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The Middle Ages


One class period



World History

Kirsten Rooks, earth and life science teacher, Ivey Leaf School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Students will understand the following:

1. We learn about people from long ago by reading records, such as diaries, that they left behind.

2. In medieval times, only the wealthiest people—the lords, knights, and ladies—were able to read and write.


For this lesson, you will need:

Colored paper
Glitter glue
Paper fasteners

1. Discuss with students access to education during the Middle Ages, leading them to see that the vast majority of people who lived then were poor, uneducated laborers and that only lords, knights, and their ladies were literate.

2. Luckily, some medieval people who were literate left written records, so we know a lot about life at this time. Explain to the class that they are going to pretend they are medieval lords, knights, and ladies who keep diaries (or journals) so that future generations can read about what their lives are like.

3. Allow students to make up names for themselves as lords, knights, and ladies.

4. Now brainstorm with your class to produce a list of topics that the lords, knights, and ladies would write about in their diaries. Such a list might include the following topics:
- Their daily lives in their castles—comfort (or lack of comfort), space, lighting, furniture
- Activities for entertainment
- Romantic relationships
- Attacks on the castle by other lords and knights

5. Direct students to write two entries in their diaries and to make up the date for each entry. The two entries can focus on one topic (see previous list) or can cover a variety of topics. Advise students to include as many details as possible in each entry.

6. Give students sheets of colored paper to decorate as front and back covers for the diaries. On the fronts, they should write the names they chose as lords, ladies, and knights. Using markers and glitter glue, students can decorate the rest of the front and the back cover with signs and symbols they make up to represent their families. Use paper fasteners to hold each diary together.

7. After you have read students' entries, select a few of the most detailed for their writers to read to the class.

Let students create visual diaries. Rather than writing, let them draw detailed pictures of the topics listed in the brainstorming session.

1. The majority of the people who lived in the Middle Ages were peasants—poor, uneducated laborers who farmed the lord's land and had to give him much of the food. Under the system of feudalism, they belonged to the lord and were not free to leave the land. They were allowed to keep some of the food they grew, and they were protected against attackers by the lord's knights. List the good and the bad aspects of this system and discuss how this system could have been changed to be fairer to the peasants.
2. Discuss how the Crusades helped lead to the end of the Medieval Period, or Dark Ages, and the beginning of the Renaissance. Focus on what items and knowledge the crusaders brought back from the Holy Land.
3. Would you like to live in a castle? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of living in a castle? Compare castles with modern homes. Describe the “defense” features of the modern home.
4. Discuss how you could improve on the castle using modern technology. How would you improve its defense systems? How would you improve its basic comfort and convenience level?
5. How do the lives of medieval women compare to the lives of modern women? Which jobs and activities are similar? Which jobs and activities are different?

You can evaluate your students' diaries using the following three-point rubric:


Three points:two clearly written, detailed entries; error-free grammar, usage, and mechanics; carefully decorated cover


Two points:two clearly written, detailed entries; some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics; carelessly decorated cover


One point:entries not clear or detailed; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics; carelessly decorated cover


You can ask students to contribute to the assessment rubric by deciding on a minimum number of details to be included in the entries.

Play d'Arthur

Read to students an age-appropriate version of the legend of King Arthur. Have groups of students re-create chosen scenes as a play. Have them write the dialogue and stage directions, make costumes and props, and act out the scene for their classmates.

Make a “Safe” Stained Glass Window

Have students lay a piece of waxed paper or an overhead transparency on a simple picture from a book or coloring book. Using crayons, students should trace the outline of the picture. Then have students cut pieces of cellophane (of different colors) to fit into their outline drawings and tape the cellophane onto the waxed paper or acetate. The next step involves cutting out thin pieces of black construction paper and pasting them on the base to cover the spaces between the cellophane. Students can hang their stained glass pictures in the window to catch the sun.

The Middle Ages

William Chester Jordan, ed. New York: Scribner's, 1996

This encyclopedia of the Middle Ages will answer all of your questions about this time in history.
The Luttrell Village: Country Life in the Middle Ages

Sheila Sancha. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1982

Sit down and read this wonderful, classic book about life in the Middle Ages. Admire the original drawings while learning about freemen, cottars, a hayward, a reeve and how people lived throughout the year.

David Macaulay. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977

This award-winning classic book illustrates and describes in detail how a castle and town were planned and constructed to keep people safe during an attack.
King Arthur and the Legends of Camelot

Molly Perham. New York: Viking, 1993

Read these stories of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, and Camelot while looking at the pictures that illustrate each legend.
King Arthur: The Sword in the Stone

Written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1991

Will young Arthur be able to pull the beautiful sword from the anvil that holds it in place? If he can, he will become the King of England!
Knights in Armor

John D. Clare, ed. San Diego: Gulliver Books, 1992

Women in the Middle Ages were not regarded as men's equals. Read about a woman's world of arranged marriages, cooking, obedience, sewing and weaving, making music and reading stories about love and chivalry.
Medieval Life

Andrew Langley. Photographs by Geoff Dann and Geoff Brightling. New York: Knopf, 1996

The many illustrations and pictures in this book will help you understand what it meant to be a woman living in the Middle Ages.

Ian's Land of Castles

See how castles were made, what they look like now, and what castle life was like.

Castles on the Web

This is an excellent place to begin your study of castles. Have your students visit “Castles for Kids” and the “Glossary of Castle Terms.”

Arthurian Home Page

This site will help you prepare your unit on King Arthur and his noble Knights of the Round Table.

Wyrme's Knights

This site contains information on knights, warfare, entertainment and dining.

Diane Calvert—Medieval Art for Today

Medieval people, numbers and letters.

Gregorian Chant Home Page

This site will assist you with a study of Gregorian chant. You can even find pages of chant that you can print and give to your students.



A tournament in which knights pretended to fight so they could practice and show off their skills.


The knights engaged in this favorite activity, pretending to fight. This event, called jousting, was part of a tournament that a baron or king might host as a celebration.


A system of government in the Middle Ages in which a lord, or nobleman, owned land and governed and protected the people, or tenants, who lived and farmed there.


This system of government, called feudalism, had a number of positive points. In addition to food, the peasants had the protection of their lord's army and the stability of his laws to solve their disputes.


Massive treks of hundreds of thousands of European knights and pilgrims to Jerusalem, or the Holy Land, to fight for and win it for the Christians.


Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and knights trooped to the Mediterranean Sea to fight for their church. These massive treks to Jerusalem were called the Crusades.


1500-1800 A.D. in Europe. A period of time in Europe, after the Medieval Era, based on a rebirth of intellectual activity, a new way of thinking, and a new emphasis on learning about art, literature, and modern science.


In time the Middle Ages gave way to this rebirth of intellectual activity, and a new era called the Renaissance was born.


A deep and wide trench around the rampart of a fortified place (as a castle) that is usually filled with water.


A trench with water called the moat surrounded many castles. Friendly knights and nobility crossed the moat on a drawbridge.

outer curtain

A barrier wall surrounding a compound for protection.


In later castles, a double-thick stone wall called the outer curtain surrounded the compound's grounds. Observation and defense towers manned by armed soldiers were built at intervals along the wall.


A courtyard within the external wall or between two outer walls of a castle.


Inside all these defenses was the courtyard, called the bailey, some smaller buildings, and the noble's castle.


A fortress or castle; or the strongest and securest part of a castle.


The castle was called a keep because the noble and his family were kept there.


An attitude of honor, generosity, and courtesy.


As equals, the Knights of the Round Table worked together to perform good deeds, behave with chivalry, aid those less fortunate, and protect the king's realm.


Bound to work for another for a period of time, usually in exchange for some payment.


Most medieval women were peasants and worked for their fathers or husbands farming the land. They may also have been indentured to a large feudal estate.


The act of learning a certain job by practicing with an experienced person in that job.


A woman could gain a foothold in business by apprenticing in her parents' trade or by inheriting a shop from her dead husband.

Gregorian chant

A rhythmically free liturgical chant of the Roman Catholic Church.


The Gregorian chant endured as the main form of church music throughout the Middle Ages.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the redefinition of European society and culture from 1000 to 1300 A.D.


Understands the significance of developments in medieval English legal and constitutional practice and their importance for modern democratic thought and institutions.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the redefinition of European society and culture from 1000 to 1300 A.D.


Understands the systems of feudalism and manorialism (e.g., the principles of feudalism, manorialism, and serfdom, and their widespread use in parts of Europe in the 11th century; how population growth and agricultural expansion affected the legal, economic, and social position of peasant men and women; how the lives of peasants and serfs differed; how their lives were affected by the manors and castles).


Copyright 2001 Discovery.com.

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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