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The Vikings: Sea Raiders, Land RaidersThe-Vikings-Sea-Raiders-Land-Raiders

  • Subject: World History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two or three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. How the Vikings' physical environment helped shape their culture
2. The characteristics of Viking civilization.
3. How biases affect historical understanding.


For this lesson, you will need:
Map of medieval Europe that includes Scandinavia
Textbook and general reference materials about the Vikings
Styrofoam egg carton, glue, and scissors
Styrofoam egg carton, glue, and scissors


1. Introduce basic facts about the Vikings: They came from the area we know as Scandinavia, which includes the nations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Explain that Scandinavia was originally a self-sustaining agricultural society that produced its own iron goods and conducted some minor trading. Archaeological evidence suggests that rapid population growth created so much pressure on the limited amount of land that the people turned to the sea as raiders. People derived the term Viking from the Scandinavian term A-Viking, which meant to go on a raid. Most Scandinavians did not go A-Viking but were farmers, fishermen, or traders.
2. Write the word Vikings on the board. As a class, brainstorm words that come to mind about this group and generate a list on the board.
3. Next, read the following quote to the class. Explain that this quote comes from an English clerk, describing the Viking raids:
4. After they have heard this quote, ask the class to add any terms to their list. (You might explain that the word pagan has typically been reserved as a description for fierce, barbaric people who were not Christians.)
5. Explain that history typically describes the Vikings as the fiercest, most brutal of all the barbarian groups that invaded Europe. Historians agree that the Vikings were fierce, pagan, and conducted surprise raids unexpectedly from the sea. However, the Vikings developed the technology to build the most maneuverable and fastest seaworthy vessels in the world, known as "longships." In addition, the construction of fortresses perfectly circular and divided into equal quadrants is further evidence of their high degree of engineering skill. And the survival of colonies in Russia and Iceland are testimonials to their political organizational skills. Hold a class discussion about textual biases. Why were the Vikings traditionally presented as "pagan, barbaric raiders"?
6. Discuss the longship—one example of the Vikings' engineering skill. In the eighth century, Vikings developed a special boat called the longship. These boats were extremely seaworthy, able to carry large cargo, and had a shallow design that allowed Vikings to venture far into shallow inlets. Ask the class to speculate how these characteristics may have helped the Vikings in their surprise raids.
7. Tell students that they will be constructing their own longships. The approximate ratio of the longship's length to width was four to one—about that of an egg carton. Have students work in pairs to create their longships. First, students should carefully cut the top off a Styrofoam egg carton. The bottom portion will represent the longship. Glue pieces of the top portion over any holes on the bottom portion. Allow the glue to dry completely. Next, fill a basin or sink with about 2 inches of water. To demonstrate the characteristics of the longship, float the egg carton in the water, then gradually fill the carton with any convenient items to represent weight. Although the flotation qualities of the Styrofoam may enhance their craft, students should discover that the carton can be loaded with an incredibly large "cargo."
8. To conclude the lesson, divide students into small groups and have them research and develop a print, radio, or television news story on one topic related to the Vikings. They could focus on the Vikings' surprise raids or the "brand new" longship construction and its advantages over other ships. "People in the News" might include Vikings such as Leif Eriksson or his son Erik the Red who effectively used their longships to explore or conquer new lands.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students research the exploits of the Vikings and write about their interactions with other cultures. You may extend the lesson, for example, by having the students present reports about the Byzantine Empire of the Middle East or the Viking landing in L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. They can also examine the trading center established in Russia or the government that they founded in Sicily.

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Discussion Questions

1. Examine a map of Europe. Given the geography of Scandinavia, hypothesize why the Vikings became expert seamen.
2. How did the geography, climate, and an increasing shortage of tillable land in medieval Scandinavia influence the Vikings? Discuss why the Scandinavians may have gone A- Viking ."
3. Hypothesize why monasteries and churches along the coast were frequent targets of the Vikings. (For example, they were often isolated and poorly defended.)
4. Given that much information about Viking raiders came from Church officials, or was based on second-hand accounts recorded by them, and given your knowledge of the Vikings' building and organizational skills, debate whether the classic description of the Vikings as "savage, pagan warriors" seems accurate.
5. Guerrilla warfare is usually defined as that carried out by small bands of irregular military groups who strike quickly. Explain why it seems appropriate to describe Viking attacks as "guerrilla raids."
6. Discuss why the longship appears to have been the "perfect vessel" for the Vikings.

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Have the students write a paragraph that begins, "The Vikings were people who . . ." They should include at least three qualities they have learned about the Vikings. Alternatively, you might choose to start the paragraph with "The Vikings became sailors who . . ." Encourage students to think about why the Scandinavians went " A- Viking, " how they sailed, and the places they raided.

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Demons and Dragons: Images of Pagan Raiders
Have students research the ornamentation often found on Viking ships and have them create their own designs. They can sketch a prow head choosing a design of their own or copy an image of a dragon or serpent head found in a text.

Longships in Life and Death
Have students research Viking funerals and graves to determine the role that the longship played in their afterworld.

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Suggested Readings

What Life Was Like When Longships Sailed; Vikings AD 800-1100
Denise Dersin, editor, Time-Life Books, 1998.
Wonderful photographs, period illustrations, and maps help give a strong sense of what Viking life was like. The ferocious plundering of coastal communities is covered, as well as the sophisticated settlements and trade established by these Scandinavians over 1000 years ago.

Cambridge Illustrated Atlas - Warfare: The Middle Ages, 768-1487
Nicholas Hooper and Matthew Bennett, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Detailed maps of troop movements and fortifications are the focus of this look at war during the Middle Ages. Wide coverage of specific battles and larger wars includes the Vikings, the Crusades, and the Hundred Years War, as well as the most common weapons and techniques used in medieval warfare.

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Discover Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga
The National Museum of Natural History celebrates the 1,000 year anniversary of Leif Eriksson's arrival in North America.

Viking Heritage
A vast amount of Viking information available online.

The Vikings: They Got Here First but Why Didn't They Stay
Good descriptions of Viking voyages to North America along with some theories on why they decided not to stay. The article, from the National Library of Canada includes pictures and maps.

The Amazing Vikings
Great article from Time Magazine describing the impact of the Vikings on the World.

The Vikings
Write your name as a Rune, explore a model Viking town and learn more about who the Vikings were.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    guerrilla
Definition: Vikings launched guerrilla attacks against their unsuspecting victims.
Context: A member of an irregular, usually indigenous military or paramilitary unit operating in small bands in occupied territory to harass and undermine the enemy, as by surprise raids.

speaker    hull
Definition: Ancient Norse vessels had skins covering their hulls.
Context: The frame or body of a ship, exclusive of masts, engines, or superstructure.

speaker    keel
Definition: The keel of the ship maintained its stability in the water.
Context: The principal structural member of a ship, running lengthwise along the centerline from bow to stern, to which the frames are attached.

speaker    nautical
Definition: The nautical skills of the Vikings allowed them to sail great distances.
Context: Of, relating to, or characteristic of ships, shipping, sailors, or navigation on a body of water.

speaker    navigable
Definition: The shallow draft of a longboat made the smallest rivers navigable.
Context: Sufficiently deep or wide to provide passage for vessels.

speaker    Nordic
Definition: The Nordic gods Tir and Thor lent their names to our calendar as Tuesday and Thursday.
Context: Of, relating to, or characteristic of Scandinavia or its peoples, languages, or cultures.

speaker    raid
Definition: People living along the northern coast of Europe lived in fear of Viking raids.
Context: A surprise attack by a small armed force.

speaker    Viking
Definition: Viking raiders eventually settled in the area of northern France now called Normandy.
Context: One of a seafaring Scandinavian people who plundered the coasts of northern and western Europe from the 8th through the 10th centuries.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: World History
Understands the political, social, and cultural redefinitions in Europe from A.D. 500 to 1000.
Understands the role of Norse peoples in the development of Europe (e.g., Nordic contributions to long-distance trade and exploration, the failure of Norse settlements in Newfoundland and Greenland).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Geography
Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and region.
Knows how technology affects the ways in which cultural groups perceive and use places and regions.

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Peter A. Adams, social studies teacher, Laurel High School, Laurel, Maryland.

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