Tolkien's Middle-earth: Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Welcome to Tolkien's Middle-earth,  a collection of curriculum resources for secondary school educators who want to help students explore the literary phenomenon that is J.R.R. Tolkien. 

These resources are grouped into nine thematic units focused on Tolkien's two most famous works:  The Hobbit  and  The Lord of the Rings .  Each unit was designed to last one week, but we have included additional materials for teachers who wish to explore certain themes in depth. 

With a slight change in emphasis, these resources can be adapted to existing courses in fantasy literature, British literature, mythology, and European history. 

Why Teach Tolkien?

The Lord of the Rings  is arguably the greatest work of imaginative literature ever created by a single author. In formulating the following behavioral objectives, we tried to keep Tolkien's artistic achievement always in mind.

As the course progresses, the student should be able to: 

• Comprehend  The Hobbit  and  The Lord of the Rings  at the level of plot, character, setting, and idea. 

• Appreciate the astonishingly complex world in which Tolkien's novels unfold. 

• Think critically and write clearly about Tolkien's themes, with special emphasis on their contemporary relevance. 

• Understand how Tolkien's fiction is informed by many literary and linguistic traditions, as well as by philosophical, psychological, sociological, and political issues that reverberate through the entire secondary school curriculum. 

To help you and your students meet these objectives, we have furnished each unit with eight elements:

  • Unit-Specific Learning Goals
  • Comments for Teachers
  • Preliminary Quiz (not applicable to Unit One)
  • Key Terms
  • Handouts
  • Discussion Topics
  • Suggested Activities
  • Bibliography (with Web links)

The heart of any given unit resides in the discussion topics and the suggested activities. In each case, the first several topics and projects connect most directly to the learning goals. The remaining ideas partake more of enrichment, but feel free to mix and match these materials to fit your specific curriculum needs. 

Beyond the preliminary quizzes, the primary evaluation tool is the student's own writing. Each class member should keep a daily journal, either in a notebook or on-line, to record questions about the readings, reactions to the discussions, and responses to the activities. 

Course Outline

Unit One: Introducing Tolkien and His Worlds

Content Focus: The Oral Tradition
Thematic Focus: Creating Meaning Through Myth

Unit Two: Riddles, Runes, and a Ring of Power

Content Focus:  The Hobbit,  Chapters I–VII
Thematic Focus: The Magic of Language

Unit Three: There and Back Again

Content Focus:  The Hobbit,  Chapters VIII–XIX
Thematic Focus: The Quest in Life and Literature

Unit Four: One Ring to Rule Them All

Content Focus:  The Lord of the Rings,  Book One
Thematic Focus: Power, Corruption, and Responsibility

Unit Five: "The Tides of Fate Are Flowing"

Content Focus:  The Lord of the Rings,  Book Two
Thematic Focus: Free Will and Fellowship

Unit Six: Treebeard's Lament

Content Focus:  The Lord of the Rings,  Book Three
Thematic Focus: The Price of Progress

Unit Seven: Tolkien's Moral Universe

Content Focus:  The Lord of the Rings,  Book Four
Thematic Focus: The Nature of Good and Evil

Unit Eight: War and Peace in Middle-earth

Content Focus:  The Lord of the Rings,  Book Five
Thematic Focus: An Enemy Called Despair

Unit Nine: "The Quest Is Achieved"

Content Focus:  The Lord of the Rings,  Book Six
Thematic Focus: What Makes a Hero?