Castles & Cornerstones

Exploring the historic importance and function of castles in King Arthur's time


Key Staff

Primary Instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing


This lesson will explore the historic importance and function of castles in King Arthur's time and introduce students to a general history of castles and architectural terms. Students will gain familiarity with geometric shapes, symmetry, patterns, and dimensions. Students will illustrate a rough sketch or blueprint of a castle, then create a three-dimensional castle using found and recycled materials and art supplies.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Comprehend that the King Arthur story is a medieval legend which reflects historical data
  • Recognize the form and functions of castles
  • Construct a replica of a medieval castle incorporating a cornerstone
  • Use architectural terms in their design of a castle
  • Integrate math concepts in creating their castle

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Internet Access
  • Projector
  • Whiteboard/Screen
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with castles during Arthurian time by using the following sources:



  • Hanawalt, Barbara A. Oxford. The Middle Ages: An Illustrated History. University Press, 1998.
  • Kerven , Rosalind. DK Classics: King Arthur. Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 1998.
  • Malory, Thomas, Matthews, John, and Ferguson, Anna-Marie (Illustrator). Le Morte D'Arthur: Complete, Unabridged, Illustrated Edition. Cassell Academic, 2000.
  • Osborne, Mary Pope and Powell, Troy. Favorite Medieval Tales. Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.
  • Pyle, Howard. Story of King Arthur and His Knights. Dover Publications, 1982.
  • Whitaker, Muriel. The Legends of King Arthur in Art. D. S. Brewer, 2000. Reissue Edition.


Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with the story of King Arthur.

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction


You will need to build an example, from either of the two types described below, that would model part of the castle, perhaps a tower or a wall. Students need a visual to see what the project will look like at the end.

To prepare to make a model of a Concentric castle for the next class, you will need to ready a different base. Cut a three-feet square base out of cardboard or thin wood. Using a pencil and T-square or ruler, draw a square in the center of the base, two feet wide. Draw a second square inside the first, 14 inches wide. These two squares will represent the inner and outer walls of the Concentric castle.

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Display castle images from the Castle of Wales web site and lead students in a discussion of their description, their purpose, and who lived inside each. Reinforce that students may already know other castles (i.e., fictional castles from fairy tales or other juvenile literature or real castles, e.g., Buckingham Palace in England). Ask the class how many castles they can think of, and write the names on the board.

2. Next, ask students "Can you describe what these castles all have in common?" Lead a short brainstorm about what students know about castles and log their responses on a simple graphic organizer on the board or overhead projector. When the class is finished brainstorming, add any descriptors students have not mentioned to the list. Discuss the entire list to give students a complete description of what a castle is. The Oxford English Dictionary defines castle as "A (usually large) fortified building or set of buildings; a stronghold; a mansion that was once such." You can consult the Glossary of Castle Terms web site which gives you a list of complete terms used for describing any part of a castle.

3. Ask students if they know of the story of King Arthur and Excalibur. List some of the story that some might know on the board. Explain to students that King Arthur's castle was known as Camelot and then show students an image of the castle. Explain to students that there are a number of real castles associated with Arthurian England, such as King Arthur's alleged birthplace Tintagel Castle. Despite the fact that historians have not been able to concretely link Tingatel with King Arthur, his association with that castle gives it historical significance and intrigue.

4. Explain to students the historical significance of castles, and that many were constructed in Europe and Britain during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Tell students that the first castles that were constructed weren't the palaces we know today; they were defensive walls built around a city for protection from enemies. Through time, castles evolved into fortresses of great strength and were used for military strategy. These new kinds of castles were built of large, thick stone, and had many walls and towers. Either water or a wide ditch very often surrounded them. High at the top of the castle, fighting platforms were built. Knights had the ability to shoot arrows at the enemy from an advantageous spot. Because of its military function, castles gained a political function: they were the homes of the kings, queens, and other royalty who ruled the land. Over more time, wealthy landowners were known to construct castles, even if they did not belong to royalty.

5. Continue to explain that during the Middle Ages, Europe was divided into many small nation-states, and conflicts were common. Castles played a central role in politics and the military system. Under this system, the kings granted land to the nobles, and in return, the nobles performed military service. In times of war, the castle served as the base and helped the king or nobleman defend his lands. The castle served as home, barracks, armory, storehouse, prison, treasury, and administrative center. Eventually, the construction of ornate castles was replaced by the construction of simple wooden homes atop a hill or an artificial mound called a mote. Ideally, the structures were built atop sites that commanded a view of the countryside

Build Knowledge

1. Display several castle images and ask students: "How are the castles constructed? How does the construction influence the buildings' function and appearance?" Direct students to discuss the castle's physical qualities (e.g., made of stone, has tall square towers, surrounded by water, has flags on top, etc.) and functional qualities (e.g., kings and queens live inside, knights gallop over the drawbridge on horseback, knights can fight the enemy behind the tall walls, etc.).

2. Using the castle structure and function Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel, ask students to identify and differentiate between the function and structure of a castle. Important points about castle structure:

  • Large and great defensive strength
  • Surrounded by a wall with a fighting platform
  • Usually has a large, strong tower

A Castle's Function:

  • Fortress and military protection
  • Center of local government
  • Home of the owner, usually a king

Students should now have an idea of what an actual castle looked like, and why it was designed with certain elements. Explain to students that math played an important role in the construction and design of a castle. Have students look up definitions for the following terms: dimension, proportion, balance, pattern, shape, and symmetry. Discuss and brainstorm with students the following concepts and model examples:

  • Dimension
    (i.e., the size of the castle's different parts)
  • Proportion
    (i.e., the tall walls versus tiny windows; the low-lying outer walls versus the higher defense walls)
  • Measurement
    (i.e., the width of the moat equals the height of the drawbridge, allowing for overlapping on the end of the drawbridge that touches the ground)
  • Shape
    (i.e., the tops of the towers are shaped like cones; the towers are long and round; the bricks are rectangular; etc.)
  • Pattern
    (i.e., the saw-tooth structures at the top of the castle; the arcades)
  • Symmetry
    (i.e., placement of the towers in ground plan)

3. Display castle vocabulary on the board or classroom computer from the Castle of Wales web site. Select terms from the vocabulary list that are hyperlinks to images. When the image is displayed ask the students for a description. Have students identify shapes, patterns, symmetry, and details.

4. Instruct students to draw a simple castle incorporating terms from Castle Structure and Function Vocabulary. Students should enhance their illustration with architectural details. Explain that they must point out the places where they used the terms in their drawings. You can find an example of a student drawing on an image of Camelot.

5. When the drawing assignment is complete, divide students into groups of 4 and have them discuss the assignment among their peers. Remember to talk to the students about constructive criticism before they begin the group discussion and critique of the drawings. Talk about how to present criticism in constructive language.


1. Students will work together in their groups to plan and construct castles. First, students will choose a design from those drawn by group members. If they cannot decide on just one design, they can combine items from another or several of the designs in the group. Next, they will begin to build and assemble a castle or portion of a castle using cardboard and other found materials. If available, model the castle part you have created. Instruct students to bring in materials they can use to build a castle, e.g., boxes, cylinders, and plastic bottles.

2. Using handouts Motte and Bailey Castles and Concentric Castles , decide as a class which castles students can build (depending on materials available, size of class, and time constraints). Students should choose two different types, and create a materials list for each castle. Have each group draw a rough plan of their castle. You should walk around the room during this process, giving feedback and support where necessary.

3. Demonstrate the variety of ways to arrange the forms and how that will influence the design of the castle. Encourage the students to arrange their forms in a variety of ways before gluing them on their foundation. Have students create the stone surface by painting, drawing, or affixing stone shaped paper to the surface. Emphasize the importance of the mathematical terms and skills they learned and discussed previously as well as architectural details. Instruct students to include them in their final construction.


1. Hold a presentation of and discussion about the castles after they are all completed. Have each group divide up the presentation so that they each take an area of the castle or castle portion and present it to the class.


Assess your student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


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Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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