School and Education in the Middle Ages - A model lesson in the EFL-classroom

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

45 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table Of Contents

I. Introduction
1. Structure
2. Why is teaching the Middle Ages in the EFL-classroom of importance?

II. Main Part
1. School and education in the Middle Ages
1.1. Why is talking about school and education in the Middle Ages important?
1.2. Historic background
1.2.1. The child of the medieval days Infancy and family life Games and play Church
1.2.2. Schooling Educational system Literacy Basic education Learning to read Didactic material Children’s literature Print Books in use Children-adult-relationship School life in a boarding school The master Universities and colleges
2. The model lessons – an approach
2.1. Setting of the model lessons in a Middle Ages sequence
2.2. Class situation
2.3. Aim of the projected model lessons
2.4. Usage of media
2.5. First double lesson
2.5.1. Structure of projected lesson
2.5.2. Detailed description of projected lesson Homework control Motivation / Introduction to new subject matter Assimilation / Application Homework
2.6. Second double lesson
2.6.1. Structure of projected lesson
2.6.2. Detailed description of projected lesson Warming-up Homework control Application

III. Lookout

IV. Sources

V. Appendix

I. Introduction

1. Structure

This paper will deal with a model lesson on school and education in the Middle Ages (=MA) and Early Renaissance[1]. It is an approach to show that not only classical topics should have a place in the EFL-classroom. After showing the reader the relevance of teaching the MA in general in class there will be an intense inside look on the educational situation in England in the time roughly between 1000 and 1600. The main focus will not be the exact development of education and educational institutions during the medieval period, but it will be the analysis of the different types of education and ways of teaching different genders. These descriptions and analyses will turn out to be the background for the didactic approach to four model lessons on this topic in the EFL-classroom.

As there are no explicit drafts of how to deal with school and education in the MA in the English classroom the approach cannot be proved on theoretical background. All ideas for texts, exercises and teaching material are purely theoretical and cannot be found as a collection in didactic literature. Therefore it is only speculation if the way the topic is illustrated here will work in real life.

The model lessons presented here will be embedded in a series of lessons dealing with the MA in general because

“(…) the student will benefit from a holistic, integrated picture of the Middle Ages – or of anything else, for that matters – than from a loose collection of assorted but unrelated bits of knowledge. Meaningful learning is based on understanding relationships and contexts, not on the acquisition of unconnected facts. Meaningful learning is contextual learning.”[2]

After talking about different aspects of the MA e.g. about society, literature and history the pupil will have a good impression of this period and may see and understand connections between those days and the time they live in.

2. Why is teaching the MA in the EFL-classroom of importance?

One may ask why a period long since past is of any interest for pupils of English. This question is highly debatable even among specialists.

Some say that it is useless treating medieval literature in class with under-aged pupils as it is very demanding work. The language of original medieval literature is Old or Middle English. German learners of English in high school or grammar school usually do not learn Old or Middle English in normal classes. Some teachers do not see any use in doing so as it is not necessary for reading “traditional” English literature like Shakespeare or modern literature. The literature canon for high schools does not imply original works older than those by Shakespeare. Therefore reading texts in an almost completely different language would be too complicated.

On the other hand there are scholars who are of a different opinion. Since medieval culture is the background for our culture we have today, as they claim, it is rather important to gain knowledge about it. Certain institutions have their roots in the MA[3] and to understand the present situation it is essential to be aware of the origins.

“Die Auseinandersetzung mit fremdsprachlich vermittelter Vergangenheit (...) hat (...)keinen Selbstzweck, sondern die Intention, Gegenwart zu erschließen, Zukunft zu öffnen.“[4]

Another reason is that especially during the last five to ten years there has been a return to the values of medieval times, which can be described as the “renaissance of the Middle Ages”. Principally young people are concerned with this trend. If you take a closer look on juvenile fiction and favoured films by youngsters, you find Rowling’s “Harry Potter”, a book about wizards and witches, which obviously are part of medieval culture. Also “the Lord of the Rings” by Tolkien enjoys big popularity at the moment. Children in kindergarten read books and play games taking place in medieval surroundings and identify themselves with knights and princesses.[5] Everywhere one finds announcements for medieval markets, feasts and theatre companies. Because of all these facts it is absolutely justifiable to include aspects of the MA in English lessons. Then pupils open their minds for historical facts on which fictional stories are based. Depending on which special topics would be treated in class, it may be possible to interlink different subjects.[6] To sum up, talking about the MA in the EFL-classroom widens the pupils’ personal horizon for background information as well as it makes the class interesting and varied.

II. Main Part

1. School and education in the Middle Ages

1.1. Why is talking about school and education in the Middle Ages important?

In our society today children’s life and school belong together like day and night. For us it is only natural that every child has to attend school at least for nine years and after that either goes to high school, college or university or starts an apprenticeship. For some decades it has also become nothing extraordinary to go to university and all in all spend a third of one’s life with schooling or learning. It has not always been like this.

It was only in the MA that the first institutional schools were founded, the first time that education took place outside private households and also the first time that education was in a way generalized.[7] Pupils today take gaining knowledge for granted and some even think it is annoying and unnecessary to learn so many years at school. When talking about the school situation in the MA the teacher can show the pupils that 1000 years ago one thought it to be a huge privilege to go to school and to learn as much as possible.[8] They can find out about the origins of schooling and the development of educational institutions.

Gender discussion is a permanent problem at school. In 2002 there were even surveys about the question whether boys have disadvantages at school when taught by female teachers.[9] Such problems were inconceivable in the MA simply because there were no female teachers. Pupils have to realize how big the differences are and which developments the institution school had to go through before boys and girls were taught in the same classroom and women were allowed to become teachers.

So apart from learning about historical facts comparing school situations now and in the past could have the effect that the pupils recognize that school and how it is today is a luxurious good. At best they would come to value the way they experience school and change their possibly “romantic” opinion about knights and princesses and the way they were brought up without a fixed part in their lives called “school”.

1.2.Historic background

1.2.1. The child of the medieval days

“What is childhood? The question is not easy to answer, despite the fact that we all have been children ourselves.”[10]

We all grew up with the knowledge that childhood is a stage in one’s lifetime in which one undergoes certain developments before becoming an adult. We would also say that this is an indisputable fact, which can be proved scientifically. Seen from the medieval point of view this modern opinion is not comprehensible. “It seems clear that the “child centred” home of our day was unknown in the Middle Ages.”[11] It was only in those days when the proper concept of “the child” and “childhood” came up. The so-called “century of the child” was hundreds of years later. According to popular belief children were regarded as small adults until the 17th century. They say that not for nothing one can hardly find pictures of children, which date back to the MA. If there is any painting showing a child it is either Jesus as a child or someone with, from our perspective, childlike body, but clothed like an adult. The general theory that children in the MA did not have a separate culture and were not regarded as complete individuals is based on the theories of Ariès who published his ideas in the famous work “L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous L’Ancien regime” in 1960[12]. In this he does not only say that there was no special children’s culture but he claims that adults were not even aware of the fact that there was a state in life like childhood and therefore they were not interested in children. For a long time this has been the popular view on medieval children, but other and more recent scholars like Orme, Shahar and Crawford have proven this theory wrong. According to them this theory came into being in the first place because there was only little reference to children in historical sources such as literature and paintings.[13] Therefore the idea that children were not treated in a special way seems to be plausible. But they found numbers and hints, whether open or hidden, which give evidence to the theory that medieval adults did regard childhood as a distinct phase of life and that children were definitely treated differently. They also had the same emotions and feelings for their children. Just the way of expressing it was different due to social life and status. But indeed there was a kind of individual culture with activities and games as well as individual possessions especially made for children.

There were certainly immense dissimilarities between the social classes. The upbringing of children of noblemen was different from the growing-up of countrymen’s and poor people’s children. The historical sources, which are referred to mostly, concern rich men’s life. Only they were in position to keep diaries or family trees because it was expensive.[14] In them one finds more or less exact numbers and dates. Personal dates of royal children were of popular interest so here the given references are less doubtful than others. Church registers and laws included children of lower social status, too, so that numerous facts can be derived from them.

Generally one can say that “the later one goes the more one learns about childhood”[15] because the written evidence is given. Infancy and family life

The difference between childhood of today and the MA starts right at the beginning of life. In modern society the birth of a baby is registered with the exact date and place of birth, with the nationality and of course the name of the child. This is how an identity is created. In the MA children of poor origin were not registered. Some only knew vague dates and often fixed the exact date of their birth to a Christian feast, saints’ days or certain events.[16] Noble children’s births were written down in the family bible or church register as this could be of importance because of the order of succession in heritage. The “birthday” as such was much less celebrated than is it is today with parties and presents. Growing up in an average noble household in the MA meant growing up in the family, but also families were different from today. The family did not only include parents and children, but also the servants who used to live in the same house and were regarded as family members. Noble women gave birth to up to 24 children, but rarely more than 10 to 12 survived and grew up to be adults. Poor people could not afford so many children and normally had only one or two.

Within the family godparents played an immense role in children’s life. The choice of the right godfather or godmother could be one of the most important decisions in a child’s life as these people had the obligation to take care of the godchild in case of the parents’ death. So right after the birth of a baby one of the first official actions of the father was to name the child’s godfather.

“Godparents (…) played an important part in the child’s admission to the Church by baptism, but the Church did not regard their role as terminating with the christening ceremony. They were envisaged as providing practical help in the child’s upbringing, both spiritual and physical, in the ensuing years.”[17]

During the first months of life there were different ways of feeding the newborn child. While poor mothers had to feed their children themselves by breast, wealthy women normally had a wet nurse to do this job. Within this period of lifetime of the baby the role of the father was insignificant as men were seen as to be inappropriate for nursing or raising babies. Men were often irresponsible and too brutal in the treatment of babies.

Having a closer look at a medieval home one finds certain items which were especially made for the baby or for raising it.

“Beds, shirts, biggins, waistcoats, headbands, swaddlebands[18], cross-cloths, bibs, tail-clouts, mantles, hose, shoes, coats, petticoats, cradle and cricket, and beside that a standing-stool and a posnet to make the child pap.”[19]

Depending on the income of the family the quality of clothes and “baby equipment” varied a lot.

Yet in the first months of life parents not only cared about the child concerning the daily necessities like feeding and diapering, but they also started to stimulate the child’s mind as a first step towards a later formal education. Mothers sang lullabies, spoke some kind of nursery rhymes[20], which could be a normal rhyme, a song or a text in verse. The topics were the same as in the rhymes today: animals, famous people, advice, games and also nonsense. They also played hand-games for the child to train his eye. Fathers often made toys for their children in suitable shape, size and material, on which they could bite without hurting themselves, e. g. rattles. Theses toys trained their physical skills and comforted them. Games and play

Play in general was an early stage of importance in education because “for centuries adults have tried to use play to develop children’s mind and bodies (…)”[21] In games children learnt how to associate with others, and sportive competitions trained their physical skills. There was a great variety of games played in the streets, starting with easy games played with cherry-stones, hazelnuts or other round and easily available objects, which were used as balls or prizes. Games to train and teach strategy were draughts, cards, dice and tables[22]. The most prestigious game was chess because it was emblematic of the society with its kings, queens, knights and common folk. Physical games like running and chasing, hide and seek, throwing games and snowballing in winter were as popular as they are nowadays. During the later MA games which needed equipment like kinds of tennis, football and hockey came up. Those who lived close to lakes and the sea went fishing. Swimming was little known and in addition to that it was restricted to boys and men.

When considering children playing different games or training their physical skills one has to keep in mind that the medieval society was strongly influenced by the natural calendar and the Church’s times and seasons.

As the MA society was a military society, in which everybody had to be equipped with at least primitive weapons, all kind of toy weapons and also real weapons were popular with the boys. Especially in noble families boys were enforced to train their skills in fighting as often as possible. From the 14th century onwards the crown had influence on the play of young people by ordering boys to practice with bow and arrow on Sundays and not to play so-to-speak useless games like stone casting etc. “Hunting was often regarded as a kind of military training” because it was viewed as an “imitation of battle”[23].

Children also learnt how to make music. Instruments like flutes, harps and percussion instruments like the tambourine made music sound very different from today. For noble children learning to play an instrument like the harp or the flute was part of formal education.

Winter, especially Christmas time, was also the season for plays and mimes. “Acting differed from music in being seen as a predominantly male activity.”[24] There were various roles which could be played by boys, and also women’s roles were usually played by young men or boys, particularly the roles of young Virgin Mary or angles in religious plays. While some of these plays took place in town on special stages, the great households, such as the king’s household or those of the nobility, big colleges and religious communities were also important centres of drama. “Life in such place lent itself to drama”[25] as there was also a lot of hustle and bustle around, which inspired to make plays. Boys were almost always part of the adult plays and only rarely had their own plays. These, then, were considered dangerous sometimes as they seemed to distract the children’s mind from essentials in life like school, discipline and church. This leads one to the next important, if not the most important part in the life of a child in the MA: Religion and church. Church

Church was the centre of life in general. The Anglican Church was not yet founded, and hardly anybody doubted the existence of God. Daily life circled around church. As the Bible says everything starts with God and ends with God. Therefore children were soon baptized after their birth. This made the child an active part of community. Church gave the child membership and the promise of life after death, and in return the child promised to do the Church’s bidding. So attending church services daily was part of the program. The educational task of godparents came in here. They were in charge when it came to introducing the child to the three most important prayers and the sign of the cross. In general people had to know the major prayers like the Paternoster, the Ave Maria and the Apostles’ Creed. So the clergy taught the adults at church, and at home parents and godparents taught the children. From the early thirteenth century onwards there was a decree which ordered priests to teach children face to face and not via their parents. This made more sense in the respect that parents themselves often did not know what the prayers meant and so they were not able to transmit the message. The problem was that the official language in church was Latin, so all the prayers and the hole service including the deliverance of the sermon was in Latin, which was a lot of times only understood by the clergy or other educated people. English was the language spoken at home and had a bad reputation among the clergy. In very ambitious households people tried to live in a monastery-way and to dedicate half of the day to God and the other half to work so that the day was very strictly structured by prayers in the morning and before going to bed, church going and praying the rosary. When children accompanied their parents to church it did not differ so much from today as one could expect. They most of the times behaved like their parents did. When growing up children came more and more regularly, especially when the time of confirmation was due. The age of confirmation varied a lot during the MA and so did the age of being allowed to receive communion. In general adults received communion once a year and on very special occasion like childbirth, pilgrimage or sickbed.


[1] Early Renaissance is historically touched a few times, but the main focus will be on the Middle Ages, therefore

only the Middle Ages are mentioned in the following text, but Early Renaissance is also included.

[2] Benson, L.: “Why study the Middle Ages?” in: Graybill, R. u. a. (Ed.): Teaching the Middle Ages, p. 29.

[3] Schools are of special interest here.

[4] Markmann, S.: Kulturelles Lernen im Englischunterricht; p. 80.

[5] Even children’s’ birthday parties have knights and witches as a motto.

[6] Possible interlinks here would be with history, drama, music and sports (dances).

[7] As the complete generalization of school systems has not been finished yet, one has to say “in a way” here

because it was only a vague try to do so.

[8] There is no doubt that MA pupils also regarded school as annoying, boring and even worse for the fact that they

were not treated as politely as pupils are treated today. Compare: Gerbert, F./Brinck, C.: “Arme Jungs!”; in:

Focus Magazin, n° 32, 08/2002, München, p. 104-109.

[9] The results of the survey were presented in the news on TV (May ‘03). Some boys claimed that their female

teachers prefer the girls and underestimate the boys’ affords. Compare: ibid.

[10] Orme,N.: Medieval Children, p. 3.

[11] Thurm, G.: “The Child of the Medieval Days”; in: Graybill, R. u.a. (Ed.): Teaching the Middle Ages, p. 85.

[12] Compare: Ariés, P.: Geschichte der Kindheit, 1978.

[13] One also has to take into consideration that a lot of sources were destroyed through the ages and cannot be restored.

[14] In the MA writing and reading was a privilege which in private life only rich people could afford.

[15] Orme,N.: Medieval Children; p. 9.

[16] So e. g. someone could have said that he was born on Candlemas Day, which is the 2nd of February.

[17] Orme,N.: Medieval Children; p. 201.

[18] „Swaddling“ meant wrapping babies in long strips of cloth tightly around the body in a criss-cross fashion to promote warmth and to prevent the baby’s bones from growing crookedly as it was a common belief that baby bones were flexible.

[19] Orme,N.: Medieval Children; p. 60.

[20] Although there is no written records for nursery rhymes in the MA one can assume that there were definitely in use as they were handed down to later centuries orally and finally written down in the beginning of the 19th century.

[21] Orme,N.: Medieval Children; p. 164.

[22] Tables is a kind of backgammon.

[23] Orme,N.: Medieval Children; p. 182.

[24] Orme,N.: Medieval Children; p. 191.

[25] ibid; p. 192.

Excerpt out of 45 pages


School and Education in the Middle Ages - A model lesson in the EFL-classroom
University of Dusseldorf "Heinrich Heine"
Didaktisches Hauptseminar: Teaching Medieval Literature from Medieval Times to the Early Renaissance
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1943 KB
School, Education, Middle, Ages, EFL-classroom, Didaktisches, Hauptseminar, Teaching, Medieval, Literature, Medieval, Times, Early, Renaissance
Quote paper
Conny Schibisch (Author), 2003, School and Education in the Middle Ages - A model lesson in the EFL-classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: School and Education in the Middle Ages - A model lesson in the EFL-classroom

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free