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Focus question 1: What does it mean to have absolute power?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Off with their heads! (15-20 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Let's discuss! ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: History Mystery Case #1215 (45-60 min) ESL Activity 3
Assessment ESL Assessment
Further activity  


Prepare 'Evidence' folders.

Handout 3,4

  • Label each envelope 'History Mystery Case #1215'.
  • Paste 'List of instructions' on Handout 3 on each envelope. Each envelope must contain Handouts 3 and 4 (cut up).

Activity 1: Off with their heads! (15-20 min)

1a Write on the board:

1b Explain that students should consider the questions on the board as you read the following story. The following modified extract is from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

You may point out that the characters Two, Five and Seven are playing-cards.
'Would you please tell me, please,' said Alice, 'why you are painting the roses?'

Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, 'Why, the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and, if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we're doing our best, afore she comes, to ...' At this moment, Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out 'The Queen! The Queen!' and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked around, eager to see the Queen ...

When the procession came opposite to Alice, they all stopped and looked at her, and the Queen said, severely, 'Who is this?' She said it to the Knave of Hearts, who only bowed and smiled in reply.

'Idiot!' said the Queen impatiently; and, turning to Alice, she went on: 'What's your name child?'

'My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,' said Alice very politely; but she added to herself, 'Why, they're only a pack of cards, after all. I needn't be afraid of them!'

'And who are these?' said the Queen, pointing to the three gardeners who were lying around the rose-tree ...

'How should I know?' said Alice, surprised by her own courage. 'It's no business of mine.'

The Queen turned crimson with fury, and after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming, 'Off with her head! Off with ...'

'Nonsense!' said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.

The King laid his hand upon her arm, and timidly said, 'Consider, my dear: she is only a child!'

Adapted text from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
The Queen turned angrily away from him and glared at the gardeners.

'Get up!' said the Queen in a shrill, loud voice, and the three gardeners instantly jumped up, and began bowing to the King and Queen.

'Leave off that!' screamed the Queen. 'You make me giddy.' And then, turning to the rose-tree, she went on, 'What have you been doing here?'

'May it please your Majesty,' said Two in a very humble tone, going down on one knee as he spoke, 'we were trying ...'

'I see!' said the Queen, who had meanwhile been examining the roses.

'Off with their heads!' she ordered as she marched off with her nose in the air, and the procession moved on behind her. Three soldiers remained behind to execute the unfortunate gardeners, who ran to Alice for protection.

'You shan't be beheaded!' said Alice, and she put them into a large flower-pot that stood near. The three soldiers wandered about for a minute or two, looking for them, and then quietly marched off after the others.

'Are their heads off?' shouted the Queen.

'Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!' the soldiers shouted in reply.

'That's right!' shouted the Queen stopping suddenly. The procession came to a raggedy halt behind her. 'Can you play croquet?' A nervous mutter moved through the crowd.

'Get to your places!' shouted the Queen in a voice of thunder, and people began running about in all directions ... however, they got settled down in a minute or two, and the game began ...

The players all played at once, without waiting for turns, quarrelling all the while, and fighting ... and in a very short time the Queen was in a furious passion, and went stamping about and shouting, 'Off with his head!' or 'Off with her head!' about once a minute.

Alice began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had not as yet had any dispute with the Queen, but she knew that it might happen any minute, 'And then,' thought she, 'what would become of me? They're dreadfully fond of beheading people here: the great wonder is, that there's anyone left alive!'

1c Discuss the questions on the board as a class. Ask for a show of hands to answer whether students think the Queen is acting fairly: 'yes' or 'no'.

1d Promote debate by asking students to think about:

Absolute monarchy refers to rule by a monarch without the authority of a parliament.

1e Explain that the Queen of Hearts, by calling for the execution of almost everybody without permitting them to have a fair trial first, is trying to exercise absolute power. That means that she gets to decide all the rules by which her people are governed. The Queen of Hearts in this story is an absolute monarch.

1f Clarify for the students that the Queen of Hearts is a fictional character, and that in reality most absolute monarchs did not practise such arbitrary behaviour.

Activity 2: Let's discuss! (15-20 min)

2a Write this clause from Magna Carta on the board:

No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his equals and by the law of the land.

2b Recall the power exercised by the Queen of Hearts to rule unimpeded.

2c Write 'absolute power' on the board.

2d Discuss the clause from Magna Carta that you have written on the board. You may need to provide a translation yourself, eg 'We shall not arrest, imprison or execute any free man without lawful judgement by his equals and by the law of the land'.

2e Introduce the History Mysteries and explain that their aim is to solve the question: 'Who makes the rules by which people are governed?'

Activity 3: History Mystery Case #1215 (45-60 min)

3a Introduce History Mystery Case #1215. To solve this mystery students will become History Detectives. They begin with the rank of Detective Constable. The first case involves the story of a real king from long ago who tried to assert absolute power.

3b Divide the class into groups and distribute envelopes marked 'History Mystery Case #1215'.

Handout 1,2 3c Display Handout 1 and read, using a rap beat.

3d Display Handout 2 and discuss the structure of society, eg 'If you were a serf how would you seek support?'

3e Explain that the other pieces of paper in this envelope are clues: some are reported evidence; some come from an original historical document.

3f Ask students to identify the original historical document (ie the scraps of Magna Carta). Read the scraps with the class.

Handout 5 3g Explain that an earlier investigator translated some of these scraps. Groups should match the translations with the original and then discuss the meaning of these scraps.

3h Distribute Handout 5. Groups should discuss the questions and each student should answer them on the Handout. Individual students can use these notes to prepare a brief written or oral case summary report.

Promote students who complete their report to Detective Senior Constable.


Assess student handouts and reports using the following criteria. The student can:

  • demonstrate an understanding, supported by evidence, that power had been wrested from the king by the barons.

Further activity

Write an extra verse to 'The King John Rap' telling that power shifted from the king to the barons.

ESL activities

Back to 'Parliament versus Monarch - At a glance'

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