Tried and tested tips from experienced teachers to help you get your pupils excited about history, including set a date, a drop of action, gene therapy and guess who?
Ages 8 to 11
Set a date
Pupils will love this outdoor, visual and kinaesthetic activity to learn chronology. Give 15 pupils a card with a range of different dates written on each one, ranging from 2000BC to 2007AD. Include key dates such as 0, 1066, 1665, 1939 (and any others that relate to your topic). Take pupils to the playground and ask them to arrange themselves in date order.
Give the more able the BC cards as this can lead to higher order questioning, such as why their numbers go “backwards” and what the 0 represents. Give the rest of the pupils A4 cards with pictures of famous people on and the dates when they lived. You could include Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, or people from their current topic. Ask them to position themselves on the human number line where they think their character should be. This can lead to a further discussion of dates and the order things happen in.
Helen Towler teaches at Rye Oak School in London
Turning new ground
Let’s play archaeologists. Here is a timeline activity that will add fun to learning about ancient civilisations and give your pupils a feel for archaeology. Bring some plastic bags, each filled with a smashed clay flower pot (one for each group of three). Ask pupils to reconstruct each pot using drafting tape, so they can take it apart to put in the difficult pieces. An outdoor variation of this activity is to cordon off three or four patches of field (or use sandboxes) and have them excavate the broken pots using simple digging tools such as spades and brushes to gently remove dirt from the pieces.
Once back in the classroom, pupils can proceed with reconstructing the flower pots.
John Skinner is a teacher at St Aubyn’s School in Woodford Green, Essex
Ages 14 to 16
A drop of action
Having given up history to teach science, I could never resist bringing up a company of eclectic, inspirational and bonkers scientists. Newton was a rich source. A devout woman-hater (his mother left him at two), he spawned vast amounts of ground-breaking research and then lost them for years. His feud with Robert Hooke, the self-aggrandising first describer of a “cell”, was legendary. Newton became a Member of Parliament, but said nothing beyond, “Can you close that window?”
Humanising science with past giants brings empathy and context. The tragic tale of how Marie Curie lost her husband and co-worker, Pierre, under the wheels of a Parisian carriage raised a laugh — maybe it was the way I told it. It seems poetic justice that the man who invented CFCs and sent us down the road to global warming was struck down with polio. He invented a mechanised bed that strangled him. Galileo remained my favourite. He was the first scientist to experiment. And despite a row with the Church, which usually saw scientists being crisped at the stake, Galileo held on. It helped that his old school chum had become the Pope. As a lesson in sticking to your principles, it worked for me.
Katy Bloom is professional development leader at the National Science Learning Centre
Literacy, ICT, science and a bit of history are thrown into this lesson on sex determination.
After teaching determining sex chromosomes, invite the class to write a letter to Henry VIII explaining that it is his fault that he hasn’t had a son and nothing to do with his wives.
The letters need to be tactful if the pupils are to avoid being beheaded. I usually give the openings of a number of sentences to start them off, such as: “While I must acknowledge the superiority of your royal genes...” Computers allow pupils to use old-fashioned fonts. Then, get them to age the paper with old tea bags for homework.
Judith Green is a science AST at The Robert Smyth School in Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Ages 11 to 16
Compete with pupils
Pupils love competition, and nothing beats competing with their teacher. I used this for a review session of the Black Death with Year 7s. I displayed and read a prepared paragraph about the causes and consequences of the Black Death. This included 10 deliberate mistakes.
Pupils were provided with a grid sheet on A4 paper and the paragraph on another. They wrote the mistakes on one side, and the correct information on the other. They spotted my mistakes and produced a corrected version.
David Alford teaches at Ysgol Uwchradd Tywyn in Gywnedd, Wales
A great way to introduce a new topic and to break the ice for pupils who don’t know each other very well is to hold a cocktail party. Allocate each pupil a person they will be learning about in the new topic — for example, Alexander Fleming and Florence Nightingale. Have each pupil research that character for homework and encourage them to find props/simple costumes that link to their characters.
The next lesson is the party. As each character arrives at the party, give them a chart that they must complete as they meet other party guests. For each guest they must find out their name, date of birth, family background, what they contributed to the history of medicine and links they may have to other characters at the party.
Acting as the waiter, the teacher circulates the room, ensuring everyone is on task and finding out information.
Helen Towler teaches at Rye Oak School in London