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Saxon farming year: simulation exemplar
Saxon farming year: simulation exemplar
The Year 5/6 class was studying the Anglo-Saxons. We taught this lesson about halfway through the topic. In the previous lesson we had investigated Saxon village life, and looked at the village economy - the goods involved and where they came from. Now we turned to the pattern of life in the country over a year.
How could we teach the farming year? The idea was to involve the children fully in the problems that Saxon farmers faced, and to do this through the medium of a simulation, based on families in a Saxon village. We chose a negotiation simulation, because negotiation plays a major role in how societies work and interact. For the simulation to succeed, the activities had to be pre-designed and carefully prepared.
Download a sheet with Spring and Autumn Chance cards to cut out below.
You can also download a Claim form.
Preparing the simulation
We worked out a list of specialised occupations which some of the villagers might have had (e.g. blacksmith, carpenter). All the villagers were also farmers. We would be able to have eight 4-person families in the class of 32 children.
The farming year
The two main farming seasons are winter/spring and summer/autumn. For each season, every village family gets a chance card that tells them what has happened to them (see the chance cards). Each family has to respond to its chance card - it can negotiate with other families in the village, to swap, sell or buy something or to ask for their help and support in solving the problems it faces. We made sure that each family had something to offer other families in the village and also that it needed something from them. The chance cards were carefully synchronized; i.e. one family's wants and surplus matched other families' surpluses and needs.
Rules for negotiating and running the village
The village has to take communal decisions; for example, to decide what to do about cultivating the fields. Villagers can negotiate with each other direct, or send messages on the Claim form (download from this page). Disputes are sorted out in the thegn's court. The teacher, as the thegn's reeve, is in charge of the court. If a family has a complaint against another family, it can write out a claim for the court to deal with. Each claim is given to the bailiff to read out. The bailiff then calls for any additional evidence that other villagers might have. The thegn's reeve listens to all the evidence, then makes his decision.
We divided the children into groups of four, and told each foursome that they were a family in the Saxon village. Then we handed out again the picture used in the previous lesson, showing the village with its cottages, church, hall, fields and common. We told the families that they all farmed land around the village, and grazed animals on the common. Each family had the same amount of land, 40 acres, and rights to the common pasture. Their land was divided into 10 strips in each field (four fields surrounded the village). Some families were assigned a specialist occupation. Each foursome now worked out their individual family roles. The families wrote their Saxon names on folded card and set them on the desks in front of them.
We explained how the simulation would work over the farming year, and the rules for negotiating with each other. We made sure that the children understood that the reeve was in charge, and that all disputes had to come to him. We also told each family to keep a diary of their year.
The simulation in action
We announced that it was now the end of winter, and gave each family a Spring chance card. The families pored over their cards, discussing the good and bad news written on them. We gave them 5minutes to decide on a course of action, then they began negotiating with other families. A purposeful, productive - if noisy - round of cattle-trading, promises, requests and complaints to neighbours followed.
After about 15 minutes, we sent the families back to their ‘homes'. We told them that time had moved on six months and that it was now early autumn. We distributed the Autumn chance cards, and followed the same pattern as before. This time there were more complaints about neighbours' weeds and animals and accusations of thieving. The thegn's court was called, and I spent the rest of the lesson hearing claims and evidence, and dispensing justice.
The children were totally involved in the simulation, as they pleaded with one set of neighbours for the loan of a plough, or accused another of ruining their crop with their weeds. The simulation gave them a far deeper understanding of the problems facing Saxon farmers than if they had read or been told about them.
By Jon Nichol
History study unit