Meet Me at the Tabard by the Bell: "The General Prologue" to "The Canterbury Tales" (Day 1 of 3)

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SWBAT understand lines 1-42 and lines 735-856 of "The General Prologue."

Big Idea

We're all on a journey and have much in common with Chaucer's pilgrims.

Teacher to Teacher: Time Frame and Lesson Context

Today is the first day of The Canterbury Tales unit. We begin our journey with Chaucer and his company of pilgrims with "The General Prologue." 

Today, I introduce students to the Middle Ages and to Chaucer with

  • "The History of English in Ten Minutes: Chapter 2"
  • Listening to the first lines of "The General Prologue" in Middle English
  • Listening to lines 1-42 of "The General Prologue" in Late Modern English
  • Interactive Summary Example for lines 1-42
  • An introduction to SOAPSTone + close reading strategy
  • Reading lines 735 to the end of "The General Prologue" using SOAPSTone.


"The History of English in Ten Minutes, Chapter 2: The Norman Conquest"

5 minutes

We began by listening to "The History of English in Ten Minutes: Chapter 2" and identifying the four most important pieces of information from the chapter. 

Four volunteers named the four pieces of information I'd hoped they'd hear:

  • The Norman Conquest had a significant impact on English by its French influence.
  • French added approximately 10,000 words to English.
  • Latin remained the language of the Church.
  • English was the language spoken by common people. 

Meet in the Middle--English, That Is: Listening to "The General Prologue"

10 minutes

Before turning to "The General Prologue," I gave students blank paper and colored pencils. I told them, "We are going to listen to the first part of the prologue in Middle English. With a little practice, you can learn to read Middle English, and I think hearing it will help you realize how much you know. Listen for words you recognize, images, ideas. Then write them on the paper or draw pictures based on the images. After we listen to the selection, we'll take turns saying what we know." 

Then I asked students to tell me what they heard. Students offered the following:

  • I heard something about a Ram;
  • April
  • Something about seeking
  • They're going to Canterbury
  • Flowers
  • Something about a pilgrimage
  • A trip
  • Did she say liquor?
  • Zephyr

As students shared their thoughts, I confirmed the accuracy of the correct ones and said, "I need to check on that" when I heard misinformation. Student Notes The General Prologue

When in April...: Lines 1-42 Oral Reading and Interactive Summary

15 minutes

After listening to and discussing the Middle English portion of "The General Prologue," I tell students that I'll read the first 42 lines to them and want them to continue adding to their notes/drawing. 

I then read the lines and repeat the previous discussion, rotating around the room so all students have a chance to talk. Again, I hear some excellent understanding:

  • The narrator is at an inn. 
  • The rooms are wide.
  • He met some people. I asked how many and someone offered: 29.
  • Something about a martyr. I asked, what's a martyr, and someone said, "Someone who died for a cause."

There was a lull in the discussion, so I asked, "What does the narrator say he is going to do?" As this did not elicit a comment, I used it as my cue to move on to the interactive summary.

Interactive Summary Example

I tell students that they will be composing an interactive summary of one of the three stories from The Canterbury Tales that we'll be reading in class, so I want to introduce them to this with the first 42 lines of "The General Prologue." Interactive_summary The General Prologue.

I ask for volunteers and tell the class I need eleven. Only a few raise their hands as they suspect this will involve lots of reading out loud. I have the eleven slips of paper with the lines in my hand and walk around the room asking for volunteers. Seeing the little slips, my volunteers volunteered eagerly, and i was soon done distributing the slips. 

I then directed students' attention to the interactive summary I had projected on the screen. I told the volunteers that as I read, I'll call out the number of the slip I want read, at which point the student with the slip will read it. 

I read and call on the "numbered students." 

After the reading, I ask students what additional information they acquired. They responded:

  • The narrator is going to describe the pilgrims. 
  • He's going to Canterbury with them.
  • He's going to describe a knight first. 
  • The martyr is Sir Thomas Becket.

The identification of Sir Thomas Becket as the martyr gave me an opportunity to mention footnoting and to tell students that only by reading the footnotes would they be able to ascertain the name of the martyr. 


Understanding the Host's Proposal and Narrative Voice Using SOAPSTone +

20 minutes

After students finish discussing the first 42 lines of "The General Prologue," I have them turn to line 735, which is where Chaucer has ended his descriptions of the travelers and begins the description of the host's proposal. 

I have students skip the descriptions for now and tell them that we'll return to them in our next class. I explain that I want them to begin working through the SOAPSTone reading strategy, which they will use for each of the tales we read and for "The General Prologue." SOAPSTone Plus.

Before they read on their own or in pairs, I briefly review the template. This two page handout has an explanation of each letter in the acronym on one side and a template for students to follow on the other side. 

To help students begin their analysis, we discuss the "S" as it relates to the "Speaker." I ask, "Who is the speaker?" This is confusing to students because all we have is a narrator, so this is who students need to identify as the Speaker. But this really isn't enough information, but students don't know this yet because we have not yet established the historical context for The Canterbury Tales and Chaucer's role in it, which moves beyond his function as author, as many critics argue. 

For now, it's important that students begin to work through SOAPSTone and realize that they don't have all the answers yet, and perhaps they never will have them all since Chaucer never finished The Canterbury Tales. 

What's Slowing Down Student Learning? Exit Ticket

5 minutes

I can see on students' faces whether or not they comprehend both the text and the close reading strategy, SOAPSTone. 

I can see by their notes and blank pages whether or not students understand the selection. 

Students, however, don't always know that I see these things, so I find ways that show them my concern. 

Today I offered a post-it note to students who wanted to write an anonymous comment about anything slowing down their learning. I then asked them to put the notes on the road sign in the back of the room. What Slows Learning? shows some of the notes. 

From the notes, I can see I need to reteach the SOAPSTone and offer further scaffolding of this strategy when we meet again. 

I address my approach to doing this and the resource that makes this easier: Using Pearl Trees.