The Vikings have long been a source of fascination and mystery. From their daring explorations to their complex religious beliefs, these ancient Scandinavian peoples offer plenty of exciting topics to explore in the classroom. This article provides an overview of what teachers need to know to plan an engaging unit study on the Vikings – from exploring primary sources and materials to choosing practical activities for student learning.
Introducing the Vikings
- Between 793 and 1066 AD, the Vikings embarked on major military expeditions throughout Europe, including Britain and Scandinavia.
- During this time, they developed an extensive trade network across the continent.
- The Viking Age ended in 1066 with the Norman Conquest of England.
- Viking seafaring and exploration were an integral part of their culture. They were some of the first Europeans to explore outside of Europe, travelling as far as North America and Greenland.
- The Viking ships were made from wood and used a type of sail known as a ‘square-rigger’. This enabled them to travel longer distances with fewer stops for supplies or provisions.
- The Viking explorers also developed maritime navigation techniques, such as using a sunstone to determine latitude, allowing them to navigate further. Viking exploration put them in contact with cultures worldwide, resulting in trade and cultural exchange.
- Religion was a significant part of Viking life. They believed in multiple gods and goddesses, such as Odin, Thor, Freya and Loki.
- Men and women had distinct roles within Viking society. Women were responsible for household duties and child-rearing, while men participated in agricultural labour or warfare.
- Artisans were highly respected members of society who crafted items such as jewellery and weapons from precious metals like silver or bronze.
- Sagas were popular stories that included themes of bravery, honour and tragedy – serving as entertainment and moral instruction to the young.
National Curriculum Objectives
The Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England dates back to the time of Edward the Confessor. This could include Viking raids and invasions, resistance by Alfred the Great and Athelstan (the first King of England), further Viking invasions and Danegeld, laws and justice during the Anglo-Saxon period, as well as Edward the Confessor’s reign before he died in 1066.
Learning Outcome Ideas
- I can explain essential events related to Viking exploration and expansion.
- I can identify key aspects of Viking culture, including beliefs, society and craftsmanship.
- I can analyse primary sources from the Viking Age – such as sagas or artefacts – to form conclusions about their life and culture.
- I can explain why the Vikings were victorious in their military conquests and trading voyages.
- I can describe the end of the Viking Age in 1066 with the Norman Conquest of England.
- I can discuss how Viking history has been remembered through popular stories and media.
- I can recognise different types of evidence related to Viking life and culture.
- I can compare aspects of modern societies with those found among the Vikings.
- I can explain how archaeological evidence has contributed towards our understanding of Viking life.
- I can explain why studying Viking history is relevant today.
- I can locate primary source documents related to the Vikings in libraries or archives.
- I can identify various resources for further research on Viking history and culture.
- I can design lesson plans or activities appropriate for engaging and teaching students about the Vikings.
- I understand how trade impacted Viking culture positively and negatively and its effects on other societies during that period.
- I understand why Odin was so significant within Norse mythology, his role as god/king, and his relationship with gods/goddesses like Thor, Freya, Loki, etc.
Teaching Ideas for The Vikings
- Have students watch a documentary or movie about the Vikings and have them write a summary and analysis of what they learned.
- Create an interactive game where students can roleplay being a Viking chieftain. The game should involve simulation of trading, engaging in battle, and navigating the seas with a map.
- Have students create their Viking saga based on stories they have heard or read. This could be done through written reports, art, music, etc.
- Ask students to research historical accounts from people who lived during the Viking Age and write reports summarising their findings.
- Allow students to explore Viking artefacts in groups so that they can make observations and draw conclusions about how particular objects were used throughout history.
- Invite guest speakers – such as Viking reenactors – to come and talk about life during the Age of the Vikings to further engage learners.
- Ask students to build their boats using materials found around the classroom (paper, cardboard, popsicle sticks) and simulate sailing across an imaginary sea using a large map marked with various ports of call.
Lesson Plans for The Vikings
Lesson Plan 1: Documentary Review & Analysis
- Objective: Students can explain important aspects of Viking life and culture by watching a documentary or movie.
- Materials Needed: Documentary or movie about the Vikings, paper, writing utensils.
- Activity: Have the students watch a documentary or movie about the Vikings. Afterwards, have them write a summary and analyse what they learned from the film.
- Assessment: Have students submit their written summaries and analyses to be graded by the teacher.
Lesson Plan 2: Interactive Viking Game
- Objective: Students will be able to explain trade routes, battles, and navigation of the seas through roleplaying as a Viking chieftain in an interactive game.
- Materials Needed: Large map of seas with ports marked out, materials for simulation (coins, rocks), markers/board for tracking progress in the game.
- Activity: Create an interactive game where students can roleplay being a Viking chieftain that involves simulation of trading, engaging in battle, and navigating the seas with a map. Allow students to take turns playing so everyone can experience the game.
- Assessment: Track students’ progress in the game – such as how much gold was acquired through trade or how many battles were won/lost – and score them accordingly at the end of each round for formative assessment purposes.
Lesson Plan 3: Viking Saga Creation
- Objective: Students can create their own Viking saga based on stories they have heard or read using various media forms like written stories, art, music etc.
- Materials Needed: Writing utensils (pencils/pens), paper/notebooks, art supplies (paints/markers), musical instruments (optional).
- Activity: Explain to students that they will be creating their saga based on stories they have heard or read about related to Vikings. Allow them to choose which format they prefer among written stories, art pieces, music compositions etc. Give them time over several days or weeks, depending on the complexity level, to work on projects during either class period or outside work time allotted by the teacher.
- Assessment: Have students present their sagas during the class period and score each according to creativity level and accuracy towards material researched or studied prior related to the project topic assigned by a teacher at the start of the unit plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
What were the Vikings known for?
- The Vikings were known for their seafaring and exploration, as well as their architecture, trading, and foreign settlements.
When did the Viking Age begin and end?
- The Viking Age began in 793 AD with the attack on Lindisfarne monastery in England and lasted until 1066 AD with the Norman conquest of Britain.
Who were some of the prominent leaders of the Vikings?
- Some prominent leaders included Ragnar Lothbrok and King Harald Hardrada
How did the Vikings make a living?
- The Vikings made a living through trade, farming, fishing, hunting and raiding.