Lesson Plans

Put the VT to work in your classroom

Using Words as a Way into Rick Riordan's "The Lightning Thief"

Lesson Question:

How can categorizing words from Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief help introduce students to the major themes of the novel?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students use the Visual Thesaurus to help them categorize words from the first chapter of The Lightning Thief —as a means to predict the novel's central topics and themes. Then, after reading the chapter, students analyze those same words in the context of the novel and conduct further research into the mythological references that run throughout the text.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to define and categorize words from the novel The Lightning Thief, as a prereading activity
  • interpret and analyze vocabulary in the context of reading the first chapter of The Lightning Thief
  • research the twelve Olympian gods and relate their findings to The Lightning Thief


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • scissors (one pair per small group)
  • sticky notes (for each small group)
  •  "Words from Chapter One of The Lightning Thief" sheets (one per small group) [click here to download]
  • copies of Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief (one per student)


  • rickriordan.com: the author Rick Riordan's website featuring a comprehensive and creative Teacher's Guide for The Lightning Thief
  • Greek and Roman mythology sites:


Categorizing words with the help of the Visual Thesaurus:

  • Organize the class in small groups and distribute a copy of the "Words from Chapter One of The Lightning Thief" sheet, a handful of blank sticky notes, and a pair of scissors to each group.

  • Instruct groups to use their scissors to cut the "Words from Chapter One of The Lightning Thief" sheet into individual words and to then sort the twenty-five words into categories that they will determine and name based on their research on the Visual Thesaurus.

  • Encourage groups to discuss the words' meanings and relationships (with the aid of the Visual Thesaurus) in order to decide how they will categorize them. Let groups know that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to create categories as long as their word groupings make sense to them. For example, one group may decide to group vaporize, pulverize, and materialize together as "verbs," while another group may decide to pair magic and vaporize together as "words associated with the supernatural."

  • Once groups have decided how they will categorize their words, they should use the sticky notes to make labels for the different word groupings they have created. At the end of the warm-up exercise, each group should have their sticky-note labels organized on a student desk with each set of words positioned in a row under each label.


Making predictions about the content of The Lightning Thief:

  • Invite students to walk around the classroom to observe how the other groups grouped and labeled the same set of words and names. What commonalities or patterns do they see? What differences?

  • Based on this exercise, discuss with students what they expect the novel that contains these words—The Lightning Thief—to be about. [Based on the list of twenty-five words, students will most likely expect that The Lightning Thief may have something to do with Greek mythology (i.e., Greek, Zeus, Olympians, etc.), school (i.e., headmaster, semester, Academy, etc.) and perhaps a character experiencing problems at school (i.e., detention, probation, troubled, counselor, etc.).]

Reading Chapter One of The Lightning Thief:

  • Read the first page of The Lightning Thief aloud, establishing that the narrator—twelve-year-old Percy Jackson—is a reluctant "half-blood" and a former boarding student who has recently attended Yancy Academy, a "private school for troubled kids."

  • Continue reading the first chapter aloud, pausing every so often to establish relationships among the words from the warm-up activity.

  • Ask students to reflect on their reading experience as they reencounter words that they had already researched and categorized using the Visual Thesaurus. How closely did their previous word categories mirror the ways the words were actually used? How does reading the chapter establish connections between words that they may have previously considered as unrelated? For example, groups may have originally categorized stele and Underworld as related since they both relate to the topic of death; however, after reading the chapter, students will see the connections between the words stele, frieze, and museum since the grave stele and ornamental frieze were both contained within the same Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit.

  • As you read the rest of the chapter aloud, pause to list on the board other word-to-word connections that become evident (e.g., Kronos was king of the Titans; Zeus was saved from being devoured by his own father Kronos; Percy has struggled in school due to dyslexia and ADHD, etc.)

Analyzing Chapter One of The Lightning Thief:

  • After reading the chapter, acknowledge that students should be left with many questions to pursue through reading the subsequent chapters?most notably the significance of Percy's status as a "half-blood" and whether or not Percy had merely fantasized about vaporizing his math teacher Mrs. Dodds.

  • Warn students that the topic of Greek mythology that is introduced in Chapter One of the novel will prove to be a central focus of the novel's plot, and that students will need to learn a bit about Greek mythology to fully understand the novel's references.

  • Display the Visual Thesaurus word map for Olympian on the white board and point out its definition as "a classical Greek god after the overthrow of the Titans." Remind students that the battle between the gods and Titans is referenced in Chapter One and that The Lightning Thief is part of a series of books entitled "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" (this series title appears on the book's cover).


Researching the twelve Olympian gods by using the Visual Thesaurus:

  • For homework, have students use the Visual Thesaurus to begin research on the twelve Olympian gods: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Ares, Apollo, Hephaestus, Hermes, Demeter, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Dionysus. After students find the basic descriptions of these gods on the Visual Thesaurus, they could right-click (control-click on a Mac) on each god's name in its word display to search the Internet to find additional information about the god's significance and history (see the "Links" section of the lesson for Greek mythology websites).

Extending the Lesson:

  • In a subsequent class lesson, have students report back on their research into the twelve Olympian gods. Specifically, explore and discuss the repercussions of the twelve Olympian gods' relationships with mortals. How could these relationships shed light on Percy Jackson's status as a "half-blood"?


  • Assess whether or not groups logically categorized vocabulary words and names based on their use of the Visual Thesaurus.
  • Assess students' oral participation in discussing the thematic and plot content of Chapter One of The Lightning Thief.
  • Check students' research notes regarding the twelve Olympian gods.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Level II (Grades 3-5)

2. Establishes a purpose for reading (e.g., for information, for pleasure, to understand a specific viewpoint)

3. Makes, confirms, and revises simple predictions about what will be found in a text (e.g., uses prior knowledge and ideas presented in text, illustrations, titles, topic sentences, key words, and foreshadowing clues)

5. Use a variety of context clues to decode unknown words (e.g., draws on earlier reading, reads ahead)

6. Uses word reference materials (e.g., glossary, dictionary, thesaurus) to determine the meaning, pronunciation, and derivations of unknown words

7. Understands level-appropriate reading vocabulary (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, homophones, multi-meaning words)

8. Monitors own reading strategies and makes modifications as needed (e.g., recognizes when he or she is confused by a section of text, questions whether the text makes sense)

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Establishes and adjusts purposes for reading (e.g., to understand, interpret, enjoy, solve problems, predict outcomes, answer a specific question, form an opinion, skim for facts; to discover models for own writing)

2. Uses word origins and derivations to understand word meaning (e.g., Latin and Greek roots and affixes, meanings of foreign words frequently used in the English language, historical influences on English word meanings)

3. Uses a variety of strategies to extend reading vocabulary (e.g., uses analogies, idioms, similes, metaphors to infer the meaning of literal and figurative phrases; uses definition, restatement, example, comparison and contrast to verify word meanings; identifies shades of meaning; knows denotative and connotative meanings; knows vocabulary related to different content areas and current events; uses rhyming dictionaries, classification books, etymological dictionaries)

4. Uses specific strategies to clear up confusing parts of a text (e.g., pauses, rereads the text, consults another source, represents abstract information as mental pictures, draws upon background knowledge, asks for help)

5. Understands specific devices an author uses to accomplish his or her purpose (e.g., persuasive techniques, style, word choice, language structure) 6. Reflects on what has been learned after reading and formulates ideas, opinions, and personal responses to texts

Standard 6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts.

Level II (Grades 3-5)

1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary passages and texts (e.g., fairy tales, folktales, fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fables, fantasies, historical fiction, biographies, autobiographies, chapter books)

3. Understands the basic concept of plot (e.g., main problem, conflict, resolution, cause-and-effect)

4. Understands similarities and differences within and among literary works from various genre and cultures (e.g., in terms of settings, character types, events, point of view; role of natural phenomena)

5. Understands elements of character development in literary works (e.g., differences between main and minor characters; stereotypical characters as opposed to fully developed characters; changes that characters undergo; the importance of a character's actions, motives, and appearance to plot and theme)

6. Knows themes that recur across literary works

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary passages and texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, drama)

2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, drama)

3. Understands complex elements of plot development (e.g., cause-and-effect relationships; use of subplots, parallel episodes, and climax; development of conflict and resolution)

4. Understands elements of character development (e.g., character traits and motivations; stereotypes; relationships between character and plot development; development of characters through their words, speech patterns, thoughts, actions, narrator's description, and interaction with other characters; how motivations are revealed)

8. Understands point of view in a literary text (e.g., first and third person, limited and omniscient, subjective and objective)

9. Understands inferred and recurring themes in literary works (e.g., bravery, loyalty, friendship, good v. evil; historical, cultural, and social themes)

Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Lesson Plans.

Join the conversation

Comments from our users:

Wednesday March 11th 2009, 9:43 AM
Comment by: Amy B. (Independence, KS)
I have been wanting to teach this book to my 5th grade class. It's a good read and a fabulous introduction to Greek Mythology. Has anyone else taught it to this age levels of kids?
Wednesday March 11th 2009, 11:14 AM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
Hi there,

As the writer behind this lesson plan, I say "Go for it!" Here is a direct quote from Riordan's web site: "Rick Riordan, the author, has fifteen years experience as an English/language arts teacher at the middle school level. He designed The Lightning Thief to be appropriate reading for ages nine through fourteen."

I learned about The Lightning Thief from my third grade son, who read the book independently and loved it. Of course, the vocabulary might pose a challenge for some students, but I think if you preview some of the words with a lesson such as this one, students will not be as intimidated by the mythological terms etc.

Let us know how it goes!

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.