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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue & Frame Story

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The folks in The Canterbury Tales, despite being long dead by now, all act just like us—well, the worst of us. And even though it soundes lykke thyss, Shmoop is here to help translate.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity mapping the travels of the world's first amazing race. 
  • resources like photos of Chaucer's destinations and a free Middle English Dictionary.
  • discussion questions exploring who these people are and where they are going.

Saddle up for the ride, and don't forget to pack our teaching guide.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
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Instructions for You

Objective: Students will analyze the pilgrims presented in the "General Prologue" of the Canterbury Tales, noting what their purpose is in making the pilgrimage, the characteristics Chaucer chooses to focus on, and the language employed to build each character. The students will then create their own written portrait of a modern pilgrim, using the "General Prologue" as a template.

This project should be assigned as homework, with discussion/presentation in class, and should take approximately two class periods, depending on class size.

Step 1: Choose two or three pilgrims on which to focus a class-wide close reading. Some of the more colorful options are:

Note not only the characteristics of each one, but allow students to speculate on their motivations for participating in the pilgrimage and what Chaucer wants us to know about each one.

Step 2: Choose one of the four-part NPR series "The Canterbury Road to Modern England" to share with your students as a model for adapting Chaucer-like insight to the modern era. Lead a discussion about the kinds of observations made by the writer.

Step 3: Ask students to think about what modern "pilgrims" would look like. For a short, informal, in-class writing, have students write some quick answers to the following:

  1. What would a person be devoted to today? In other words, what kind of place would he/she consider making the focus of a pilgrimage? Think outside of the box on this one – the destination need not be spiritual, but should reflect a societal value.
  2. What kind of people might be traveling together to this new pilgrimage destination?
  3. What is their goal in going on this pilgrimage?
  4. Focus in on one character-type on this journey. What kind of character is this? Make a list of five qualities the define him/her.
  5. What do you like about this character? What do you dislike?

Step 4: Ask students to take this sketch home with them, and to create a full portrait of this new pilgrim and the journey that he/she is on. You may stipulate that the work be written in prose or verse (heroic couplets, as in the "General Prologue") just to stir things up a bit.

Step 5: Allow class time for students to share their portraits with the class as a whole. It is fun and interesting to persuade students to read their own work aloud, and get the class to comment on the kinds of stereotypes or characters that the student has used in the portrait.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: Grades 9 & 10 Reading 1.1, 1.2, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.11, 3.12; Writing 2.2; Listening and Speaking 2.4. Grades 11 & 12 Reading 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.7; Writing 2.1, 2.2; Written and Oral Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; Listening & Speaking 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Analyze the creation of the pilgrims presented in the "General Prologue" of the Canterbury Tales, noting what their purpose is in making the pilgrimage, the characteristics Chaucer chooses to focus on, and the language employed to build each character. You will then create your own written portrait of a modern pilgrim, using the "General Prologue" as a template.

Step 1: Participate in a close reading of two or three of the pilgrims' descriptions from the "General Prologue." Note not only the characteristics of each one, but also speculate on their motivations for participating in the pilgrimage and what Chaucer wants us to know about each one.

Step 2: Read/view one part of the NPR series "The Canterbury Road to Modern England." Participate in a discussion about the writer's observations.

Step 3: Now think about what a group of modern "pilgrims" would look like. Do a short, informal, in-class writing, answering the following questions:

  1. What would a person be devoted to today? In other words, what kind of place would he/she consider making the focus of a pilgrimage? Think outside of the box on this one – the destination need not be spiritual, but should reflect a societal value.
  2. What kind of people might be traveling together to this new pilgrimage destination?
  3. What is their goal in going on this pilgrimage?
  4. Focus in on one character-type on this journey. What kind of character is this? Make a list of five qualities the define him/her.
  5. What do you like about this character? What do you dislike?

Step 4: Take your writing exercise home with you and create a full, written portrait of this new pilgrim and the journey that he/she is on. You may write this portrait in prose – or, if you are feeling particularly daring, try writing it in verse (heroic couplets, just like Chaucer in the "General Prologue").

Take another look at Chaucer's descriptions of his pilgrims to help you as you construct your own. You might also want to check out the following Shmoop resources:

Step 5: Share your finished work with the class.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE CANTERBURY TALES: GENERAL PROLOGUE & FRAME STORY?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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