As the weather turns colder, I like to teach an English lesson using the classic tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Maybe it’s the wintery setting of the story, or the holiday festivities described therein, but I think it fits in well with this time of year. This particular lesson plan is one where students make connections to the text they read, but in a fun and relatively stress-free way. This makes it ideal for teaching around holiday breaks, when minds tend to wander and nobody wants to do any hard-core work (least of all the teacher; or maybe that’s just me?).
In order to teach this lesson plan on Sir Gawain, you will need to get your hands on a copy of the story. You can either get a class set and have your students read it individually, or conduct a read-aloud with a picture book version. The choice depends upon the resources available to you and the abilities of your students. Because of the availability of so many versions of this story, you can easily adapt this lesson plan for any age from elementary school to high school.
The Lesson Plan
Once you have read the story with your students, the assignment they should complete comes in two parts.
1. Have students draw their vision of Sir Gawain’s shield. This shield contains a pentangle representing five main virtues:
(a) free-giving (or generosity)
(b) friendliness (or brotherhood)
(c) chastity (or purity)
(d) chivalry (or courtesy)
(e) piety (or compassion)
Students should draw the shield and include images that depict these virtues in the modern world; for example, they might include an image of someone donating an item to charity for free-giving. They can draw these images or cut them out of magazines, etc.
2. Have students come up with a celebrity who represents each of these virtues in today’s society. (They might use the Jonas Brothers as an example of chastity, for instance.) Then they should write a brief explanation of their choice and provide examples to support it. For example: "Mrs. Cook is the most free-giving teacher I have ever met. I know this about her because she was kind enough to give us this extra credit project on Sir Gawain even though we don’t deserve it. She knows we’ve been lazy and let our grades slip, and she’s throwing us a life preserver to save us from ourselves. Wow, what an amazing and generous teacher she is!"
When students turn in their work, assess their ability to connect the text they read to the real world by linking modern celebrities and images with medieval values.