Canterbury Tales for Kids

The Canterbury Tales is a fun bit of literature, so don’t wait until your kids are in high school to start learning about Geoffrey Chaucer and his tales.

The Background

The Canterbury Tales was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in England toward the end of the 1300’s.  I’ll give you a little framework for the setting of the tales:  Less than fifty years earlier the Black Death had swept through Europe, killing perhaps a third of the population, the peasants of England had revolted around a decade earlier, demanding rights {which they didn’t get} They spoke Middle English at the time.  This is after Richard the Lionhearted and Robin Hood, but before King Henry VIII, the guy who had all the wives and removed England from the Catholic church.

The story centers around a group of travelers who have banded together for protection from bandits in their pilgrimage toward Canterbury Cathedral, a holy site on the south coast of England.  The road was long, the people were strangers to one another and so to pass the time on the road the innkeeper suggests that they tell one another tales.  The prologue introduces us to each of the travelers, and then each traveler tells his own tale within the framework of the story.  The bulk of the Canterbury Tales is the tales each of the travelers tells.

This is a painting by Paul Hardy (1903) showing the Canterbury pilgrims of Chaucer’s tale. Public domain.

Many of the tales are downright bawdy and irreverent which, by modern standards, is a little odd for people who are on a religious pilgrimage (you’ll have to research the reasons people went on pilgrimage to find out the secret to this conundrum).  But there is one tale in particular that appeals to children.  It is the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, called Chanticleer and the Fox.

The Lesson

Explain the Canterbury Tales, when they happened and what the frame story is to the kids.  Then read the re-telling of the story, Chanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney.  It’s a Caldecott medal winner so it’s probably in your library.

Chanticleer and the fox

I hardly ever read a story straight through, at least not a meaningful tale like this one.  I pause and explain vocabulary or concepts, I ask the kids what they think will happen next, I ask them if they can spot the mistake such and such a character has made, and so on.  We discuss as we go.


Next you can make Chanticleer and the Fox puppets of the three main characters of the story: Chanticleer the rooster, Partlett the hen, and the fox.

Chanticleer and the Fox web

First, color the pictures (I had the kids color while I read since it keeps them quieter), then cut the figures out in a rough outline, and glue them onto thin cardboard, like from food packaging.  Tape a craft stick to the back side.  Alternatively, you can make them into flannel board figures by gluing a strip of sandpaper to the back.Have the kids re-tell the story using their figures.

Additional Layers

  • Learn about Chaucer’s life and the events going on in England and Europe during his lifetime.
  • Canterbury Cathedral is a religious site in England because a murder took place there.  Find out more.
  • Other famous frame stories include the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, the Decameron, and the Panchatantra.
  • This activity is found in Unit 2-7 of the Layers of Learning Curriculum.




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