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King John: The Decision–Making Game

Introduction

This decision-making game introduces students to the key events of John’s reign, his quarrels with the Pope, with the King of France and with the barons and why his problems developed to the point where he had to agree to Magna Carta. You can play the game with groups of students competing against each other to see who makes the best choices and do avoids being deposed by the barons. This creates a lot of interest and rivalry and so students concentrate on the details and the choices, which helps them learn more effectively.

The game comes in different formats – you can print out the choices on paper, act as question-master reading out the situation and choices or use the PowerPoint version provided by Vivienne Fulda, who teaches in Hampshire.

Examples of Vivienne's worksheets can also be downloaded (indicating the style of the tasks) and the scorecard she developed to go with the game.

Vivienne wrote:

“This is a great activity. I created a PowerPoint for the questions, gave the students a copy of the slide showing John's aims and put them into differentiated groups. They had to discuss each option and record their answers on the differentiated worksheets. At the bottom right of each slide, there is an action button which will take you directly to the score slide for that decision. The pupils really enjoyed keeping score by crossing off or adding crowns to the card – and became very competitive. At the end I went through the PowerPoint again, and the students marked John himself, based on the actions he made.”

This activity was designed for use with KS3 but I have used this kind of activity successfully with A level, undergraduate and PGCE groups – the approach works at all levels, provided the level of material is appropriate.

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Support

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

Or, a WORD version of this activity, example worksheets and accompanying PowerPoint can be downloaded:

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

Objectives

The activity is designed to develop students’ understanding of

  • the events of John’s reign and the range of problems facing him
  • how the problems built up, leading to rebellion and Magna Carta
  • the kinds of issues that monarchs were expected to deal with

Setting Up

Before moving into the activity it is important to identify what assumptions or preconceptions students have about this topic. As examples – what do they think a medieval king such as John did compared to a ruler today, why did clashes or rebellions happen, were nobles always eager to rebel or did they prefer to work with the king? This prior learning or assumptions can be identified by providing students with a short set of alternative statements to choose from or by asking them to create mind maps in pairs around the words ‘Kings and nobles’ jotting down the key points that they can think that relate to this topic. This then identifies the base of prior learning that will be developed by the activity.

Students should not have studied John’s reign in advance. This activity is not to test if they can remember what John did but to get them thinking about the decisions themselves. After they have done this and developed an understanding of the issues and events in general you can turn to what John did – students are much more likely to become interested in his actions because they can compare them with their own choices.

Students will need

1. a map, showing the Angevin empire, including Brittany, Anjou and Poitou (mentioned in decision 1) and the King of France’s lands.

2. a family tree at first, showing Arthur’s relationship to John.

3. a list of objectives to achieve as King John, such as

  • always appear strong and powerful to stop other rulers trying to steal your lands or interfere in your country
  • you want to keep the Angevin empire, all the lands ruled by your father and brother
  • keep the barons on your side because you need them to fight for you and pay taxes
  • it’s important to keep your word so your barons trust you.

Begin by dividing the class into teams and putting each team’s name or initials at the top of the board. Under the name write 10 and explain that each team has 10 crowns but you lose crowns if you make poor decisions. If you lose all 10 you have been deposed and are out of the game. The team with the most crowns left at the end is the winner. In practice don’t leave teams out if they lose all ten – keep them taking decisions and move into minus numbers. The game is best played in teams of 3 because 3’s are good for discussion but that means a lot of teams to keep track of so you may need teams of 4 or 5.

The Activity

Work through the decisions below, either reading them out, putting them up on OHP or whiteboard or give teams a sheet with them printed on in groups of 4 questions. It is best to work through Decisions 1-4 with students noting their choices, then stop and go over those decisions, taking crowns off the teams according to their decisions and recording this on the board (see Debriefing below for suggestions for the numbers of crowns to lose per decision). Then move onto Decisions 5-8 and finally to 9-12 as a group.

The Decisions

Decision 1 . Your brother, king Richard, has died. Arthur, your 12-year-old nephew, says he should be king. He is supported by the barons in Brittany, Anjou and Poitou and by Philip Augustus, the King of France. You are supported by the barons in England and Normandy. Do you

  • agree to share the empire with Arthur
  • have yourself crowned king and then meet Arthur to discuss an agreement
  • have yourself crowned king and then go to war against Arthur and France

Decision 2 . Arthur allied with the King of France against you. You capture him. He is now 14 and was leading an army against you. What should you do with him?

  • set him free after he swears to be loyal to you in future
  • keep him prisoner
  • execute him in secret

Decision 3 . You have lost the war with France and all your lands across the Channel. What will you do about this?

  • accept your defeat and give up hope of winning back the empire your father and brother built up
  • discuss the problem with your barons and accept their decisions because you need them to fight and pay taxes for your army
  • plan to win back your lands, whether the barons support you or not.

Decision 4 . You need money to pay soldiers to fight for you. Do you raise money by

  • consulting the barons about how much tax to collect
  • doubling the taxes paid by landowners when they inherit their lands
  • multiply by ten the taxes paid by landowners when they inherit their lands or even more if you can get away with it.

Decision 5 . The Archbishop of Canterbury has died. The monks at Canterbury have chosen a new archbishop although in the past the king has claimed the right to choose the Archbishop. Do you

  • accept the monks’ choice
  • make your own choice and force them to accept your man
  • ask the Pope to arrange an agreement

Decision 6 . The Pope chooses Stephen Langton as the new Archbishop. He says that if you do not accept Langton he will announce an interdict on England. This means no church services can be held so no one can be married, christened or buried on church land. Do you

  • refuse to accept Langton because the Pope has no right to interfere in your country
  • accept the Pope’s choice because Langton will be a good Archbishop.

Decision 7 . You are just about to invade Wales when you hear that some of your barons are planning to murder you. Do you

  • order the rebellious barons to send their sons as hostages and carry on with the invasion. Tell the barons you’ll execute their sons if they rebel against you
  • abandon your invasion of Wales and return to deal with the barons themselves

Decision 8 . You are still worried about rumours of rebellions and plots among your barons. Do you

  • agree to discuss the way you are ruling the country
  • bring in foreign advisers and soldiers who you can trust. Give them important castles and lands to make sure they are loyal.

Decision 9 . You want to invade France to win back your lands but the barons in the north are refusing to fight for you or to pay scutage, a tax paid by lords who do not join your army themselves. Do you

  • threaten the barons who do not fight or pay scutage with severe punishments
  • abandon your plans to invade France

Decision 10 . You invaded France but the King of France beat your army at the battle of Bouvines. The barons are still complaining about high taxes, your foreign advisers and the way you run the country. There are still no church services being held because of your quarrel with the Pope and he is threatening to help the King of France invade England. However the Pope suggests a peace agreement if you accept Langton as archbishop. Do you

  • agree to Langton becoming archbishop
  • refuse the Pope’s offer to end the quarrel

Decision 11 . The King of France is threatening to invade England and some of the rebellious barons might help him if you do not make an agreement with them. They want you to reduce taxes, throw out your foreign advisers and soldiers and agree to consult the barons about how you govern the kingdom. Do you

  • agree reluctantly to the agreement
  • tell them you were chosen by God to be king and can do whatever you wish

Decision 12 . You agreed to Magna Carta but only because you were forced to. Now the rebels are starting to disagree among themselves. Do you

  • hold meetings to get the barons to work together in the hope that they will help you invade France and win back your lands there
  • build up your army to attack the rebel barons and put an end to the agreement in Magna Carta.

Where the Crowns Went!

The following provides suggestions for which decisions merit losing crowns and how many crowns are lost. You might want to compare how students are doing with how John did. This set of suggestions has been planned so that John has lost 9 of his 10 crowns by the end of the game – his losses are noted below.

Decision 1 . Your brother, king Richard, has died. Arthur, your 12-year-old nephew, says he should be king. He is supported by the barons in Brittany, Anjou and Poitou and by Philip Augustus, the King of France. You are supported by the barons in England and Normandy. Do you

  • Lose 2 crowns if you share the empire with Arthur. This is weak, feeble choice.
  • Lost 1 crown if you meet Arthur to discuss and agreement. Not quite as bad as (a)
  • This choice makes you look strong and decisive.

Decision 2 . Arthur allied with the King of France against you. You capture him. He is now 14 and was leading an army against you. What should you do with him?

  • Lose 2 crowns. Are you mad to set him free?
  • Good choice - keep him prisoner but make sure he cannot escape
  • Lose 1 crown - executing him stops him being a problem but will anyone trust you again? (John loses 1 crown)

Decision 3 . You have lost the war with France and all your lands across the Channel. What will you do about this?

  • Lose 1 crown for accepting defeat. You look weak and a failure
  • Probably the best choice to consult your barons
  • Lose 1 crown – you can’t win without the barons’ support. (John loses a second crown)

Decision 4 . You need money to pay soldiers to fight for you. Do you raise money by

  • It’s sensible to consult the barons about taxes
  • Lose 1 crown as everyone will object to you doubling taxes
  • Los 2 crowns for multiplying taxes by ten. This will anger everyone (John loses two more – now has lost 4 overall)

Decision 5 . The Archbishop of Canterbury has died. The monks at Canterbury have chosen a new archbishop although in the past the king has claimed the right to choose the Archbishop. Do you

  • Accepting the monks’ choice looks weak but won’t cause you great problems
  • A little risky to force them to accept your man but you’ll probably get away with it
  • Lose 1 crown for looking as if you are giving away power to the Pope

Decision 6 . The Pope chooses Stephen Langton as the new Archbishop. He says that if you do not accept Langton he will announce an interdict on England. This means no church services can be held so no one can be married, christened or buried on church land. Do you

  • Lose 1 crown. Ok, you look weak if you accept Langton but you’ve got plenty of problems building up. You don’t need another one! (John loses 1 – now 5 down)
  • Probably the better choice as it keeps the Pope on your side.

Decision 7 . You are just about to invade Wales when you hear that some of your barons are planning to murder you. Do you

  • Lose 1 crown. You look strong but they won’t trust you again and they’ll dislike you even more. (John loses another – now minus 6)
  • It looks weak to abandon your invasion of Wales but you’re right to deal with the threat from the barons.

Decision 8 . You are still worried about rumours of rebellions and plots among your barons. Do you

  • A difficult choice but if you talk you might reduce the opposition.
  • Lose 1 crown for bringing in foreign advisers and soldiers. This only increases suspicion and distrust (John’s choice – now minus 7, only 3 left)

Decision 9 . You want to invade France to win back your lands but the barons in the north are refusing to fight for you or to pay scutage, a tax paid by lords who do not join your army themselves. Do you

  • Lose 1 crown for threatening the barons. You are pushing them closer to rebellion. (John loses another one – only 2 left)
  • Your problems are so great it’s probably better to abandon your plans to invade France

Decision 10 . You invaded France but the King of France beat your army at the battle of Bouvines. The barons are still complaining about high taxes, your foreign advisers and the way you run the country. There are still no church services being held because of your quarrel with the Pope and he is threatening to help the King of France invade England. However the Pope suggests a peace agreement if you accept Langton as archbishop. Do you

  • Agree to Langton becoming archbishop – at least the Pope’s on your side now
  • Lose 1 crown for refusing the Pope’s offer. You’re in big trouble!

Decision 11 . Now the King of France is threatening to invade England and some of the rebellious barons might help him if you do not make an agreement with them. They want you to reduce taxes, throw out your foreign advisers and soldiers and agree to consult the barons about how you govern the kingdom. Do you

  1. You don’t have any choice! Agree reluctantly to the agreement
  2. Lose 2 crowns if tell them you can do whatever you wish. There will be a civil war.

Decision 12 . You agreed to Magna Carta but only because you were forced to. Now the rebels are starting to disagree among themselves. Do you

  • hold meetings to get the barons to work together stops them attacking you
  • Lose 1 crown if you attack the rebel barons and put an end to the agreement in Magna Carta. Now they’ll want to get rid of you – permanently! (John loses 1 more – down to his last crown as civil war begins)

Debriefing

Once you have been through the decisions and applauded the team that’s won, it’s time to see what students have learned – careful questioning can bring out the following:

a) the range of John’s problems and what he chose to do

b) why his decisions caused problems with the barons

c) what were the qualities expected of a medieval king and which of them John possessed

It is important to relate the activity and its outcomes to students’ prior learning. The most adventurous way to do this is to ask the general question ‘what have you learned from this activity?’ If students completed mind maps or other ways of recording their assumptions before the activity they can answer this question with reference to those notes. Alternatively set students a set of questions to discuss in pairs or threes, asking them to answer the question and to identify which questions they can now answer better having done the activity.

A further task is to record the key events in John’s reign, perhaps on a lifeline of his reign (see for example, page 4 of King John by Dale Banham and Ian Dawson).

User Feedback and Ideas

From Lesley Ann Buxton

I've just done ‘King John – the decision-making game’ Fantastic.............my lower/middle ability class loved it. The children had NO prior knowledge from lessons on King John.

I divided the class into eight groups of three. They had group names: Magna Carta, Angevin Empire, Duke of Brittany, English peasants, French peasants, King of France, Rome and King John.

Certain students had tabards on.......Arthur, King John, King of France, Pope, Stephen Langton, English Barons, Brittany, Anjou, Poitou, French Barons.

I gave each group a map of the Angevin Empire on card

I also got a copy of a family Tree..........adding Geoffrey's children...Eleanor, Maud and Arthur. [ See the family tree on the Royal Government’s site on PDF ]

I got the children to do a word map about the qualities of Kings and Nobles.......I gave each group 10 crowns on cards and using bluetak stuck the crowns under the team names of the board.

I got an image of a crown from the internet and placed them on card. I like the red crown... it photocopied on card well....6 crowns per card.

The questions were placed on PowerPoint.....grouped 1 to 4, then answers, then remove crowns from board, 5 to 8, then answers, remove crowns from board.......then 9 to 12, answers, remove crowns.

We then did the debrief on problems John faced? how the decisions caused more problems? his relationships with the barons, the qualities John possessed as a King and the qualities expected of a Medieval Monarch..........and what they had learned? Homework: was to write an article about King John. All the children where eager to find out more about King John.

We all enjoyed the lesson....... hehe.gif

From Dom Giles

Just thought you might like to know I've done the King John exercise and it was really good. They were focussed, excited and loved finding out that by and large they did better than John!

Notes & Variations

The quantity of detail in the decisions can be varied and other decisions added to create an activity that works well at A level. For models of such A level activities on Henry VII and Elizabeth’s reigns see Ian Dawson, The Tudor Century. These activities make excellent introductions to the study of a reign or government, enabling students at A level to acquire a first layer of knowledge of events and issues which then enables them to read more effectively about the topic. At A level this kind of activity also gets students used to talking and debating and prepares the ground for less structured debate about the topics being studied.

Reflections

  1. Did students enjoy the activity and, if so, why? What other opportunities are there for similar activities in the rest of the course?
  2. How did the activity affect the quality of discussion?
  3. What did the students learn about kingship and power in general that you can relate to the theme of government later in KS3?

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Feedback

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

Top of the page

This Page

Introduction

Support

Objectives

Setting Up

The Activity

The Decisions

Losing Crowns

Debriefing

User Feedback

Notes & Variations

Reflections

Feedback