Teaching Oedipus in Special Ed Classrooms

Oedipus the King is one of the oldest works taught in high schools, and by far it is one that gets the best reactions from my students: “Ugh! Why are we reading about this?!” If you do choose to (or are forced to) read about poor Oedipus, here are a few things that may help make it more enjoyable for you and your students. This post is relevant for both standard and special ed classrooms.

Read the PBS Adapted Version

Another teacher brought this to my attention when I was reading Oedipus with my special ed kiddos. PBS has a bunch of lesson ideas on their website as well as an adapted version. Click here to access the webpage and the adapted version of the text. It keeps most of the same language and quotes from the original, but it reads much quicker and keeps the attention of the students better.

Don’t Skimp on the Prologue

If students are confused before the story even begins, it will only get worse as the play progresses. Spend plenty of time on the back story. I have a Powerpoint and worksheets available on TpT I use that you can access here. For the most part I’ve approached the prologue in two ways and both worked pretty well.

  1. Have students act out the prologue much like they would the play. Students pretend to be shepherds and pass the baby from one to the other. Hang name signs from their necks that say their name and their relationship to one another. Set up different areas of the room as Thebes, Delphi, and Corinth.
  2. Read the prologue the same as you would a story. Pause frequently to check for understanding and to reiterate motive and character relationships. I like to put a few sentences on each PP slide along with a visual and work our way through the story slide by slide.
  3. Either way, have students take notes or create a graphic organizer. I’ve done one as a map where students write the main events on the map to refer to later. I’ve also done character maps with arrows showing relationships and boxes to be filled in as the play progresses.

Set the Stage with Greek Background Info

I like to play a little bit of Hercules – the Disney version. Here’s the clip for the very beginning where the chorus describes how the Earth was made. They sing quickly so you may need to play it twice or provide the transcript for students to be able to follow along.  I relate the chorus in the movie to the chorus in the play – they are there to provide extra information and are not actual characters in the action. I also show a quick clip of when Hercules arrives in Thebes and the city is in terrible shape. Oedipus begins in much the same way with the plague so it gives them something to visualize.

I’ve also done research projects on Greek mythology prior to reading Oedipus. It gives a lot of relevant information about how Greeks viewed the gods, made decisions, and explained natural phenomena. This is an excellent opportunity to differentiate as well. The students who struggle were given the easier gods such as Zeus and Apollo, and those who were a bit more advanced were assigned Prometheus and Pandora.

Dramatic Irony

This plays out from the start of the play until the end, so it’s something I go over at the beginning and touch on throughout the play. In order to introduce dramatic irony, I rely heavily on movie clips and references to scary movies. Here is a link to a previous post where I have a list of video clips to use for irony and other literary devices.

In order to examine the purpose of dramatic irony I also have a few clips you can show depending on your audience. Click here for a quick Powerpoint with embedded movie clip links. I say to know your audience because I included a clip from Caddyshack where a group of kids throws a Baby Ruth candy bar into a pool and everyone thinks it’s poop. My students always get a laugh, so I keep it in there to break it up a bit.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

There are two long monologues in the adapted version of the play that I use when looking at EPL. The first is from Oedipus when he is threatening the citizens and demanding to know who killed Laius. Most of what he is saying is name calling and threatening, so he relies heavily on pathos for his persuasive argument. Students can also see a bit of ethos in how he keeps mentioning how awesome he is at the beginning of the play.

The second monologue is from Creon when he is defending his good name after Oedipus accuses him of murdering Laius and conspiring to murder Oedipus as well. Creon relies heavily on logic and logos for her persuasive argument.

I print out both speeches and have students underline and identify each time one of the characters uses EPL. About halfway through it hits them how each character is very different in their persuasion and what that shows about their character. This is especially helpful later in showing Oedipus’ hubris.


Hopefully this helps with such a tricky text. Any ideas or resources you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

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