History is a topic that can really capture the imagination of primary school pupils and there are a whole host of exciting ways to further their learning whilst enabling them to communicate what they have understood about a topic so far. Ten ideas are suggested below – do you have any more to add?
Audio-visual commentary: Pupils provide a spoken commentary e.g. for some selected pictures of mysterious looking Ancient Greek or Egyptian objects, as if for someone using a headset in a museum today. This gives the activity real purpose and, of course, a certain appeal to reluctant writers!
Bank notes / coins: The government has just decided to commemorate a civilization or people e.g. the Romans. As a tribute to their legacy, a set of bank notes / coins to the value of £50, £20, £10 and £5 has been commissioned. But they are not sure what image should be placed on each. First pupils brainstorm the possibilities, and then they prioritise and finally decide how they will illustrate. Each member of the group of four illustrates a different legacy.
Diary: Could be pages from a physical diary such as Henry VIII’s as he goes through the turbulent late 1520s or even a visit to Big Brother’s diary room. What would Henry say? “I just cannot commit. I have problems with my wives ….”
Display: Pupils have to sum up life in Victorian Britain, but can use just five pictures in their display. Which will they select? Each group offers a critique of others’ choices. E.g. not enough about the great achievements in health and hygiene, too much on the bad side etc.
Film crew e.g. accompanying Howard Carter and interviewing him after he had discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. Pupils work in pairs. One has to be the interviewer the other the explorer. So pupils have to generate questions as well as answer them. Making it real like this adds a certain appeal and is an interesting non-written outcome.
Letters to MPs: e.g. Y6 protesting about the Elgin marbles suggesting they should be returned to Athens or Y5 complaining about factory conditions I have seen some excellent examples of persuasive writing using this as a medium, so really good for literacy.
Living graph: Pupils are each given an event card which they then have to sequence. With pupils standing in a line in chronological order, you ask them to step forward if they think the event was good/happy/successful for the person and step back if bad/unhappy/failure. As you can see from the image opposite, this creates a clear shape and shows pupils how things change for the better or worse and rarely stay the same. Pupils could draw their own line graphs to the same shape and then try to annotate two or three places where the graph goes up or down.
Magical mystery tour: To help children understand that buildings we see around us in Britain today come from hundreds of years ago, pupils have to plan a tour of, say, Tudor buildings. But what Tudor buildings would have survived and where would we find them? This makes pupils think about churches and palaces and wealthy people’s houses. Certainly not much evidence of the existence of the poor, except perhaps the stocks! Good for awareness of local history too. Can pupils think of the nearest building to the school that would have been there 500 years ago?
Making a museum: Pupils physically make one object each which they contribute to a class museum on the topic. It could be the Greek legacy, or what Victorian schools were like. As a class we need to brainstorm ideas and then allocate creative roles. Best done in pairs with scope to work creatively at home too. Makes pupils think about the objects that people would have used and the physical activity of making helps deepen their understanding as well as having cross-curricular benefits.
Placemats: A company specialising in historical placemats wants to commission schoolchildren to design a set that captures the spirit of a group of people or period from the past. They don’t want just one image. In fact they have a rule that it must be a pastiche of 10 stuck together. Some can be drawn, others photocopied. But which will the children select? Which will be the largest images? How will they be put together? Show a placemat to give them an idea of size but encourage them to be creative in how it will be illustrated. If it were a Roman Britain placemat, what would it show? Would it be soldiers or villas, Claudius or Boudicca, or both?
These ideas were taken from the resources which accompany the Creative Education Course: Exciting Cross-Curricular History in KS1 and KS2