Canterbury Tales Teaching Resources
I taught British Literature for years, and my course included the Canterbury Tales. When I first began teaching Chaucer’s great work, I looked for some teaching resources to go along with the unit. I figured I could at least get some good ideas from teacher resources sites, even if I didn’t actually buy any materials. This was back years ago, when teaching resources on the internet weren’t as abundant as they are today. After a futile search, I gave up on finding any innovative teaching resources online. I had hoped to find teacher resources that would provide me with some great lesson plans that would make teaching and learning the Canterbury Tales, especially the Canterbury Tales Prologue, fun and exciting. I finally came up with my own, and they were always a big hit with my classes.
The Canterbury Tales Prologue
When I taught Brit Lit, I included mini history lessons along with the literature. The course was taught in chronological order, and I felt it was important for my students to understand what was going on historically with each unit. Because of this, I’ve always believed that the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is the most important part of the work. It provides modern readers with a pretty realistic view of what medieval life was like in England. The Canterbury Tales characters reveal much about life in the Middle Ages, and they represent a good cross-section of medieval European society. I definitely decided that my lesson plans would concentrate on the Canterbury Tales characters from the Prologue.
The Canterbury Tales Characters
The Canterbury Tales characters represent the best and the worst of medieval society. The Canterbury Tales Prologue includes representatives from the Church, peasants, representatives from the trades, the poor, the rich, representatives from the military, the educated, the uneducated, the good, and the bad. In essence, the Prologue is a microcosm of medieval England. I wanted my students to learn more about these fascinating characters.
Each student selected a Canterbury Tales character for his project. This was a big project, and since I was teaching seniors, I expected a lot out of them. Bringing in just a poster didn’t get a student an A. I didn’t give the students many guidelines, as I wanted the project to be student centered and open ended. I simply told them that they had to teach the class about their specific character as he or she was described in the Prologue, as well as that character’s place in society. For example, if a student chose the Wife of Bath, he would have to tell us about Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, but he would also have to research and present something related to women from the Middle Ages. If a student chose the Miller, he had to teach the class about Chaucer’s miller, plus he’d have to research and present a related topic, like farming practices of the Middle Ages.
Canterbury Tales Projects
My students took this assignment and ran with it! I was rarely disappointed. Over the years, I’ve received many wonderful projects and have enjoyed some fascinating presentations. I’ll describe some of them for you:
Costumes – I’ve had students dress up in all sorts of costumes based on their Canterbury Tales characters. Some of the most memorable were the Wife of Bath, the Yeoman, the Priest, the Miller, the Pardoner, the Squire, and the Monk. I once had a Muslim student who came to class dressed as the Nun! I thought that was pretty cool. A Knight once made a tinfoil suit of armor and came riding into class on a life-size cardboard horse.
Models – I’ve had kids bring in models of grain mills, medieval estates, farms, monasteries, churches, and medieval weapons. One student who had chosen to represent the knight made a quintain and showed the class how it was used. One of my Friars made a hurdy-gurdy one year. I’ve students who were playing the Skipper make some nice models of the Maudelayne, the Skipper’s ship. I also received a life-size wooden cutout of the Miller, which I kept on display until I retired. It was very detailed and even included the red hair growing out of the Miller’s wart on his nose!
Other – One year, a student who had selected the Knight brought in a chainmail shirt he had made, and he showed the class how to make chainmail. A student who was playing the part of the Dyer brought in natural dyes that were used in the Middle Ages and showed as how cloth was dyed. I’ve had Cooks bring in blancmange to share with the class. I’ve had Millers bake homemade breads made from rye and wheat to share with the students.
I learned that when you give students a little freedom and have high expectations, it often leads to success. I had always thought that students learn best when they’re enjoying the education process, and this was certainly the case with my Canterbury Tales Prologue assignment. Once all the projects had been presented and explained, my students knew all about the Canterbury Tales characters. Working on and researching their specific characters gave them some great hands-on experience, and watching the other characters displayed really brought the characters alive for them. We enjoyed the Canterbury Tales Prologue and the Canterbury Tales characters so much, I think we would have all been happy to study Chaucer for the entire semester!
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- The Real Braveheart: William Wallace
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- Canterbury Tales Characters
Descriptions of the Canterbury Tales characters, provided by a retired British Literature teacher.