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The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

Theme: Life in the Middle Ages
Grades: Grades 11-12

In the late Middle Ages, a group of English men and women from different walks of life gather at the Tabard Inn outside London for a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas â Becket in Canterbury, England. The Host of the Tabard proposes that the pilgrims pass the time on the journey by telling stories; he offers to accompany the group, judge the best story, and award the winner a meal, paid by all, when the group returns to his inn. The pilgrims agree and begin telling tales, each of which reflects the interests and personality of the teller. In the sampling of tales presented in Literature Connections, the Knight recounts a tale of chivalry; the Nun's Priest and the Pardoner tell cautionary tales; the Summoner tells a ribald tale; and the Wife of Bath, the Clerk, and the Franklin tell romantic tales of love and marriage.

Note: Some stories in The Canterbury Tales (for example, "The Summoner's Tale") contain situations and language that some readers may find objectionable. You may wish to preview the tales before assigning them to your students.

  1. Concept Web.
    Ask students to work independently or in small groups to create a word web that lists what they know about the Middle Ages and the associations they have with this epoch.
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: Pilgrimages.
    Invite students to work in small groups to share what they know about pilgrimages of the past and the present. To get students started, pose questions such as: Can you name some of the sacred places that have attracted pilgrims for centuries? What are some reasons why people might undertake a pilgrimage? If you were about to go on a pilgrimage, what expectations would you have about it? Have students share their ideas with the entire class.
  1. Ye Olde Advert.
    Have students create a poster or travel brochure advertising Canterbury pilgrimages starting from the Tabard Inn in Chaucer's day. Tell them to include appropriate details from The Canterbury Tales, such as the name of the inn's proprietor.

  1. A Distant Mirror.
    Chaucer lived during a fascinating, but tumultuous period in British history. Have students create parallel time lines, one listing important national events and the other listing important personal events that occurred during Chaucer's lifetime.
  1. The Life of Becket.
    Instruct students to find out more about Thomas â Becket and his shrine at Canterbury. Have them present their findings in a biographical essay on Becket's life, achievements, and the importance of his shrine as a place of pilgrimage.

  2. The Chivalrous Code.
    Point out to students that Chaucer wrote for a courtly audience that was familiar with such traditions as the code of chivalry. Have students use textbooks, the library, or the internet to find out more about this tradition and its influence upon the literature of the Middle Ages. Instruct them to write a short feature article to share their findings.