The Middle Ages for Teachers - A Baker's Dozen, A Medieval Guilds Lesson Plan with activities Illustration

Middle Ages for Teachers - A Bakers Dozen

Lesson Plan: A Baker's Dozen, Medieval Guilds

The Guilds and how they worked.
Rewrite a short play, The Baker's Dozen, to make it fit the Bakers Guild in the Middle Ages.
A computer lab lesson on resarch - how to quickly search for specific answers using Google.

Time period: Two Days

Prep: Print out The Bakers Dozen to use as a handout, or copy it to a disc for a whiteboard or desktop computers if you have them.
The Bakers Dozen, a Saint Nicholas Tale  is a wonderful play for kids to perform. It's number 9, from Reader's Theatre. It's also a book by the same author, Aaron Shepard.

Part One: The Medieval Guilds

  • Activity: Have your students read The Guilds for Kids.

  • Activity: Class Discussion. Ask your students the following questions and get some answers. Emphasize that guilds did not allow you to advertise or to do anything without all the guild members participating equally, which is very different from today.

    1. What was the original purpose of the guilds?

    2. What purpose did teacher guilds serve?

    3. What was the job of an apprentice?

    4. What was the job of a journeyman?

    5. What did the guilds require you to do before you could open your own shop?

    6. Why did the guilds want to control the price of goods?

    7. Why did guilds wish to reduce or eliminate competition?

    8. Why did the guilds wish to standardize quality of goods?

    9.  What might happen to a baker if he tried to offer something other bakers did not offer, such as a baker's dozen?

    Part Two: A Baker's Dozen

    Ask: Who knows what a dozen is? (Get some answers.)

  • Say: Right. A dozen of something is 12 of the same thing. A dozen eggs is 12 eggs. A dozen marbles is 12 marbles. But what is a Baker's Dozen and why is it different? A Baker's Dozen started in the Middle Ages. Medieval English law said that a baker's hand could be chopped off with an ax if a customer was cheated. Bakers sold thirteen loaves of bread for the price of twelve loaves to be safe. This became known as a baker's dozen. As long as you bought 12 loaves of bread at the same time, you got one loaf extra for free - a baker's dozen, not 12 but 13 loaves of bread.

  • Say: The Bakers Dozen, a Saint Nicholas Tale  is a wonderful play for kids. It's Reader's Theatre #9. It's also a book by the same author, Aaron Shepard. This is a great story anytime, not just at Christmas.

  • Activity: Read the play together as a class. As you read, direct your students to keep pointing out things that would not have happened in the Middle Ages - including why or why not. For example, can one baker promote his shop by giving 13 loaves of bread for the price of 12 without first getting permission from the guild? Answer: Absolutely not. Ask: What would happen to that baker if he tried to advertise or promote differently than other bakers? (The guild would take his shop and give it someone else. He'd probably lose his designation as a "master".)

  • Activity: Say:  Today, we're going to rewrite the Bakers Dozen to fit the Middle Ages. Obviously, we're going to need some changes. 

    Ask, discuss, and either decide on an answer or decide you don't know, you need research. Have your students write these down.

    • First: The year. December what and when

    • Second: The location. Since it's a shop, it is probably in a town, or at least a village. But where?

    • Third: Were scales used in the Middle Ages? How did people measure a loaf of bread? How did they measure cookies? Who sets the price?

    • Fourth: In England during the Middle Ages, did people have stories of Saint Nicholas? Or was he known by a different name?

    • Fifth: Would someone say "Madam" in the Middle Ages? What might they say?

    • Sixth: Were gingerbread cookies made in the Middle Ages? Did bakers use icing?

    • And so on. Let your students ask the questions. Put a list of questions together, and again, have your students write them down. They will need them in the computer lab.

  • Say:  Now that we have a list of questions we need to research, we're going to head to the computer lab so we can find some answers using Google Search.

  • Activity: Relocate to the computer lab. If you feel comfortable teaching how to quick search on Google and how to narrow your answers, you teach it. If not, arranged with the computer instructor or the computer department in your school system to pay an instructive visit. Hand them the list of questions so they know what answers you are trying to discover.

  • Activity: Relocate back to the classroom.

  • Say: Now that you have your list of needed adjustments to make this play fit the Middle Ages, here are the rules:

    • You will be working in groups.

    • You must keep your story in play format so that it could be performed.

    • You must keep a narrator as one of your characters. You need to assume that your reader does not know what a guild is, how a guild works, or its power. A narrator can fill in your audience about that. And, a narrator can be handy to describe something, especially as there were no sets in Medieval plays.

    • And of course one of your characters must be a baker. (Avoid calling the baker a "master" baker. Your kids might choose, as I would if I were them, to have my main character be a Journeyman who is trying to get my own shop with an example of my own work and ideas. The storyline is up to them. Other than repeating how guilds work, don't help them choose a storyline.) If they make mistakes and their play does not quite fit the Middle Ages, well, that's writers license, right. They wrote a fantasy in play format.

    • You do not need to keep the time period December or have anything to do with a holiday, but you must keep the time period in the Middle Ages.

    • An outline is not required although you might find it useful. OR, an outline is required. We're doing to start with an outline and then write our plays.

    • Story line: You group may choose to rewrite The Bakers Dozen so that errors have been corrected, or partially use the play, or write a completely new play called the Bakers Dozen and make the title fit the story, keeping your story in play format. Majority rules. If you wish, you can break off from your group and work independently. It's more work but you might prefer to be the sole author.

  • Break up into groups. Give them some time. Wander around and help out as needed.

  • Same day, if anyone is ready, or the next class period if you are requiring outlines first, have groups read their plays to the class. They can read in parts, or have one teammate read it. Post the plays on your wall. After a couple of days, collect all plays and hang on to them. You might  need them if you use them as script ideas for a Miracle Play (see extended activity below.)

  • Extended Activity: Morality Play and Medieval Trade Fair

  • If you decide to have your class produce a Morality Play, you can hand their Bakers Dozen plays back, and work together as a class to write one Morality Play using pieces of various plays the kids have already written. The Morality would be losing your hand because you were cheap; it's better to be generous. Have lots of parts (students acting as customers, less and less of them in the shop at one time) and perform it at your Medieval Trade Fair final activity, with lots of games for your guests to play (see lesson plans towards the end for a long list of indoor and outdoor Medieval games with game play directions.) Keep your play short, about 5-6 minutes to produce, with no sets, and possibly at the most costumes that are easy to put on over their clothes such as an apron or a shawl. You can hold a Trade Fair without a Morality Play, but a play adds more fun. Note: A trade fair is not a Renaissance Faire, but they are similar. Use the title: "Medieval Trade Fair" on any signage you have your kids produce including signage on the games. These are games that were actually played by kids in the Middle Ages. If you do it right, you can invite other younger classes to your Medieval Trade Fair and/or parents and  siblings. This is a great activity to team teach as well if other teachers are also presenting a unit on the Middle Ages. You can team on this final activity, which saves time, energy, and of course makes it a lot more fun. Put individual kids in your class in charge of games and have them award ribbons to winners of games each time a game is played. The goal is to have guests win several ribbons each if possible. Buy ribbons that stick or have little pins. Stick is best. Rotate the kids in charge of games to leave about half or more of your class free to also participate in the games and be awarded ribbons. That way, they work the fair and enjoy the fair. Your class will need to create rules for the games on posters that can be posted. If games rules do not work at the actual fair, simply remove the poster and adjust.