds him that, “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Young children can see themselves as hobbits: small, maybe a little timid but also surprisingly bold and brave, although sometimes forgotten or not taken seriously. In this story, the children learn that they do have a part to play, a very important one in fact.

What follows are a few practical ideas for teaching young children The Lord of the Rings. It is in no way exhaustive, but will hopefully shed some light on the different ways that the students can engage with the story.

Know the Material: As human beings we cannot give what we do not have. This is especially true for teachers of any subject. When reading The Lord of the Rings, the students want to understand the big picture, but also the details. This is the kind of story that inspires deep questioning. For example students may ask: What is the Third Age of Middle Earth? How are Orcs made? Is there a God-like character in this story? Why are Frodo and Bilbo attracted to the ring if they are good characters and the ring is bad? What is a hobbit? In order to answer these questions and many others, the teacher must not only be familiar with The Lord of the Rings, but also The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. Tolkien’s life also had an impact on his work and it is important to weave that in as well. Additionally, this story can be returned to again and again over the course of someone’s life. Upon each return to this story something new is gained or learned, readers make more connections and can grasp the deeper meaning when they revisit these stories so it does not have to be grasped all at once.

Use Voices: With a multitude of characters, it is very easy for the reader and listener to become lost in who is speaking or what kind of creature the characters are. Using different voices to distinguish the characters when reading the story out loud helps the students recognize the characters and know who is speaking without using a name.

Integrate the Story to the Rest of the Curriculum: By weaving the story throughout the curriculum the students not only become more familiar with the story, but helps them articulate their understanding of it. Integration also helps certain subjects, like grammar and writing, become more enjoyable and tolerable.
Recite a poem(s) for a recitation or a brain break. These poems are enjoyable on their own, but can also tie into other parts of the curriculum.

  • When studying Westward Expansion, my 4th graders memorize The Walking Song from The Fellowship of the Ring because both events talk about journey and adventure.
  • At the end of the year, my 4th graders learn The Road Goes Ever On from The Fellowship of the Ring because they will continue reading The Lord of the Rings in 5th grade, so they are continuing on.
  • At the end of the year, my 5th graders learn Bilbo’s Last Song because they have finished reading The Lord of the Rings. They are also leaving elementary school and entering Middle School. Similar to Bilbo’s sentiments in the poem, they are sad to leave behind a good story, but also their childhood. However, both Bilbo and 5th grade are reminded that there are greater things ahead of them despite what they are leaving behind.

When in need of sentence examples in writing or grammar class, create a sentence based on what you have read so far in the story for grammar practice: for example, Frodo and Sam walked to Mordor. Circle the subject(s) and underline the predicate(s).
Incorporate reading comprehension and writing and grammar practice by having the students write sentences about what they have read so far, but adding quality adjectives or a strong verb, etc.

In teaching a three paragraph essay model in writing class, students can narrate the story of The Lord of the Rings in their own words while also learning new writing or grammatical skills.

Visuals: Young children are very visual learners and love to know what things look like. Using beautiful art can inspire wonder and deeper understanding in the student. Here are several ways to include art in a study of The Lord of the Rings.

Provide pictures and maps for the students to look at as you read the story and are introduced to new characters and locations. Tolkien himself was an artist and made many drawings and paintings of his world. There are many collections of his work as well as illustrated copies of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. I keep several of these collections on my shelf and students love looking through them when they finish assignments. Listed below are some resources for artwork by Tolkien himself or art about the world of Middle Earth.

  • The Art of the Hobbit By J.R.R Tolkien by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
  • Pictures by J.R.R Tolkien Selected and text by Christopher Tolkien
  • Bilbo’s Last Song Illustrated by Pauline Baynes
  • The Maps of Tolkien’s Middle Earth by Brian Sibley and John Howe
  • Tolkien’s World: Paintings of Middle Earth
  • The Hobbit Illustrated by Jemma Catlin

Picture Study: Do a picture study with one of Tolkien’s paintings. A good place to start is his watercolor painting of Hobbiton. Ask the students questions about what they see, what they notice. What colors were used? Are there things to count? Does the painting tell a story? If so, what is the story?

Maps: Provide the students with a map of Middle Earth. Track the progress of the characters as you read. Use different colors for the different groups of people. In The Fellowship of the Ring for example, use green to mark the progress of the four hobbits, blue for the four hobbits with Strider, and then red for The Fellowship.

Battle Maps: When reading The Two Towers or The Return of the King provide the students with a battle map as you read the battle in the story. Many battle maps can be found online. Another option would be for the students to make their own as you read.

Timeline: create and collect a timeline of important events as you read. Tolkien wrote a very detailed timeline in the Appendices in The Return of the King that is a great reference.

Drawing: Have students draw pictures in a graphic organizer or blank piece of paper illustrating the progression of the story. This looks like a comic book. The students not only have to sue their own imagination, but also have to remember the order of events in the story.

Virtue Discussion: Most importantly, the story is rich with Catholic themes and discussions of virtue. It is rare to find good literature written by Catholic authors for any aged audience. When presented with these good stories it is important to help the students draw out their deep layers.

If there are class disagreements or drama between certain students, The Lord of the Rings provides excellent examples on how to interact with others or handling difficult situations. The interactions between the four hobbits provide excellent examples: How did the other hobbits react when Pippin looked into the Palantri and put the group in danger? How should you respond when your friend does something you do not like or did not go well? How does Frodo respond when Sam nags him about how he is doing? How do you respond when a friend is asking how you are? Do the four hobbits respect the authority of Gandalf and Aragorn or do they always break the rules?

Compare The Lord of the Rings to Narnia: What Catholic images are in both of these stories? Is one more obvious than in another? Discuss the intent of the authors, the difference between analogy and symbolism, different literary styles of writing, etc.
Character Virtue: Have the students pick a character, either on their own or from a hat, and write what main virtue or vice that character practices and why. Then write a paragraph or essay about that character or virtue.

Engaging young children with this story opens new ways of learning to young students. More importantly it reminds them that even though they are young they still have an important role to play and this story provides examples of how to live that role.

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