April 28, 2015
How to teach … the Magna Carta
The Guardian, 27th April 2015.
Click here to read the article as it appeared on The Guardian.
Eight hundred years after the signing of the Magna Carta, The Guardian share useful lesson plans and ideas to engage students in its legacy
This summer marks 800 years since the signing of a document that would become a cornerstone of the British constitution: the Magna Carta.
The charter, sealed by King John at Runnymede on the banks of the River Thames, forms the basis of many freedoms we have today. To mark the anniversary, the Magna Carta Trust will send every UK state primary school a souvenir copy of this historic document later this month.
The Guardian Teacher Network is also celebrating this legacy with our own collection of ideas and resources to enthuse students.
Immerse primary pupils in the medieval context of the document using a short animation by the British Library. Narrated by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, it takes you back to medieval England and gives a potted history of the charter. As students watch, ask them to take notes about why Magna Carta was created and what it said, noting any words they do not understand such as “parchment”, “clause” or “exile”.
Next up, explore the life of King John himself with this British Library lesson plan that looks at events leading up to Magna Carta. Place King John in a royal family tree and get students to write a song, rap or poem about him. This key stage 2 lesson plan from the Magna Carta Project also gives pupils a particularly good feel for what a cruel and unpopular monarch he was. Based on what a medieval king was supposed to do, ask students to write an assessment of King John in the style of a school report card.
The Magna Carta Trust is also giving primary schools a timeline wallchart and newspaper chronicle charting 800 years in the fight for freedom and rights. Use these resources to help students create a Magna Carta of their own. Tear around the edges of a piece of paper, soak it in cold coffee or tea and then hang it up to dry. Students can write either a clause from the original Magna Carta or a rule they feel is important for their classroom or school on this “parchment”. Students could even create a great seal in the style of King John’s to attach to their documents, which would make a fabulous wall display if arranged together.
You’ll find lots more ideas in this teaching pack for key stage 2 by the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Committee. It includes eight lesson ideas across a range of curriculum areas including history, art, computing and English, that teachers can dip into or use in full.
For secondary students, the Parliament Education Service has created a Magna Carta video drama, which explores the origins of people’s rights, that can be used for citizenship lessons or for history lessons as part of the key stage 3 Magna Carta and the emergence of parliament curriculum. There’s also a Magna Carta assembly plan which includes useful notes on adapting the content for younger and older students.
There are great learning and teaching ideas for key stage 3 here by the Magna Carta Project, including a mock trial activity where students in groups assume the role of rebel barons to sit in judgement on King John.
Magna Carta has inspired everyone from Nelson Mandela, Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi to Winston Churchill. Get students to identify how it is reflected in the lives and work of these famous individuals. Alternatively, ask students to research how groups, such as the chartists or suffragettes, or documents such as the US Bill of Rights or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, were influenced by the charter. As a debate or essay topic, can upper secondary students explain why Magna Carta has been described as the most valuable export of Great Britain to the rest of the world?
And what about its contemporaries? This activity from the British Library explores the significance of Magna Carta to the lives of people in the 13th century. Even though Magna Carta was annulled by the pope after just three months, why do pupils think it was retained, reissued and referred to in no less than 59 legal cases and several chronicles in the 13th century? Students can present their ideas in a cartoon strip or short video.
One of the original clauses of Magna Carta that remains part of English Law today is the right to justice. But many other values that can be traced back to Magna Carta – such as freedom of expression, equal opportunities and respect for diversity – are under threat. Working in groups, ask students to identify the rights and freedoms they would include in a Magna Carta for 2015. Students aged seven to 14 have until Monday 1 June to contribute a clause to the British Library’s Magna Carta for the digital age. Teachers who take part in the project will receive one free ticket to the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition which runs until Tuesday 1 September.
Finally, the British Council has developed a range of Magna Carta lesson plans to engage students of English as a second or foreign language that cover a variety of topics from the history of the 1200s to human rights, and the foundations of modern democracy.