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Eight Anglo-Saxon riddles

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By Rosalind Kerven — Author

The Anglo-Saxons loved to play guessing games with riddles. These eight riddles come from an ancient manuscript known as The Exeter Book, written in the old Anglo-Saxon language more than 1,000 years ago.

The book contains 96 riddles as well as many other poems. The riddles have been translated and simplified by Rosalind Kerven to help the children understand them.


Unfortunately, The Exeter Book did not contain any solutions, so scholars have had to puzzle over them and try to guess what they might really mean. We provide some suggested answers – but see if the children can work them out for themselves.

Shared learning and teaching

Before reading

  • What do the children know about the Anglo-Saxons? Look at images or history books detailing their everyday life and culture. Think about Anglo-Saxon entertainment. What would be different from our lives today?
  • Explain to the children that they are about to read some small texts, based on an ancient manuscript called The Exeter Book but reworked so they are easier to understand. Why do the children think the original versions may be difficult? Discuss how languages change over time. If possible, show the children some old Anglo-Saxon language.

Further reading

Published in Literacy Time PLUS March 2009:

Are You Ready to be Teased? Taffy Thomas presents eight of his favourite riddles for you to solve in this interactive resource.

Taffy’s Teasers Taffy Thomas explains the origins of riddles in storytelling.

Riddles – activity sheet text presenting five more riddles.

You can read about Grim Gruesome at Rosalind Kerven’s website, featuring fun facts and free resources to download.

Sharing the text

  • Cover up the solutions and the introduction and read the first riddle to the children. Elicit that this type of text is called a riddle. Discuss what a riddle is and how they know it is a riddle. Look at the rhyming pattern – label it a,a,b,b. What type of clues are given and in what order (ie, where it can be found, its appearance, what it does, etc)? Discuss how the information is also quite discrete to keep the reader puzzling.
  • Look at riddle 2. Compare with riddle 1, in particular the rhyming scheme and punctuation. Discuss the use of personification and identify where it is used in these first two riddles.

Group and guided work

  • Ask the children to read the rest of the riddles in groups using dictionaries to look up unfamiliar words, identifying the rhyme scheme and trying to solve the riddles. They should note the reasons why they come to their conclusions and be ready to explain their reasoning. They could pretend to be expert historians who have just come across the ancient manuscript, with the teacher in role as the chief historian and writer of a book in which these riddles will be published. If they convince the chief historian that their riddle should have a place in the book, they could then write a brief explanation as to how they have solved each riddle.
  • Ask each group to list some everyday objects which could be the subject of a riddle. Each idea should be accompanied by brief notes detailing information which could be included.
  • Identify words in the riddles which use the spelling pattern the children are working on at present.
  • Sort and classify the words in the riddles – eg, actions, natural things, threatening words, etc. Can they find any words which change meaning depending upon their context?

Literacy Framework

See the Using this issue chart here to identify the Learning Objectives covered by these activities, to track progression from Year 4 through to Year 7, and to identify links with Year 5 and 6 Planning Units.

Independent work

  • Get the children to choose and learn their favourite riddle and perform it.
  • Use the internet to research riddles and compare with those on the poster. Are there common themes?
  • Write new riddles using the ideas from the group task or a classroom object or an object brought in from home. Work with a partner to proof-read and edit, presenting the final draft using ICT.
  • Use the activity sheet activity sheet below to write a description of an ancient manuscript found on an archaeological dig. The children can use all they have learned about the Anglo-Saxons to inform this piece of writing.


  • Role play the discussion in which each group of historians has to persuade you, the teacher, to use their solution in the book to be published.
  • Ask the children to explain which of the riddles they like best and why.
  • Ask the children to perform their riddles.
  • Share the children’s own riddles – either in class or in a whole-school assembly. Can the audience work them out?


  1. Morgan
    on 10 July 2011


    whene I am alive I do not speek. anyone who takes me captive and cuts of my head. They bite my bare body Ido know harm to anyone unless they cut me first.Thene I soon make theme cry. anwerser:onion