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Feudalism in Medieval Europe

Grade Level: 6-8

Time Frame: Two 40-45 minute classes

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson students will explore the world of Medieval Europe.  They will learn the way the people lived and how Phragmites was part of this world.  Students will then be assigned a social class role in the system of feudalism and research information about their characterís privileges and disadvantages.  Students will experience the feudal system through activities and presentations to relay what they learned to their class.  Students may choose a variety of creative outlets to express their characterís life in their own creative way with a group or separately.    In conclusion to this lesson, students will be able to reflect and discuss their experience, feelings, and what they learned from this lesson about life in the Middle Ages.

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New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards

STANDARD 6.1 (Social Studies Skills) All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

          Use critical thinking skills to interpret events, recognize bias, point of view, and context.

          Analyze data in order to see persons and events in context.

          Examine current issues, events, or themes and relate them to past events.

          Formulate questions based on information needs .

          Use effective strategies for locating information .

          Distinguish fact from fiction by comparing sources about figures and events with fictionalize characters and evens.

          Summarize information in written, graphic, and oral formats.

STANDARD 6.3 (World History) All students will demonstrate knowledge of world history in order to understand life and events in the past and how they relate to the present and the future.

          Discuss the evolution of significant political, economic, social and cultural institutions and events that shaped European medieval society, including Catholic and Byzantine churches, feudalism and manorialism, the Crusades, the rise of cities, and changing technology.

STANDARD 8.1 (Computer and information literacy ) All students will use computer applications to gather and organize information and to solve problems

          Choose appropriate tools and information resources to support research and solve real world problems, including but not limited to:

o         On-line resources and databases

o         Search engines and subject directories

STANDARD 9.2 (Consumer, Family, and Life Skills) All students will demonstrate critical life skills in order to be functional members of society.

A. Critical Thinking

          Communicate, analyze data, apply technology, and problem solve.

B. Self-Management

          Demonstrate responsibility for personal actions and contributions to group activities.

C. Interpersonal Communication

          Demonstrate respect and flexibility in interpersonal and group situations.

          Organize thoughts to reflect logical thinking and speaking.

          Work cooperatively with others to solve a problem.

          Demonstrate appropriate social skills within group activities.

          Practice the skills necessary to avoid physical and verbal confrontation in individual and group settings.

          Participate as a member of a team and contribute to group effort.


Materials and Resources:


Student worksheets (Pyramid of Power Worksheet;  Social Roles Research Worksheet)  (teacher's answer key for pyramid is at the bottom of this page)


Computer Access and starter list of Web Resources to provide to students


Posterboards or equipment for student PowerPoint presentations (projector, computer, screen) (if desired)


M+M candies (if extension activity is used)


Rubrics (role playing optionpresentation option)



bulletEffectively research information on a specific aspect of life in Medieval Europe
bulletAcquire the necessary information to answer specific questions
bulletRelay information effectively to the class
bulletComplete assigned worksheets successfully
bullet Students will use learning gained through research and completion of assigned worksheets to role play their assigned characters within a class activity



Teacher will review the list of social groups from the Middle Ages (below) and, using his/ her knowledge of each studentsí strengths and weaknesses, will assign a suitable mix of students to each group (each group will research and act out one social status).  Teacher may wish to review the various websites listed at the end of this lesson plan before starting the class so that he / she can better assist the student groups in navigating those website in order to obtain the necessary information to complete this assignment.  If the classroom does not contain enough computers for every student to work in groups or individually, teacher may choose to print out web resources, or plan to schedule media time in the library or other resource room that will allow for individual access to computers in order to offer every student an opportunity to research their topic.  Teacher should also ensure that sufficient materials are available for the students to make the posters required for their presentations.

Day 1

Anticipatory Set:

Teacher will prompt students to think and discuss what they know about Medieval times.  For example, they may not realize that two Disney movies took place during Medieval times: Robin Hood and The Sword and the Stone.  Students can discuss the main concepts of these movies, such as the social structure (monarchy), the role of the church and the inequities between the lives of those in the upper levels and the hardships experienced by the "common" people.  The teacher can relate these social statuses to those in the world we live in today.  The teacher may wish to engage students by further discussing how students feel about social status and privileges that certain people have while others donít, such as movie stars, athletes and other millionaires compared to everyday people.

Sequence Instruction:

1)  Students will be placed in groups for presentation the following day.

2)  Teacher will assign each group one social status (Pope, Merchant, Nobles, Serfs, Knights and Vassals, Peasants, Royalty), to research using the listed websites and other resources that the students find (e.g. books from the library, suitable websites found by the student groups).

3) Teacher will give each member of each group a worksheet to fill in as a guide to be sure that each obtains the desired information for their presentations / role playing.  The worksheet should include some or all of the following questions

bulletWhat does your home look like?  (how big is it, what does it look like on the inside / outside etc.)
bulletMight I find Phragmites being used in your home or on the land around it?  If so how?
bulletDo you own your home?
bulletWhat do your clothes look like?  Are they comfortable?
bulletDo you have power over anyone else?  If so, who?
bulletDoes anyone have power over you?  If so, who?
bulletWhat is your most prized possession?
bulletWhat do you usually eat for dinner?
bulletWhat do you do for fun?  How often do you get to do it?
bulletIf you have children, what do you expect them to do every day?
bulletWhat tools or implements do you use every day, if any?
bulletWhat is worst thing about your life?
bulletWhat is the best thing about your life?
bulletWhat are your hopes for the future?
bulletWhat do you fear most?
bulletHow do you and your family stay warm in winter?
bulletIf your area is invaded by a stronger force that can overtake the current monarchy, will your life change?  If so, how?
bulletHow far have you traveled in your life?  If you did travel, why did you do so?

The rest of the class time should be spent in research.  Some useful resources are provided at the end of the lesson plan.

Depending on teacher and student preference, students should be asked to communicate what theyíve leaned about the social group assigned to them in one of two ways:


Poster / PowerPoint Presentation:  If this route is taken students in each group should be asked to take the information that they gain from their research and incorporate it into a poster  / PowerPoint presentation that they will share with the group on the following day.  To help maintain attention and active learning, the teacher may wish to provide those students not presenting with worksheets to complete based on the research questions provided to guide the students within each group (social group) presenting.

bulletRole Playing:  If this route is taken, the students should be provided with a series of scenarios (this would actually happen on day 2).  The scenario is that the King has assigned a scribe to create a novel that will describe "A Day in the Life of the Kingdom" to be immortalized for posterity.  That scribe (the teacher or his / her designated proxy) will interview each group of students in front of his / her peers each of whom should answer the questions about their lives asked by the scribe in the first person (i.e. play-acting a person of their assigned class).  The scribe should be careful to interview all members of the group each of whom can choose his / her own identity (e.g. can be young or old, male or female, single or married [except members of the Pope / Church group of course!], etc.)

Day 2

The class should start with a discussion about what the power structure of the various groups was during this time, and the relative sizes of each social group.  Hopefully, based on what they've learned from their research and the teacher's guidance of the discussion as needed, the students will be able to correctly fill in the Medieval power pyramid (below and on student worksheet) using the following descriptors

Pope / Church,   Monarch, Nobles, Knights, Vassals, Merchants, Farmers, Craftsmen, Peasants, Serfs

Things to note here would be that there were very few members of the monarchy, whereas there were a lot of people in the serf/ peasant class at the base of the pyramid.  Also, the people at the top of the pyramid had a lot of power over their own lives and those of others.  Those at the bottom had little power, even over their own lives.

The rest of the class should be dedicated to Role Playing   / Poster / PowerPoint Presentation Activities.


Extension Activity: ďM&M gameĒ (from

1. Assign one student to play the King/ Queen.

2. Assign two students to be Nobles and 2 to be Vassals. 

3.  The remaining students are Peasants.  (To make the selection process fairer, students can cast lots for these positions if desired).   

4.  Tell the students that one of the Nobles has a bigger estate than the other, and split the Peasants unequally, such that about 1/3 answers to the Vassal for one of the Lords (Lord A) while the other 2/3 of the Peasants live on the estate of "Lord B' and so answer to his / her Vassal.

5. Give each Peasant a plastic cup with exactly ten M&Ms in it. Let them know that they are not to touch the M&Mís until instructed. Tell the students that the M&Mís represent the crops from the land that the Peasants have tended. Then tell the Peasants that they must pay for the protection that they receive from their Lords with their crops. Their assigned Vassals will confiscate seven M&Mís (for classes under 20 students, have Vassals confiscate seven M+Ms to make this work better) from each Peasant in that Nobleís fiefdom.

6. From each Peasantís payment, the Vassal may keep two of the M&Ms but he / she must give five of them to his Noble to pay for his loyalty.

7. From each of the Vassalís payment, the Noble may keep two M&Ms for his / her services but must give the remaining three pieces to the King / Queen.

8.  At the end of the exercise the Peasants should each have the fewest M+Ms and the King  /  Queen should have the most.

9.  Ask each different role or students how they feel about what they received.

10.  If desired a discussion of the church and its power could be added here.  In the middle ages, tithing (in which the biblical suggestion that 10% of what one earned should be provided to the church) was taken very seriously.  Have the students calculate how much money (M+Ms) would have gone to the church had everyone in the group tithed their income to the church.  Given that money and power are closely related in most social systems, have the students discuss the implications of this for the power of the church during this period.

11.  Ask the students if they think that the Feudal System was fair and why / why not? 

12.  Ask them why they think that the people at the bottom might have put up with this for centuries before eventually revolting ( .  Indeed most of the wars during this period were between different monarchs, or between different members of the royal family seeking the power of the monarchy.  With rare exceptions (e.g. French Revolution) the peasants did not rise up in protest against this system, and indeed in some cases, fought to preserve the status quo.  

13.  If appropriate (concerns about hygiene may intervene here!), allow students to eat their M&Mís, but donít let the lower status players have anymore to reinforce the unfairness of the system.

14.  Discuss the simulation:  Explain that in this system, there are a few winners and many losers. Also note that, if you are higher up the chain, it is better to have more peasants underneath you.  Explain that different kings and nobles had different sized kingdoms / estates and so, even within the upper classes, some people were better off than others.


Teacher will review some of the important occurrences that happened during the presentations (specifically if there was a role-playing showing how the feudal system worked) and have a discussion about what the students thought about it.  Given extra time have an open discussion about the similarities and differences between the Middle Ages and present day.


Teacher will grade students based on accuracy, creativity, and (if applicable) teamwork during their chosen presentation on the teacher-assigned Middle Ages character the second day of lesson plan.

Accommodations and Modification:

If there are not enough computers to access the website for the entire classroom, students may use the given information printed out for them to research information and relay the following day. Students with disabilities may move up during the PowerPoint presentation or have the slides printed out.  Allow students to listen to a recording of the readings from the website.  Give students vocabulary sheets that define unfamiliar words. Assist students in small groups in discussing these terms to assure understanding. Meet with small groups of students before starting the simulation if students have difficulty reading the role cards and interpreting what they are supposed to do during the simulation.  Allow students who are not comfortable with role playing to observe the simulation and record what is happening on paper. Ask a couple of students to videotape or digitally record the simulation.  Provide a set of questions to students before the discussion to help focus their attention on certain aspects of the simulation.

Extending the lesson:

Teacher can show the active website games for the students to play if finished research early at: .

Answer Sheet for the Pyramid Exercise

Note: The order of the different job descriptions within a tier is not meaningful.  For example on the bottom row peasants and serfs are interchangeable in terms of their location and on the second row, merchants, farmers and craftsmen can be filled in on the chart in any order.  The important thing is which tier each is in, not the order of positions within a tier. 


 Web Resources

bullet (thanks to Ms. Baston's students at Pinewood Elementary for contributing this great resource about the Bubonic Plague to our resource list).
bullet  (thanks to Kristi Nichols for suggesting this link and to Kristin McNeil to alerting me to an error in the initial url posted)
bulletResource Guide to Medieval Times', (thanks to Fran Jay and her grand-daughter for suggesting this link).
bullet  (note the straw mentioned here was often Phragmites  stems)



TEACHER FEEDBACK REQUEST:  We are always to working to improve these lesson plans. If you use this lesson plan, we'd love to hear from you with your thoughts, comments and suggestions for future improvements.  Please take the time to fill in our survey at .  Thanks!

© 2009.  Amanda Traina (Author), Louise Wootton and Claire Gallagher (Editors)

 Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement NE97262206  to Georgian Court   University, it has not gone through the Agency's publications review process and, therefore, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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