"What Do Women Really Want?": A Panel of Expert Teens Speak Out: Teaching "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale"

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SWBAT construct meaning from "The Wife of Bath's Tale" as a critique of Medieval estates and church authority.

Big Idea

Male/Female relationships complicate the lives of contemporary teens just as they did the Wife of Bath's life.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Time Frame and Context

Today's lesson introduces students to "The Wife of Bath's Prologue" and "The Wife of Bath's Tale." The Wife's tale is one of the student options for composing an interactive summary. Pardoner's Prologue Interactive version shows both a sample interactive summary and instructions for the assignment. As with the other tales and "The Pardoner's Prologue," I want students to have some background and exposure to the text. In this lesson we 

  • convene a panel of expert teens who share what they know about what women want from men,
  • watch the movie trailer to What Women want,
  • consider Chaucer as an early feminist voice,
  • learn about the Wife of Bath's philosophies as articulated in her prologue, 
  • begin reading and summarizing the Wife's tale, 
  • continue working on the SOAPSTone for "The General Prologue." 

What Women Want: Introducing "The Wife of Bath's Tale"

15 minutes

To begin the lesson, I asked, "Are there any young men in this class who consider themselves experts on women?" Several boys raised their hands. I then asked, "Are any of you willing to share your expertise on a short panel? Your classmates and I are eager to hear you speak about your expertise." Several boys, once again, raised their hands. We had our panel! The panel of experts convene as the image depicts Panel of Expert Teens

I asked the panel, "What do women really want from men?" 

Immediately, someone chimed in, "Everything." 

Then another offered, "Your soul." That resulted in a "that's harsh" from one of the girls in the class. 

Then each of the panel members offered their expertise. Marco, seated in the middle, began by explaining that girls want everything they can get from boys. He offered a metaphor: "Think of men as a sink. Women are the drain." Someone chimed, "What does that mean." Marco continued, "You fill the sink up and what's in it goes out the drain." 

Jacob, seated on the left, responded: "I have four sisters, and I can tell you the only thing they want from men is to be treated with respect. They want an occasional door opened for them. They don't want to take everything they can get from men." The girls in the class loved this response. 

Our third panelist didn't have much to say, except to concur w/ Marco. 

Next, I introduced students to Hollywood's attempt to answer the question: "What do women really want from men?" in the movie What Women Want by showing them the movie trailer. 

After watching the trailer, I told the class that Chaucer posed the question "What do women really want from men?" long before Hollywood when he created the Wife of Bath. 

Meet Chaucer, the Feminist

10 minutes

Students have already taken notes from the Power Point The Canterbury Tales Structure and Techniques.ppt. Now I turn their attention to the slide "Chaucer as Feminist." 

One student asks, "What really is a feminist."

I respond, "A person who believes in gender equality. Simply, a feminist simply advocates for equal opportunity regardless of gender, class, or race." 

Students take notes on the slide and I ask them to think about why critiques might consider Chaucer a feminist as they meet the Wife of Bath in her prologue and tale. I also tell them they need to consider the Narrator's description of the Wife of Bath in "The General Prologue" as they consider the other two texts. 

It's also advisable to return to the slides on Literary Confessional and remind students that the Wife's prologue also falls w/in this genre. 

Prior to beginning the prologue, I ask students which feminine estate the Wife fits into. Her name, clearly, tells them. 

In the Wife's Words: An Interactive Summary of "The Wife of Bath's Prologue"

30 minutes

I tell students that to really understand the Wife's tale, we need to know about her philosophy. She has much to say about her beliefs about male-female relationships, Church authority, and wifely behavior in her prologue, but, as I tell students, the prologue is very long. To expedite our study of it, I use an interactive summary. 

The Wife of Bath Prologue interactive summary includes both the summary and the lines I distribute to students. Since the students know they'll be completing an interactive summary for one of the tales, the use of one for the Wife's prologue reinforces the assignment requirements. 

Since I want students to consider the Wife's philosophy as they read her tale and as they complete the SOAPSTone for her tale (for those who choose her tale to summarize), I also give them a graphic organizer on which to compile notes: Wife of Bath Prologue Chart. As students will complete the chart during the interactive summary activity, I also tell them not to get worried about getting the ideas in the right columns. The chart is just to help them organize their thoughts; there is overlap among many of the ideas. 

I begin reading the summary, and intentionally read slowly so students have time to take notes and to follow along so that they are ready to read their assigned lines at the right time. Prologue Chart (1) Student Work and Prologue Chart (2) Student Work show student notes based on the Wife's prologue. I allowed students to use their own note-taking strategies rather than the chart if they wanted. It isn't the way they take notes that mattes to me but that they take them.

Some points to clarify during the interactive summary:

  • The Wife says she is gap-toothed, which in the Medieval Period marked a woman as sexy.
  • St. Paul may be unfamiliar to students. Explain that he's the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
  • Students may not know that Paul wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus. 
  • Students who aren't Catholic will need a short explanation of the Apocryphal. 
  • Allusions abound in the Wife's Prologue. These archaic references and those requiring expertise beyond the scope of students' prior knowledge need a brief sentence or two to enhance student understanding. 

Working with the Wife's Tale: What's a Maidenhead?

20 minutes

"The Wife of Bath's Tale" includes a frame. One could argue that the tale has two frames. In a sense, the Wife's prologue frames her tale. Additionally, the opening section and closing banter frame the story of the Knight's quest. Working with students to understand this will enhance their enjoyment of the story and set them on the path of success. This is why I begin by sharing this information and by reading the first part of the story to students. 

Then I ask students to write a 20-word summary in a sentence of this part of the tale. I suggest that they continue chunking the story in to 20-word sentence summaries if that strategy worked for them when they read "The Pardoner's Tale." Summary Chunks Student Notes shows one student's work. 

As students work, I circulate around the room and check their initial progress. The main reason I do this is to see how they interpret the term maidenhead. An accurate reading of this word is essential to student understanding of the tale. Some students think the Knight killed the young maiden. Others think he cut off her head. Still others interpret the line accurately. 

Using summary chunks leads to student completion of their interactive summaries: Interactive Summary In-Progress Student Notes and Interactive Summary Quotes In-Progress show student work on their final projects. 

Don't Forget the SOAPSTone: Checking Student Progress

5 minutes

As with "The Pardoner's Tale," students who choose to become experts on "The Wife of Bath's Tale," will complete a SOAPSTone analysis of the tale in addition to the one they complete for "The General Prologue." SOAPSTone Reading Strategy for Primary Docs.

To assist students in thinking about this, I check their progress in adding to the charts as they exit the room.