Medieval Speech Contest: The General Prologue Continues (Day 2 of 3)

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SWBAT analyze the pilgrims' virtuous and unvirtuous character traits using the list of virtues from "The Virtues Project"

Big Idea

The Virtues Project identifies positive traits relevant to Chaucer's Pilgrims and high school students.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

This is lesson 2 of 3 for "The General Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales. This lesson continues the previous lesson, "Meet Me at the Tabard by the Bell."

In this lesson students

  • Listen to and discuss a parody of "California Dreaming" that summarizes "The General Prologue."
  • Revisit SOAPSTone + instructions.
  • Analyze the pilgrims character traits based on The Virtues Project.

Here I offer some comments about planning the unit and the relationship of imaginative narrative in students' lives: Canterbury Tales and Narrative Importance.

"Canterbury Dreaming": A Parody of "The General Prologue" Set to "California Dreaming"

10 minutes

I begin the lesson with a short reminder of the previous lesson and what students learned about "The General Prologue." They mention 

  • It's in April
  • There is a narrator who meets some other travelers at the Tabard Inn
  • They're going to Canterbury
  • They're going to see a martyr. 
  • The flowers are blooming and birds are singing.
  • There are 29 pilgrims. 

Next, I tell students we're listening to a parody of "California Dreamin" that tells what's going on in "The General Prologue." I then play the YouTube video, but as it plays, I echo the lines so that students understand the information in the song:

I ask students, what did you learn about "The General Prologue" from the video. They mention

  • They're going to see someone named Thomas Becket. 
  • They tell stories.
  • The people are from every social class.
  • There's someone named Wife of Bath.
  • It's about knights
  • The host is going to judge the stories.

As students added this additional information, I clarified with questions and comments

  • How many stories do they tell? Some students say the plan is for each to tell four stories, two on the way and two while coming home.
  • There is a knight who tells a story and a story that we'll read about a knight.

I also tell the students that Chaucer did not complete The Canterbury Tales and that scholars call it "an unfinished masterpiece." They want to know why he didn't finish, and I say, "He died." That elicited some giggling. 


Revisiting SOAPSTone

10 minutes

Next, I tell students I appreciate their exit ticket comments from the previous day and that I know they feel bogged down by the SOAPSTone close reading activity. 

I ask students to take the template out so we can talk about it more. SOAPSTone Plus. Rather than rereading the instructions, I ask students to think about what's most important: understanding SOAPSTone or understanding "The General Prologue." They clearly see I'm most interested in their understanding of the prologue, and I tell them that the strategy is a tool for understanding and that they can use it to the extent it serves their understanding. I tell them that they can use one of the other reading strategies they have learned or another note-taking method but that I will collect their notes for a grade at the end of the unit.

I ask students to look at the Speaker section, and I pose the following questions:

  • What do we know about the speaker? A student responds, "He's the narrator," but another student said, "He's a host." I ask, is the host the narrator? The question helps students realize the narrator tells the story.
  • I ask, "Does the narrator have a name?" Students realize we don't have a name for the narrator. 
  • I tell students that we know the text is satire. Then I ask, what does knowing this help us understand about the narrator in terms of Chaucer as the writer? This question drew some blank stares. No surprise. So I ask: "What is the point of satire?" Students readily respond, "To criticize and to reform." I tell students that most critics argue that the narrator is actually Chaucer, but he uses the narrator to hide his identity.
  • "In the last part of the prologue, what does the narrator tell us about himself?" The students begin to respond: "He'll tell the stories as he hears them." I ask, "Why is this important?" Someone answers, "Because he's trying to be honest." This allows me to tell students that telling the stories as he hears them is the narrator's way of saying, "Not blame me or criticize me for the stories because I'm only being truthful." I then tell students the narrator is what we call an "unreliable narrator" and that we'll talk about this more later.

After this brief discussion, I ask students if they have finished reading the prologue yet. Of course, they have not and say so. "Then how can you expect to have finished the SOAPSTone for the prologue. "We can't," they realize. 

This epiphany allows me to say, "Then do what you can, and we'll work on the rest together." I also ask students, "You know this is satire, but do you know what or who is satirized?" They say, "no." This let's me remind them that I have not given them all the information they need yet to do all the SOAPSTone. 

Virtues and Vices in the Pilgrims: Using The Virtues Project to Analyze Character

30 minutes

Introduce the assignment: Virtues. provides substantive instructions for students to follow.

First, have students turn the list of virtues, listed as nouns, into adjectives since students use them to analyze the pilgrims. Virtues: Nouns to Adjectives Student Work

I did an example w/ the students. I asked them, "Which one do you want to do together?"

Someone responded, "honor."

I tell students to think about how they would describe someone who has honor.

Someone says, "honorable."

"That's correct," I say. Next, I tell students that they can test their responses by following the adjective they've formed with a noun. That's because we generally put an adjective before a noun, except when the adjective is a predicate adjective. 

The second part of the assignment asks students to show evidence for their understanding of ten of the pilgrims by identifying lines from the prologue that either show evidence of a virtue or evidence of a vice. 

The handout gives explicit instructions for the activity. 

The student work-in-progress shows students charting their findings. Student Work: Analyzing Virtues in Pilgrims (1) Student Work: Analyzing Virtues in Pilgrims (2) Student Work: Analyzing Virtues in Pilgrims (3)

As students work, it's important to circulate around the room and answer questions, clarify instructions, reinforce student responses, etc.