Teaching History in the Primary School

Teaching the key skills: Organisation

Turning ideas into lessons

To create a lesson plan you need to answer a number of questions:

  • What are my aims i.e. what do I want the children to understand and get better at?
  • What will I need to do in order to create an interest and explain the lesson?
  • What tasks will I set the children?
  • What resources will these tasks require?
  • How will the class need to be organised so that the children can use these resources?
  • How long will the activities take?
  • How will I end the lesson?
  • How will I assess whether the lesson has been successful?

This module is based on the belief that history should be make sense, be learned actively, be seen as relevant by the children, and be fun. It is also based on the belief that learning about the past is a fundamental part of the growing up process. During the module you will have experienced a number of activities that help to fulfil this agenda. Amongst them are several that can be enjoyed by any age group working at its own level, and all are intended to offer a way for children to progress between levels. Some, like a diary or a letter, are private tasks and are very useful as a way of assessing whether the lesson has been successful. Others are undertaken in groups but give an opportunity for each member of the group to make a significant contribution to the final outcome. This may also be a piece of creative work, either written, drawn or acted. But how can we tell whether we have been doing history? The answer takes us back to the five National Curriculum skills:

  • Chronological understanding can be assessed by how well the children have developed an idea of the past as a sequence of events over time. This doesn't mean the whole past but just some segment of it, perhaps very recent, or a story. Can they get the events in the right order and relate them to one another? Can they see distinguish foreground and background causes? Are they looking for alternative explanations to the obvious ones?
  • Historical knowledge and understanding: to what extent have the children perceived the essential characteristics of a society (eg the 'Greekness' of the Greeks)? Their perception may be superficial (i.e. the 'what' level) or more comprehensive (the 'how' and 'why' levels). Be sure to distinguish between perception and expression: young children are seldom able to express themselves exactly but their understanding may be much greater than their writing or drawing suggests. Oral questioning is essential.
  • Interpretation can be assessed by the skill with which the children have constructed a narrative out of the facts at their disposal. Examples of such narratives have been quoted above, but it is important to include the spoken word amongst them. The use of so-called 'hot-seating' or 'freeze-frame' techniques in drama may enable children to tell the story of the character they are playing more effectively than in writing.
  • Enquiry: there should be evidence of the sources used in any work that children do based on the past, even if it is simply a drawing copied from a book. The teacher will be looking for the child's ability to see what is important about the image in terms of its location in time and place. If the children are undertaking their own research they should be encouraged to make use of different kinds of evidence and show how they have analysed it in order to reach conclusions. The use of ACT, especially data-bases, lends itself very well to this kind of work.
  • Organisation: a variety of tasks will lead to a variety of results. In most cases the teacher will chose an appropriate medium of expression but as they get older children should decide on a format for themselves; assessment will include both its suitability and the facility with which they use it.

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