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Teaching Guide

Teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

So old, it's epic.

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Valiant knights never back down from a challenge—not even one like teaching an epic poem over half a millennium old. We'll make sure you're up for the battle of a lifetime.

In this guide you will find

  • a lesson taking a close look at Sir Gawain's sword and shield and how the armor makes the man.
  • a project about the rituals of feasting in the Middle Ages (recipe for roast beast not included).
  • literary resources about Chaucer and Stieg Larsson. Seriously!

When riding into this battle, don't forget your sword, your shield, and this 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.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
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Instructions for You

Objective: Students will examine the description of Sir Gawain's shield and armor to understand how these external possessions tell us something about the character himself. They will then create their own coat of arms for a character on a quest. Ultimately, the class will be able to talk about the goals and values of heroic characters, whether or not they can live up to these, and how this shapes the way we see them.

Length of Lesson: This exercise can take from two to three class periods.

Materials Needed:

  • Text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Materials for creating a coat of arms (this can be as elaborate or as simple as you would like – sketching on blank paper with a set of pencils works perfectly).

Step 1: Read lines 566-669, the scene in which Gawain is armed for his journey to the Green Chapel. Ask students to tell you what they learn about Gawain's character, especially by reading the description of the shield.

The sign of the pentangle often needs a lot explaining and discussion. Check out these Shmoop resources for some help in detangling the "endeless knot."

Ask student to consider the following issues:

  • What does the pentangle mean to us, as a modern audience, when we see it?
  • What did it mean for a medieval audience? How would they have "read" the sign of the pentangle (also called a pentagram) on Gawain's shield when they heard this poem? (You may either tell them the medieval significance or give them a few minutes to do some research on the Internet to come up with an answer).
  • How important are the signs on Gawain's shield for understanding his internal character? What do they tell us about him as a person and a knight?
  • What about his other clothing and equipment? Why does the Gawain-poet feel the need to show us the knight as he dresses (and later as he is undressed)?

Step 2: Ask students to split into groups of two or three. Their task will be to create a character on a quest, and to arm him/her. Here are some ideas for parameters:

  • The hero and quest may be modern (does not have to be medieval).
  • The hero may be female or male.
  • The group must give the character a purpose (a quest) and a set of values that he/she lives by.
  • The group must design at least a shield with a coat-of-arms somewhere on it for their hero. For ideas on heraldic devices, see International Heraldry & Heralds.
  • The group should consider if their hero has any flaws, slight or great.

Step 3: Allow each group to share their creations with the class.

Step 4: Ask a final question: Does the story of Gawain's quest show that he has measured up to his stated values or not? How does your conclusion affect how you view the idea of the hero?

Instructions for Your Students

This exercise will help you think about how external possessions tell us something about the character of a hero. After reading and discussing the arming scene in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, you will create your own coat of arms for a character on a quest. In the end, you should be able to talk about the goals and values of heroic characters, whether or not they can live up to these, and how this shapes the way we see them.

Step 1: In class you'll be read lines 566-669, the scene in which Gawain is armed for his journey to the Green Chapel. Pay special attention to the description of Gawain's shield. What does piece of armor tell you about Gawain's character?

Step 2: With a small group, create a character on a quest, and to arm him/her. Here are your parameters:

  • The hero and quest may be modern (does not have to be medieval).
  • The hero may be female or male.
  • The group must give the character a purpose (a quest) and a set of values that he/she lives by.
  • The group must design at least a shield with a coat-of-arms somewhere on it for their hero. For ideas on heraldic devices, see International Heraldry & Heralds.
  • The group should consider if their hero has any flaws, slight or great.

Step 3: Share your creations with the class.

Step 4: Answer a final question: Does the story of Gawain's quest show that he has measured up to his stated values or not? How does your conclusion affect how you view the idea of the hero?

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

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

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT?

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