Teaching Resource

Mysteries of the Middle Ages

Besiege a castle, examine the evidence for a real-life Robin Hood, and avoid the curse of the Black Death with a range of cross-curricular activities and resources based around life and legend in the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages brings to mind a time of knights in armour, banquets, chivalry, wandering minstrels, damsels in distress and pageantry. True, this was part of the Middle Ages, but they were also a time of tumultuous change, resulting in one of the most turbulent periods in history.

The Middle Ages or Medieval times saw society change in a way that was revolutionary in itself. The Black Death changed the structure of society forever and saw the beginning of the rise of the peasant class. It also changed the geography, not just of Britain, but the whole world, as villages and towns were wiped off the map.

The Middle Ages also saw the Normans become the royal house of England. As a result, the Saxons were removed from places of prominence and the political face of the country changed. Castles were built to help the Normans retain control of the country. Communities formed around the castle for both safety and defence.

It is in this backdrop that stories of heroes spread – heroes such as Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. These stories were handed down from father to son in oral tradition until they were eventually written down to be remembered forever, as with the story of The Winter Cabin, the text featured as this project.

The Winter Cabin is a traditional tale from Russia, but it could be set in many other countries. It is a humorous piece of fiction that pupils can use to develop their reading and prediction skills. It would have been one of the stories taken from manor to manor and village to village during the Middle Ages by a wandering minstrel or storyteller.

Many other myths, legends and fairytales we tell today originated in medieval times, and often, it’s very difficult to work out where fact and fiction collide. What is real history, and what is purely legend? The Middle Ages and all its mysteries, therefore, have great potential for investigation and development across the whole curriculum.

This cross curriculum project includes:

‘The Winter Cabin’ text
A traditional story from Russia similar to the tales told by travelling storytellers in Medieval times. Available both as pdf (found in ‘Project Plan: Mysteries of the Middle Ages’) and as a separate word document (formatted to make mass printing easier and more cost effective).

Activity 1: Time Capsule
Students explore various pictorial clues and predict the plot of the story, ‘The Winter Cabin’. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 1a: Student introduction
  • Activity sheet 1b: Clues

Activity 2: Reading the text
This activity encourages active thinking and reading through close examination of the text, ‘The Winter Cabin’. Students read and analyse the text from various ‘reading roles’ (summariser, predictor, clarifier or questioner), contributing to a group record sheet. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 2a: Reading roles record sheet
  • Activity sheet 2b: Reading roles cards (to cut out and assign to each student)
  • Activity sheet 2c: Working Out Words sheet (WOW)

Activity 3: Robin Hood, fact or fiction?
For this activity, students research Robin Hood and create a visual representation of one aspect of his life. They will need to consult a variety of sources to establish whether they believe Robin Hood was real or just a legend. The resource pack includes a range of resources to prompt and extend student research, as well as a series of mini research activities to undertake as part of the overarching investigation. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 3a: Student introduction and helpsheet
  • Activity sheet 3b: Research prompt cards
  • Activity sheet 3c: Robin Hood in history and literature (mini research task – includes teacher’s crib sheet)
  • Activity sheet 3d: Brainstorm template
  • Activity sheet 3e: Research grid
  • Activity sheet 3f: What makes an effective enquiry?
  • Activity sheet 3g: Image bank (a series of pictorial sources related to Robin Hood, his life and his depiction in modern culture, to help with the investigation)
  • Activity sheet 3h: Where did Robin Hood live – Sherwood or Barnsdale? (mini research task)
  • Activity sheet 3i: Robin Hood’s character (poetry analysis task)
  • Activity sheet 3j: Robin Hood’s character crib sheet

Activity 4: Creating a bestiary
This activity aims to develop pupils’ research skills through the creation of a whole-class bestiary – a ‘book of beasts’. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 4a: Research grid
  • Activity sheet 4b: Student introduction and helpsheet

Activity 5: Medieval maths
Students work together to solve a variety of themed maths and logic problems, checking results and looking for alternative methods when attempts fail. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 5: Maths questions

Activity 6: Medieval castles
A series of linked activities revolving around life in a Medieval castle. Activities include designing a castle and its defences, writing a siege diary and creating a job advertisement for new castle staff. All require students to make use of prior knowledge and research. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 6a: Defending a castle
  • Activity sheet 6b: Attacking a castle
  • Activity sheet 6c: Living in a castle

Activity 7: Crime and punishment
Students discuss aptness of punishments in medieval times and compare them to today’s justice system. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 7a: Crime and punishment (student discussion sheet)
  • Activity sheet 7b: Crime cards (further discussion prompts featuring real Medieval criminals and their punishments)

Activity 8: Riddle me this
Students use problem-solving skills to find answers to riddles, and work in collaboration to create their own. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 8a: Student introduction and worksheet
  • Activity sheet 8b: Riddle cards (to cut out and distribute)
  • Activity sheet 8c: Teacher’s crib sheet

Activity 9: Portraits and pictures
Students compare and contrast features of Medieval paintings. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 9: Medieval portraits

Activity 10: Diseases and their cures
Students investigate common diseases in the Middle Ages and their cures, with particular focus on the Black Death. The activities in this pack are linked but can also be undertaken independently, and include producing a pictorial poster explaining the symptoms of Black Death to an illiterate Medieval audience, a card sort activity matching various ailments to their Medieval cures and examining the difference between bubonic and pneumonic plague. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 10a: The Black Death (student introduction, plus two activities related to the symptoms of the plague)
  • Activity sheet 10b: Treating the Black Death (one activity focusing on Medieval ‘cures’ for Black Death)
  • Activity sheet 10c: Avoiding the plague (one activity concentrating on what Medieval people thought caused the Black Death)
  • Activity sheet 10d: Bubonic vs. pneumonic plague (comparison activity)
  • Activity sheet 10e: Healing the sick (student introduction to ailments and cures card sort activity, plus grid to fill in)
  • Activity sheet 10f: Ailments and cures cards (to cut out)
  • Activity sheet 10g: Ailments and cures answer sheet

Activity 11: Heraldry
Students design and create a shield to represent themselves or their family, using the information provided and own research to make it as historically accurate as possible. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 11: Student information sheet (an extensive explanation of different aspects of heraldry)