French students storm castle

10th September 2004 at 01:00
In 1217, Orford Castle in Suffolk, having been built to the highest specifications to keep the French out at a cost that today would be billions of pounds, was occupied by Louis VII's troops - for more than a year. How did the French manage it? The theory is that after King John's death the new and inexperienced Henry was no match for the wiles of the English barons, who saw their chance to broker a deal with the French.

Interessant, non? As a French teacher, I thought this presented a great opportunity for listening and speaking through historical re-enactment. A chance to use the everyday language of the classroom and textbook in an authentic and motivating context with masses of scope for cross-curricular activities.

Year 8 French linguists were canvassed for their interest and English Heritage agreed to the event taking place in May. The idea was that those who wished to take part would not just learn about someone of their status in 1217, but also air some of the French used at the time. Those not in roles would be the information-gatherers, and questionnaires would be filled in for prizes.

About 90 Year 8s and their French exchange partners set off to re-take the castle for God and King Louis. A falconer and boat builder came along, to describe how their trades contributed to medieval life.

Pouring rain somewhat dampened the fervour for chattering in French and dashing about the grounds but now that we've got the battle plans drawn up, students are keen to stage a new invasion next year.

Peter Taylor

Head of modern foreign languages, Debenham High School, Suffolk

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