Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: Setting the Scene


Although traditionally Chaucer is taught to children older than 12, the Canterbury Tales are far too good to postpone, especially as I will only be studying the Middle Ages once with the older children.  Just because it is written in language which may be hard to understand doesn’t mean we should be literary snobs and insist that Chaucer studied in any language bar the original old English is a waste of time.  It is never a waste of time to read a good yarn, and that is exactly what the Canterbury tales are!  And written in modern English, they are arguably better, simply because reading them is less stilted for a Chaucer novice.  To be honest though, one gets used to Chaucer’s language very quickly and I find it considerably more natural to understand than say Beowulf, for which a translation of the text, for me, was a necessity.

As the children are doing the bulk of their preparatory study during their two-week break I have kept it as light and as fun as I possibly can.  Next term we will do some literary studies from the original text as well as completing a few projects, outlined at the end of this post.

Our Preparatory Study

First we will review the murder of Thomas Beckett as it was this event which inspired the Canterbury tales.  We’ll listen to the brilliant song some rather clever history teachers put to the tune of ‘California Dreamin’

And of course, you know me, we will also listen to Chaucer rapped (in old English to boot and with a translation below!), much like we did Dante.  This is so brilliant, seriously everyone needs to listen to this!!

I also found a video of a man reading out the prologue in Middle English.  As I have mentioned we will do some work using the original text next term, but until then this is a good introduction to how it would have been read out all those centuries ago:

Each child will be required to read the following books:

Ribbet collagechaucer books

I have no doubt that at least one of my daughters has read them already, and probably also the one I’m choosing to read as a read-aloud. C11 has been nagging me to start Chaucer for the past few months but I have struggled to find the time.  Next term I am making it a priority:

DSC_0784 chaucer

We will be watching the following DVD, which whilst old has had fabulous reviews on Amazon and handily has a U rating rather than a 15 which seems the norm for Chaucer based films:

452mkchaucer dvd

Also there are three animated tales on YouTube, each about half an hour long:

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale; the Knight’s Tale ; and the Wife of Bath’s Tale

The Merchant’s Tale; the Pardoner’s Tales and the  Franklin’s Tale

The Squire’s Tale; the Canon’s Servant’s Tale and the Millers and the Reeves Tales

All of the above reading and viewing will hopefully be completed over the next week or so, whilst we are on our break from formal schooling.  The activities below will be done throughout next term, alongside our Da Vinci and Gutenberg studies.

Activities Based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales


  • A tongue in cheek comparison of ‘A Knight’s Tale’ which is (very) loosely based on Chaucer’s ‘The Knight’s Tale: DSC_0786chaucer dvd
  • Putting on a puppet show based on ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’, using this book as a means of simplifying the story of Chanticleer and the Fox:


Puppets will be simple figures down loaded from this site or they will be made from papier mache.  My goal for doing a simple puppet show is to gage the children’s interest in puppetry.  We will be studying Shakespeare for a whole year.  Shakespeare wrote plays, designed to be watched rather than read, and so I want the children to use as many means with which to put on some of Shakespeare’s plays without the requirement of 15 more actors.  Puppetry would be one way to achieve this.

  • Making their own comic book based on one of the tales.  I will read one of the stories out a couple of times and have the children take down notes in a key word format.  Using these notes the children will be writing and drawing their own comic book outlining the main parts of the story they had previously key worded.  They will use this book, which is set out as a comic book, as their inspiration:


  • My final idea is to combine the studies of illuminated texts we did last year, with studies we will be doing along side Chaucer on the Gutenberg printing press next term.  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was one of the first books to be created using the Gutenberg press.  I have sourced an illustration done by hand and an illustration done by a printing press which the children will contrast and compare:

Ribbet collagecompare
I’m sure we’ll be doing other bits and pieces but that is all I’ve organised for now.


  1. As usual, it looks like you are organized totally! I am going to borrow a few of your plans for our study on Chaucer next year. I am so glad you are ahead of us because I can borrow your ideas and adjust them to meet our needs. Thanks, Claire:)

    I love your idea of puppets with Shakespeare. I am anxious to see how the children do with them. I have a feeling they will love it.

    I hope you have had a wonderful weekend and I wish you a wonderful week ahead!

  2. I forget have I ever told you of the awesomeness that is Thursday Next and the Jasper Fforde books? If not, you desperately need to read those, because you will get a big kick out of his sense of humor about literature. Your Chaucer unit reminded me of them because one of the plot lines in the book is someone trying to sanitize Chaucer.

  3. I love the youtube videos you find for history! Forget my kids, I wish I could be taught literature and history from you! I promise, I’d be a very studious student 🙂

  4. I’m holding off Chaucer until the next round of Middle Ages so I’m really delighted to find so many great ideas here. Thank you for sharing. The projects sound very engaging. I really like your approach to literature.

    1. Thanks Carol. The children are loving the videos (and the books), I’m looking forward to starting all the activities in a week or so time.

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