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The decisions of a Kentish villager: 1381


This activity was originally devised by Ian Luff for use with his Y7 classes. Ian later sent it to me for wider circulation on Thinkinghistory. As tends to happen, I then got stuck in and suggested modifications, partly because I felt that the activity could reflect some of the more recent writings about 1381 such as the respectability of many of the original protesters and their awareness of national politics. So what’s here is a Luff-Dawson collaboration and it’s now hard, I think, to see the joins. Most importantly the activity asks students to ‘think from the inside’ of events, thus increasing significantly their chances of caring about the people and events of 1381.

I’ve written more on the site about possible aims at ‘Teaching about 1381– what would we like KS3 students to remember?’ [ click here ]

One suggestion you’ll find there is that if you’re constructing an enquiry into the events of 1381 you might consider this for an enquiry question:

Does it matter what the Peasants’ Revolt is called?

Such an enquiry would certainly benefit from being built around this decision-making activity because of its potential for help students to care about the issues.

Four other points – one thing a description of an activity can’t recapture is the drama of Ian’s teaching. So don’t treat this as a cold, cerebral decision-making exercise – give it a sense of excitement through your voice, your own passion, your dramatic presentation of events.

Secondly, we have deliberately kept the PowerPoint slides clear and uncluttered. As this is a public website there’s a limit to what we can provide without breaching copyright laws. It’s up to you how and what you add.

Thirdly – how many lessons? I can’t predict how long this whole activity will take – that decision’s up to you. One way to plan it is to go through the decisions in one lesson (see note in Setting Up about decisions you might omit if pressed for time) and to follow up in a second lesson with the Debriefing ideas which have lots of meat in them. A good deal of the value of the activity will be lost if the Debriefing is rushed through too quickly to squeeze it into the last few moments of a lesson. However everything depends on how much time you’ve got available.

And finally, for anyone using the SHP Year 7 textbook this activity would make a good introduction to the activities on pp.180-183 (Were the rebels heroes or villeins?), which examine the account of 1381 by Thomas of Walsingham, whose work is a classic example of history being used by the winners to traduce the losers. Hopefully this activity straightens up the picture a bit!

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A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying resources can be downloaded:

  • For a WORD version of this activity [ click here ]
  • For the PowerPoint [ click here ]
  • Thomas of Walsingham’s account of 1381 (edited & simplified) [ here ]

This activity is based on the ’Decision Making’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.


By the end of this activity it is hoped that students understand:

a) why the Revolt broke out and the aims of the protesters

b) the variety of people involved

c) the broad course of events, especially the changing pattern of violence

d) the consequences, both immediate and long-term

Setting Up

1. Atmosphere – the best way to create a sense of being ‘inside the past’ is to use music – playing quietly in the background. Although it’s anachronistic Tudor church music will feel ‘right’ and help get students into ‘medieval mood’.

2. Remind your class of the Black Death and its effects on population. Perhaps discuss how the fall in population might have affected farming (not enough workers) and how the survivors might have hoped to benefit from this.

3. You may wish to ask what ideas students have about why protests break out – both in the past and today – and what the differences are between a protest and a rebellion or revolt.

4. Split the class into pairs or small groups. Their aim is to collect as many points as possible as they go through the decisions – the higher their points at the end the more they will have improved their family’s welfare both now and for the future. If you want to get across the fact that in any village there were people with different standards of living then start some groups with 2, 3 or 5 points – they’re the better-off villagers. The main character in the activity might well start with 3 points.

5. Decide how many of the 9 decisions you will aim to cover in your lesson. If time’s tight you might leave out one or more of Decisions 3, 4 or 5 although these do tell a lot about the nature of the protesters.

6. Decide when to use the ’30 years after’ screens at the end of the Powerpoint – before or after your main debriefing.

The Activity

1. This is straightforward – take students through the decisions with as much drama and story-telling bravura as possible. You probably don’t want to disrupt the story by discussing the rights and wrongs of the decisions at length (that’s for later) but do so enough to make sure students are thinking.

2. Make sure they record their decisions and points score for later discussion.

3. To get across the changing pace of events – they speed up as we get to London  in decision 5 and after - so impose a short time limit for the later decisions.

4. Add up the points at the end – who’s done best? Students of all ages (even A level) are naturally competitive about these things so go with the flow before the debriefing.


There’s an astonishingly long list of things you could do after the core activity! Here’s some suggestions:

1. Very open-ended but extremely productive if you can make it work – ask students ‘what have you learned from this activity?’ ‘has anything surprised you?’

2. Which decisions won/lost you the most points – and why?

3. Some talking points:

a) did they just rebel for the sake of excitement and violence? [decision 1]

b) why did it start when it did? [key point is return of tax collectors]

c) how much did the villagers know about national events? (quite a lot)

d) what kinds of people took part in the protest?

e) why did the protest fail – or did it? (screens 26-27, thirty years after)

4. Other activities

a) retell the story of events in a minute – in role as the constable or as a royal adviser (one who survived!) or split the class so each half takes a different role.

b) use the SHP Y7 book activity on pp.180-183 (Were the rebels heroes or villeins?). Now students have been part of the protest they should be much better placed to evaluate Thomas of Walsingham’s account of events (see word document attachment for text of account)

5. Concluding activities

a) What should we call this event? Is ‘The Peasants’ Revolt’ a fair name or can you come up with a better one? This is a chance to explore vocabulary and the subtleties of words e.g.

Was it a rebellion, a revolt, a riot, a demonstration, a protest, a revolution?

Were they peasants, villagers, a rabble, a mob, a crowd, commoners, protesters, rebels? [contemporaries used ‘the commons’]

b) What should we remember 1381 for? Get students to “send a postcard”– imagine you have 30 words to write on the back of a postcard telling a friend about why 1381 should be remembered – what would you write?

c) How might 1381 help if we study later protests in history or even protests today?

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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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Setting Up

The Activity