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A Lesson Plan to make Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales Relevant

Updated on August 20, 2012

This lesson plan is the last of five in a mini-unit devoted to the Middle Ages, Chaucer, and “The General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales. All are aimed at high school students and the first lesson introduced the history of the middle ages.

The second lesson plan draws on this information with a creative writing lesson plan which cements their knowledge of the feudal system.

The third lesson plan in is centered on literary ballads. Its objective is to familiarize students with some of Chaucer’s contemporary authors and the popular poetic style during the late 14th century.

After students read “The General Prologue” of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the fourth lesson tasks students with analyzing one of the characters.

This fifth and final lesson in the mini-unit will require students to expound on their knowledge of direct and indirect characterization and Chaucer’s themes in order to make the The Canterbury Tales relatable to the modern day.

Supplies Needed

Paper and pencil.

Background information

I begin by explaining that “The General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales introduce us to a number of different characters. These characters are "types" (that is, they are never given names, but rather identified by their profession and meant to symbolize one part of life in the middle ages.)

Through his brilliant characterization (both direct and indirect), Chaucer reveals both the positive and negatives traits of each of these characters. This works to provides an amazing social commentary of his time, as well as gives us a clear insight into his society, its values, and its customs. By learning how Chaucer views each character, we are able to conclude how he viewed his own English society.


Given the information explained in the background information, students are tasked to think critically about our own modern day culture and society.

Their task is to write to create a minimum of a two paragraph character sketch of a modern day character "type." I encourage them to brainstorm the following: What are some "types" they observe in our school or society? Put another way, if Chaucer was writing this now, what is one “character type” he’d be sure to include on the journey? (Ie: the jock, teacher, business man,stay at home mom etc.) I encourage students to be as creative as they wish. 

These two paragraphs should describe their character in Chaucer-esque fashion, of course. For example, what does he or she look like? what are his/her positive and negative personality traits? What does he or she believe in? Students should be sure to, as Chaucer does, utilize both direct and indirect characterization.

While it's ok to use humor in these sketches (as Chaucer does)--I encourage them to keep in mind, this is not the place to be cruel. We need to remember that according to Chaucer, every character had some redeeming quality.


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    • iheartkafka profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks, Elise-Loyacano. I was a little worried the first time I tried this assignment that students might use it as an opportunity to "bully" or target specific groups of people they didn't like. What I found, by contrast, is that students tended to look critically at the "type" they considered themselves to be. They were able to find the humor in how others viewed them.

    • Elise-Loyacano profile image


      6 years ago from San Juan, Puerto Rico

      I love the idea of having students create types from our times. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales can be overwhelming in that there are so many characters. By stepping back and seeing that we too have types, the student will be better able to remember the ones from the book.


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