The story of King Arthur is one of the most well-known and popular British legends and is made up of a series of interlocking tales which are also known as the Arthurian Cycle. Many of these stories are famous on their own and our students may be surprised to read them all in one book. King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Percival, Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot, the Lady of the Lake, Morgana, Vivien, Merlin, the sword in the stone, Excalibur, and Avalon. These are just some of the characters, places and objects that continue to live on in our imaginations.
Reading the legend with teen learners should be a real adventure whether or not they are familiar with all the different characters and twists in the tale and most, if not all of them, will have seen a TV or cinema adaption of some part of the story.
Since Le Morte d'Arthur, the collection of tales written by Thomas Malory in the 15th century, the story has gone through a number of very different adaptations. Classic film adaptations include Excalibur (1981) with Nigel Perry and Helen Mirren, First Knight (1995) with Sean Connery and Richard Gere or King Arthur (2004) with Keira Knightley and Clive Owen, and comic adaptations include Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Shrek the Third (2007) as well as the TV seriers, Avalon High. A new adaptation is coming out in 2017, directed by Guy Ritchie starring Jude Law and Eric Bana. Some of us might be more familiar with visual retellings as the legend and medieval history was popular with two groups of 19th-century painters, both the Pre-Raphaelites and the fin-de-siécle painters.
The popular retelling by Howard Pyle has been adapted for elementary level readers in the Helbling Red Readers series by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor, and illustrated by Roberto Tomei.
Let's see three activities which you can use to introduce and approach this tale in your elementary-level teen classes.
The name game
Write the following names and places on the board. Choose the ones which your students will most definitely be familiar with, and add some which they might not know about.
ARTHUR - PENDRAGON - LANCELOT - GALAHAD - MERLIN - VIVIEN - MORGANA - THE LADY OF THE LAKE - LADY GUINEVERE - EXCALIBUR- THE SWORD IN THE STONE - THE ROUND TABLE - AVALON - CAMELOT
- How many of these names and places are your students familiar with? Ask them to recall any memories they have. What do they know or associate with them?
- Ask them to pick a character/place/object and write words to describe him/her/it. Then get them to compare their descriptions with others who have picked the same name.
- Play a guessing game. Students in turn come to the top of the class and describe themselves using their descriptions ( I'm famous, I'm beautiful. I'm metal. I'm strong. = Excalibur). The others must guess who or what they are. This can also be played in teams.
- Ask them to write a short story in which they come up with their own Legend of King Arthur.
- They can then compare their short story with the story in the reader.
Act it out!
Select a number of illustrated scenes from the reader. Form groups in the class and ask your students to act out the scenes in a series of snapshots. They will need to decide on who is playing characters, who will 'direct' and who will help with the script and prompting.
Here are some important scenes. The page numbers indicate the illustrations in the Helbling Reader adaptation of the story.
- King Uther Pendragon and Merlin talk about the future of the child Arthur (page 12)
- Arthur meets the Black Knight (page 22)
- Arthur and Merlin find Excalibur (page 26)
- Morgana and Vivien talk (page 36)
- Sir Lancelot meets Galahad (page 57)
Read about role play activities: Reading in the classroom: role plays
Read and pin
The legend is full of both real and imaginary places, and through visiting these places we can explore England. As you are reading the story, use a map (online or printed) and drop pins at the places where important events take place. Then use your map to retell the story.
Here are some places to find:
Remember to find imaginary places as well.
- Read another famous legend retold by Howard Pyle: Robin Hood, a level 2 Helbling Red Reader.
- Read interview with the two authors who adapted the story: Meet the authors: Scott Lauder and Walter MacGregor.