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Magna Carta Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Perhaps no other document in English history is as famous as the Magna Carta, but after this lesson, your students will have a more complete understanding of what it actually meant for the rights of people.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to do the following:

  • Recognize the importance of the Magna Carta on the Anglo-American political tradition.
  • Connect the document to later pieces of legislation.

Length

30 minutes for the video and discussions, plus 1 hour for the activity

Materials

For the activity,

Copies of the Magna Carta. One source for the Magna Carta is this link: http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-english-translation See below for specific recommended sections.

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.5

Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Instructions

Start by showing the video The Magna Carta & The Constitutions of Clarendon: Definition & Significance, pausing for the following discussion questions:

  • 3:05 - What does Beckett's murder show about the relationship between the royal family and nobility during this period? Also, how does the idea of the Constitution of Clarendon challenge the idea of double jeopardy? Finally, why would the king want to try people in royal courts?
  • 5:02 - This is the same King John from Robin Hood. How do you think our perspective of him has been altered by the Magna Carta? What about by the tales of Robin Hood?

Activity

Split your class into small groups of 2-3 students each. Have each group read and discuss one of the following sections of the Magna Carta, then ask them to present a summary of their section to the class in brief presentations.

You can find a copy of the Magna Carta here. In their presentations they should address the following questions:

  • What does this do?
  • Who is protected?
  • Are there any economic or societal implications to this section?
  • Can you relate this section to a more modern issue or right?

Here are the suggested sections from the Magna Carta:

  • 5
  • 7 and 8
  • 10 and 11
  • 20 and 21
  • 35
  • 39 and 40
  • 41 and 42
  • 52
  • 61 - This is a long one, but an important one and is relatively easy to decipher.

As an alternative, you could ask each group to simply translate the relatively scholarly language into everyday vernacular. From there, you could discuss the greater themes from these sections.

Extensions

  • Remind students that the British don't have a constitution in the sense of one document, but of several. Ask them to compare and contrast British constitutional law to American constitutional law.
  • A great deal is made of the Magna Carta, but did it really help that many people? Ask students to make a chart of typical jobs during the Middle Ages, including noble, knight, merchant, peasant, and serf, and analyze what the document did for each of them.

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