King Arthur: Man or Legend

Exploring depictions of King Arthur in literature and the arts


Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


In this lesson, students will learn about the legend of King Arthur as depicted in stories, poems, and artwork. Students will explore the similarities and differences between King Arthur’s persona as depicted in legend and in history, and learn how historic events gradually merged with fantasy to create the story of King Arthur that we know today. Students will examine the symbolism of the Round Table, The Holy Grail, and Excalibur, and learn about medieval clothing and regalia. Based on their knowledge and discussion of context, symbolism, and costuming, students will then craft an outline for a theatrical performance, which will be performed by for the class.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Describe the origins of the legend of King Arthur.
  • Explain the historical and mythical aspects of the Arthurian legend.
  • Research symbols based on the King Arthur lesson.
  • Develop an outline for a theater piece, updating King Arthur’s legend for a contemporary audience.
  • Research and design replicas of clothing worn during the time of King Arthur for their character.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-Based Learning
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection
  • Research

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • Internet Access
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with the story of King Arthur and depictions of his life by using the following sources:


  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Idylls of the King and a Selection of Poem. Signet Classics, 2003.
  • Crossley-Holland, Kevin. At the Crossing-Places. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2002.
  • Crossley-Holland, Kevin. King of the Middle March. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2004.
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn and Reiniger, Lotte. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table Puffin Books, 1995.
  • 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.
  • Springer, Nancy. I Am Mordred: A Tale from Camelot. Puffin Books, Reprint Edition. 2002.
  • Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Bantam Books, 1994.
  • Whitaker, Muriel. The Legends of King Arthur in Art. D. S. Brewer, 2000. Reissue Edition
  • White, T.H. The Once and Future King. Mass Market Paperback Edition. Ace Books, 1987.
  • White, T.H. The Sword in the Stone. Mass Market Paperback Edition. Laurel Leaf, 1978.
  • Yolen, Jane. Sword of the Rightful King: A Novel of King Arthur. Harcourt Children’s Books, 2003.


  • King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table
  • The Camelot Project, University of Rochester

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with the story of King Arthur.

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students should be familiar with the story of King Arthur.


Resources in Reach

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

Build Knowledge


1. Introduce the lesson by explaining to the students that they will learn about King Arthur. Ask students to write down any facts they know about King Arthur or the Knights of the Round Table. Begin a discussion on this topic and have the students volunteer the facts they know. List these facts on the board or chart paper.

2. To immerse the class in Arthurian legend, show students images, or read poetry and story excerpts from the legend of King Arthur (see Sources). Discuss the various symbols embedded in the King Arthur legend, using words already on the board and adding new ones if needed. Explain to the students that they will focus on the most popular of the King Arthur Legend symbols: Excalibur, the Round Table, and/or The Holy Grail.

3. Tell students that there are many stories, and many different versions, about King Arthur. Ask the class if they think Arthur was a real person. Then explain that many people consider King Arthur to be a mythical figure, while others see him as real, historical figure. Have the class access King Arthur's Knights Web site and read the Historical Arthur section. Then, have them compare it with the Legendary Arthur section of the site. Have students complete the Reality Versus Legend worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. After students have completed this handout, discuss whether they think Arthur was a real person, or a mythical character, and their reasons why.

Build Knowledge

1. Discuss with the class the three symbols that are deemed the most important to the story of King Arthur: the Round Table, Excalibur, and The Holy Grail. Divide the class into three groups, and assign each group one of the three symbols. Have them read the instructions in Symbolism in the Legend of King Arthur worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. This contains basic information about each symbol. Have students read the questions in the handout, write down their thoughts, and discuss each question as a group. When all three groups have completed the handout, bring the class together and ask each group to present their discussion topic. The class should take notes on the two additional topics they did not discuss in their group. Provide clean copies of the worksheet for students to take notes on the topics they did not review.

2. Explain to the students that at the end of this lesson, they will craft an outline for a theater piece based on a theme from the King Arthur Legend. Their piece will incorporate the symbols, characters, and cultural context that they have learned.

3. Have students write a 75-word paragraph expanding on their ideas about one of the three King Arthur symbols. Allow them to use the worksheets they have made notes on and encourage them to do other research as well. Inform the students that they are building informational text and ideas that will help them when it is time to complete their character. Explain that students will create a modern-day context for a related theme of their choosing. Allow students to brainstorm ideas about possible symbols, characters, or cultural context for their theater piece outline.


1. Have students use the Theater Piece Outline worksheet located within the Resource Carousel as a guide. This outline will guide students to:

  • Select one of the symbols from King Arthur’s legend and think about how that symbol might suggest a theme or context for their theater outline
  • Choose a character from the King Arthur legend to write about
  • Complete a guided outline using this character for their theater piece

2. Students can develop character dialogue to complete their theater outline (monologue form). Use all the resources you have created so far for useful information. They could use the following suggested topics or create a monologue of their own:

  • Greeting someone at the fair that you have not seen in a while
  • Talking to someone at a party or gathering
  • Children playing
  • Walking in a garden or a maize
  • Workers on the farm
  • Knights sitting at the round table

3. Costuming is an important part of a period production. Ask students if they have any knowledge of medieval clothing, then write any information students volunteer on the board. Explain that the clothing of this period denoted one’s class, stature, or profession within society. Discuss with students the idea that clothing not only reflects one’s place in society but also the time in which one lives.

4. Have students fill out a questionnaire about medieval hats. Correct the questionnaires as a class and discuss the answers. Have students do research online to create a costume for their character. If students cannot actually create a costume from fabric, they should illustrate the design on paper to show the class during their presentation. Several web sites that provide important information on medieval clothing:

  • The Lothene experimental Archeology site has wonderful patterns that can be copied to make simple tunics.
  • The Medieval Clothing Pages contains a series of articles on various pieces of clothing, hats and hair, and accessories used in medieval times.
  • The website on Medieval Life has descriptions of basic medieval clothing.
  • The Annenberg/CPB cite on clothing of the middle ages.


1. Students will present their character in short several-minute pieces. If they were able to develop and create a costume for their character they should be instructed to wear it. If they could not create one but did develop it on paper, they should verbally explain what they are wearing.


Use the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel to assess your students' work.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 5: Researching by using cultural and historical information to support improvised and scripted scenes

National Standards in Other Subjects
Historical Understanding

Historical Understanding Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Language Arts Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes



Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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