The Chaucer Pedagogy Page
Online Assistance
for Teachers and Students
of Chaucer and the Later Middle Ages
Daniel T. Kline | U. of Alaska Anchorage  
Chaucer Pedagogy | Electronic Canterbury Tales
Assignment Ideas
1.  Essays, Research Papers and Tests 5.  K-12 Suggestions
2.  Assignment Ideas Using the WWW 6.  Teaching Portfolio
3.  Creative Assignments 7.  General Educational Websites
4.  Feasts and Faires  

The Electronic Canterbury Tales
With a separate web page devoted to each tale, the Electronic Canterbury Tales is designed to bring together a variety of WWW sources suitable for teaching and studying at all grade levels.

2.   Assignment Ideas Using the WWW
In this category I have listed assignment ideas that take advantage of WWW and other online resources.

An Exercise in Language and Translation

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Using the Electronic Canterbury Tales website, pick a tale or a particular passage within the Canterbury Tales and compare the Middle English with several Modern English versions (or Middle English editions).   Have students:
  • Identify the specific differences in each translation;
  • Note their strengths and weaknesses;
  • Prepare their own translations based on their research; and
  • Explain the reasons for their specific choices.

Some ready possibilities include:

  • Lines 1-18 of the General Prologue:  "Whan that aprille ..." (A.1-18)
  • Any of the Pilgrim portraits in the General Prologue
  • The Narrator's caveat at the end of the General Prologue (A.725-46)
  • Any ribald or bawdy passage (ex. Miller's Tale, A.3275-81, Merchant's Tale, E.2350-59)
  • A rhyme royal stanza from the Prioress's or Monk's Tale.

An Exercise in Historical Backgrounds and Context

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Identify an issue, theme, person, event, or idea in one of the Canterbury Tales and have students do a general search on WWW search engines and search out a related text on Paul Hall's Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
  • What kind of sources turn up on the WWW search engines and what does that say about our contemporary understanding or fascination with, or modern transformation of, that particular medieval idea?
  • Based on the documents consulted in the IMSB, how did different medieval writers respond to the same idea?
  • Some possibilities include: honor or "trouthe;" "courtly love;" marriage & virginity; predestination & freewill; royal power versus ecclesiastical authority, or other such possibilities.

An Exercise in Chaucerian Diction and Thematics

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) It seems that Chaucer took great delight in pushing language to its limits.  Using the Search function at the UVa text archive, search out Chaucer's use in the Canterbury Tales of a particular word or phrase like "trouthe," "privitee," "gentilesse," "routhe," "fre," "earnest and game," and other such possibilities and note that term's usage. 
  • In which tales is it used, by whom, and to what effects?
  • How does Chaucer seem to stretch, alter, or adapt the definition of the term from tale to tale or even from moment to moment, speaker to speaker within a tale?
  • How do these terms lead into different themes in a tale or across several tales?

More advanced students might try the same exercise using the Glossarial Database of Middle English at the University of Michigan or the Middle English Glossarial Database at Harvard University to compare Chaucer's usage to other medieval texts.

An Exercise in Chaucerian Sources and Analogues

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer adapted a number of stories that he inherited from a number of other sources.  One of the most useful things a student can do is to compare similar versions of a tale with Chaucer's own to see what kinds of changes or adaptations Chaucer made to the material he found.
  • Select a tale from the Canterbury Tales and read it in the Middle English, and then again in several Modern English versions.
  • Then, using the Site Index to the Harvard Chaucer Page, locate a source or analogue to your chosen tale.
  • Read the ancillary tale closely and note any differences between Chaucer's version and the other version.
  • Write a brief analysis of the comparison / contrast between the two tales, focusing on one (or a couple of closely related) theme, such as:  plot, character(s), setting, point of view, or symbolism.
  • More advanced students, keeping in mind the different historical settings of each version, may wish to delve into a closer examination of gender dynamics in the two tales, the use of language,  the depiction of society, the exercise of power, or other such topics.
  • Another important question might be, What was Chaucer's purpose in adapting these tales in this manner?

Here are a few possibilities:

3.   Creative Assignments
In this category I have listed assignment ideas that involve both analytical research and a measure of personal creativity, giving students a chance to add their own voices to the Canterbury Tales but in a distinctly contemporary idiom.

An Exercise in Contemporary Culture and Medieval Textuality

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Review Bonnie Duncan's wonderful Seneca Tales (link dead), in which her class composed a contemporary set of Canterbury Tales based upon recognizably modern characters.  Using your own particular locale and population, construct a parallel series of tales.  The characters from the Seneca Tales include:
  • The Guide
  • The Feminist
  • The Chef -Writer
  • The Sensitive Boyfriend
  • The Sorority Girl
  • The Executive
  • The Redneck
  • The Musician
  • The Politically Correct
  • The Promise Keeper
  • The Golfer
  • The Perpetual Student
  • The Englishman
smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) An odd but interesting exercise in contemporary reader response and exploration:  Chaucer 101 by helmut s.

An Exercise or Two in Creative Writing and Contemporary Editing

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes)Early editors of Chaucer's manuscripts assembled the available Canterbury Tales in a variety of ways.  Let students, either singly or in groups, add their own twist to the Canterbury Tales:
  • Rearrange the order of the tales and have students compose their own links between creative pairings of tales.  What kind of link might bring together, say, the Prioress and Physician?  The Merchant and the Manciple?  The Miller and the Parson?  What if the Miller hadn't interrupted the Knight's Tale and the Monk had followed the Knight?
  • Review the Cook's Prologue and Tale, discussing particularly its seemingly incomplete status.  Have students complete the tale.
  • Alternatively, review the General Prologue and identify the "orphaned" Canterbury pilgrims--those to whom Chaucer never assigned a tale, like the Plowman, the Guildsmen, or the Knight's Yeoman.  What kind of tale would these silent pilgrims have told?

To spur discussion, have a look at the ECT Frame Tale page and the spurious links and Chaucerian apocrypha listed there.  Check out the variety of medieval texts at the University of Michigan's Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, the UVa Electronic Text Center, the Online Medieval and Classical Library, and the TEAMS Middle English Text Series for possible examples to emulate.

4.   Feasts and Faires

In this category I have compiled a list of sites helpful to putting on a Medieval or Renaissance faire, a popular and supremely teachable method of introducing the Middle Ages to students of all ages--but especially to younger students.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Jane Chance (Rice U) incorporates into her English 316:  Chaucer a full scale Franklin's Feast.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) The Renaissance Faire Home Page provides just about everything you need to put on your own faire, except the food.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Looking for recipes?  Try the Med/Ren Food Homepage & Amy Dale's Historical Recipes of Different Cultures

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) The Official Society for Creative Anachronism Homepage.  Though many medieval scholars cringe at the perceived inaccuracies of the SCA's modernization of the Middle Ages, the group does offer a number of teachable ideas. Plus, their re-enactments and faires are just plain fun. Many students become interested in the academic study of the Middle Ages through their exposure SCA and related activities.

5. K-12 Assignment Ideas  
In this category I have detailed a variety of assignment ideas and/or example that are particularly suited to younger students, although even older students might enjoy and benefit from some of these sterling ideas!

Fifteen Simple Activities and Assignments

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) At the conference, Teaching the Middle Ages, held at Emporia University, Emporia, KS on September 10-12, 1998, Ms. Becky Fleming of Sedgwick High School, Sedwick, KS, presented the following simple and simply wonderful ideas for incorporating the Middle Ages (here represented by Chaucer, Dante, and King Arthur) into K-12 learning activities.  I reproduce them here with Ms. Fleming's permission.

  • Have students write their own tales in the form of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It's fun to bind these into a book and give each student a copy. Students could also write their own journeys through Hell in a style that reflects Dante's Inferno.

  • Design a board game that in some way reflects the work you're studying or make a game based on a current game show like can then use the game as a review before a test.

  • Make "baseball cards" of certain characters: Illustrate Dante's sinners, Chaucer's pilgrims, King Arthur and his knights, etc. on the front of the card and include "statistics" on the back.

  • Make a calendar depicting twelve of Chaucer's pilgrims, twelve of Dante's sinners, twelve knights, etc.

  • Make a mobile of pilgrims, knights, Dante's circles of hell, etc. Students can use actual items or paper items to hang from the mobile. 

  • Make a "moving picture" using a cardboard box (any size--shoe box, cereal box, or something larger) that depicts scenes from literature. Two pencils could scroll the pictures.

  • Design a newspaper or tabloid reflecting the events in the literature you're studying. In addition to events, include want ads, personal ads, advice columns, etc.

  • Find a connection to contemporary society: Who might the Pardoner be compared to today? Who would you place in circle two of Dante's hell? What leader is most like King Arthur? Students can display their choices in various ways: through a pamphlet, a mobile, cards, etc.

  • Make use of the art teacher if he/she is willing!! Students can make clay games or masks, papier-mâché masks, pencil sketches of scenes or characters, watercolors, etc.

  • Have students make visual plot outlines of a certain work. Display these in the classroom and use them to review the work.

  • Use audio-visual equipment. Have students create and act in a skit that reflects a particular work. I usually videotape these. If appropriate for younger audiences, the students perform their skits for elementary classes.  

  • Have students make up lyrics about the literature that follow a well-known tune (like the tunes to The Brady Bunch, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island). Sometimes students choose to write a rap song instead. Students make a tape of themselves singing the song. My younger students really like this.

  • Design a bulletin board that in some way reflects the literature you're studying and display it in the classroom.

  • Have students make hand puppets and write a script that covers what you're studying. I usually have my students perform the puppet show to elementary classes if appropriate.

  • Assign students the role of advertising executive and have them promote a new movie based on the work you're studying. To promote the movie students could make a movie poster, a bumper sticker, a button, a magazine or newspaper ad, and a brief television advertisement. They could also cast their movie.

Learning Units Based on Contemporary Literature
About the Middle Ages

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Based upon Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray, a Newberry Award winning novel, this fully developed learning unit from the San Diego County Office of Education uses WWW resources to investigate the questions, (1) What was it like to be a 14th-century European minstrel? (2) What kinds of musical instruments were used in 14th-century Europe? (3) What was it like to live in 14th-century Europe? (3) What were some careers during the Middle Ages? (4) What games were played during the Middle Ages ? The unit

  • "provides resources for students to study the music, children and occupations in the Middle Ages in Europe. After reading the novel the students will extend their knowledge by researching the topics using the Internet. During these lessons, students engage in a number of activities and produce lyrics, an essay, a Moment in Time poster and a group game."

  • See the Adam of the Road Homepage.

  • Recommended for middle schoolers (grades 6 - 8).

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Based upon Karen Cushman's popular book, Catherine, Called Birdy, the San Diego County Office of Education has developed another unit that explores the lives of medieval women. According to the description:

  • "In the California Social Studies Framework for seventh grade, students study the daily life and role of women in medieval times. Catherine, Called Birdy not only addresses the girl, Catherine, moving into adolescence and her objections to the many rich suitors arranged by her father; but it focuses on Christianity in the Middle Ages. The book is written in diary format to give readers a more personal picture of
    Catherine. This guide will not only utilize the Internet but will give students, individually or in small groups, the opportunity to read and respond in a variety of ways to a historical fiction book. Through the central theme of daily life in the Middle Ages, students will be able to compare and contrast their lives to Catherine."

  • See the Catherine, Called Birdy Homepage.

  • Recommended for middle schoolers (grades 6 - 8).

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) At the Apple Learning Interchange, a series of learning possibilities structure around Tolkein's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings entitled, The Hobbit Banquet (David Boyd).  According to the lesson plan, after reading and investigating Tolkein's work, the unit culminates in a banquet:

  • "The banquet entails all students selecting the name of a character out of a hat and then preparing: (a) their character's costume; (b) reviewing their character's speech patterns and actions during the course of the novel; (c) creating their contribution to the banquet, ie. a foodstuff related to the novel. (Note: our banquet was conceived in light of Lord of the Rings and took advantage of numerous foods mentioned; for example, lembas. Teachers familiar with Lord of the Rings could make their students aware of these items.)

    "The Banquet should be conducted completely in character, so it's a good idea to have nametags for all. In addition, each character should prepare a short poem or speech by way of introduction of themselves at the beginning of the banquet. Other characters might respond with "Your presence is welcomed" at the end of each introduction. Bilbo, of course, would act as the host. At the conclusion of the banquet, each character is allowed to propose a toast to the assembly, stating what he or she has learned from the experience. It's a good idea to have lots of Orc's Blood (red Kool-Aid) on hand for these toasts!) Parental assistance (in costume, of course!) is a welcome addition to the proceedings! Enjoy!"

  • Recommended for middle schoolers (grades 6 - 8).

6.   Teaching Portfolio
In this category I have compiled web resources (student and/or teacher developed) that may not be explicitly concerned with Chaucer or the Middle Ages but whose organization, themes, sources, or activities might be easily adapted to, or lead to, medieval or Chaucerian topics, particularly for K-12.
Lesson Plans from the IBM K-12 Solutions
smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes)Related Internet Lesson Plans from IBM
smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Another Edsitement lesson plan, this one entitled "Practical Criticism" from I.A. Richards' seminal experiments in "close reading," could be easily adapted to Chaucer or other medieval works.  Review and tailor the Practical Criticism lesson plan:
  • First, "Begin this lesson by explaining to your students that they will recreate the Richards’ experiment, using the unfiltered poetry available on the Internet as their raw material."
  • Second, have small groups of students browse medieval sources like the Electronic Library Foundation's edition of the Canterbury Tales, the TEAMS Middle Ages Series, the Online Medieval and Classical Library, or the Middle English sources at the UVa E-Text Center.  Following the suggestions under Practical Criticism, step 2 have the students note why they choose the poems or selections they do (titles, authors, names and dates, subject matter, length of selections, ect.).  Have students compare notes as to why they made their specific choices.
  • Third, have students write about their selections, following the procedures outlined by Richards (see Practical Criticism, step 3).
  • Fourth, have students discuss what they have learned from the experience--both about the poems and about the process of reaching literary judgments (see step 4).

Since the literature of the Middle Ages often suffers from a number of misconceptions, an exercise like this could help students see the literature on its own terms, rather than as obscure texts from a historically and culturally distant era.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Another student project, this one on William Shakespeare's Hamlet.
7.  General Educational Websites
In this category I have listed WWW sites and metapages of a more general nature, but devoted to education, teaching, and learning.
smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) Courtesy of the State of California Department of Education, SCORE Cyberguides "are supplementary, standards-based, web-delivered units of instruction centered on core works of literature. They are designed for the classroom with one online computer. Each CyberGuide contains a student and teacher edition, standards, a task and a process by which it may be completed, teacher-selected web sites and a rubric, based on California Language Arts Content Standards."
  • Complete with detailed lesson plans, Teacher Guide, and Teacher Evaluation.
smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) AskERIC, the gateway page and search engine to the massive ERIC database.  Sponsored by the US Department of Education.

Chaucer Pedagogy  |  The Electronic Canterbury Tales

Copyright © 1998-2006 Daniel T. Kline & The Kankedort Page All rights reserved.

This page was last revised on 10.02.06.