When teaching 11 to 14 year olds about mediaeval literature like Beowulf or Gawain and the Green Knight, one runs into the enormous barrier of in some cases a thousand years of cultural and linguistic changes which act as an abyss between the modern student and the works.
One way around this is to teach some basic facts in a game setting. A few years ago, a popular game show called Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? captivated audiences in the UK by presenting a series of questions with multiple choice answers. Contestants were permitted, during their round, one opportunity to either 'Ask The Audience', 'Phone A Friend' or have 50% of the incorrect answers removed from the list of options.
It was a relatively simple matter to transfer this into a classroom setting: the result was Who Wants To Be A Mediaeval Millionaire? The questions were open to the class (which could be divided into teams if needed); 'Ask The Audience' became ask the rest of the class; 'Phone A Friend' became ask another classmate; having 50% of the incorrect answers removed remained the same.
The prize was a mythical haul of mediaeval treasure which, when valued at the end, would turn out to be worth the value of a chocolate bar in today's currency. Each question answered correctly resulted in a proportional part of the ancient treasure being acquired.
But, as with all such approaches, the real prize was active student engagement.
Here are the questions (which can of course be modified by teachers as needed):
1. What happened in the British Isles in 1066 which began the wiping out of a flourishing native Anglo-Saxon culture?
A. The Battle of Bosworth Field B. The Battle of Hastings
C. The Battle of Britain D. The Original Millennium Bug
2. At Heorot in Denmark, and deep underwater nearby, what monster did Beowulf fight first?
A. Grendel B. Magwitch
C. Grendel’s Mother D. Chris Tarrant (he was the host of the original show)
3. Back in Anglo-Saxon times, before the Norman invasion, who wrote Beowulf?
A. Shakespeare B. Chaucer
C. The Beowulf Poet D. Grendel
4. In the mediaeval scheme of things, what is astrology?
A. The study of plants B. The study of the influence of stars and planets
C. The Japanese art of paper-folding D. The study of ancient literature
5. In Chaucer’s most famous work, where are the pilgrims going?
A. Cornwall B. York
C. Canterbury D. London
6. In order to be able to divorce his wife and become wealthy and politically strong, which English king made himself Head of the Church of England?
A. Henry VII B. Henry VIII
C. Henry XXXX D. Charles I
7. What was the Renaissance?
A. A ‘rebirth’ of the arts and sciences of the ancient world B. A new rock group
C. The arrival in England of the printing press D. A French painting movement
8. In the fourteenth century masterpiece known as Gawain and the Green Knight, by what other name was the Green Knight known?
A. Desmond B. Sir Bertilak
C. Sir Agravaine D. Morgana le Fay
9. Who was behind the appearance and deeds of the Green Knight?
A. Morgana le Fay B. The Lady of the Green Girdle
C. The green horse D. Rupert Murdoch
10. What was the name of the place that Gawain set out to find after a year and a day had almost passed?
A. Chelsea B. The Green Chapel
C. The castle D. Camelot
11. In the tales of the Knights of the Round Table collected in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, what was the name of King Arthur’s home?
A. Pentecost B. Camelot
C. Sainsbury's D. London
12. What holy symbol did Gawain carry on his shield?
A. The Pentacle B. The Pentagon
C. The Penthouse D. The Pentriculate
13. At the end of the poem Gawain and the Green Knight, how does Gawain view the green girdle?
A. As a symbol of shame B. As a nice accessory to match his blue shield
C. As a symbol of honour D. As an object of faith in God
14. Why was Gawain tested?
A. To amuse Morgana le Fay B. To challenge his faith in God
C. To see how physically strong he was D. To annoy Arthur
15. What major poetic device does the Gawain Poet use throughout the poem to create an aesthetic rhythm?
A. Illiteracy B. Onomatopiaea
C. Rhyme D. Alliteration
As you can see, there was an attempt to make the questions more difficult as they went on.
It was a popular game, and helped to create a bridge between the students and the rather obscure works of that period.
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