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Activities in history

I’m often asked about learning activities for various history topics and it’s something I always respond to in a similar manner, “What do you want them to learn?” Without that clear purpose as to where the activity leads the learning to, selecting the right one is somewhat harder… ok, much harder. This blog is an attempt to provide some examples of lesson activities I use and their connection to knowledge acquisition, knowledge interpretation and use/or application of skills from various subjects. It is not an exhaustive list or an exploration of sequencing activities across a unit but merely some of my favourites.

Certain key underpinnings:

The subsequent paragraphs are aspects of teaching history that need to be considered alongside activity selection… without them, history is a smattering of stuff which has a limited impact in impacting children’s understanding of the past.

It’s important that we don’t see activities in isolation so that they offer value to a greater sense of history. To that end, my forthcoming book (this isn’t a sales pitch BUT you can buy it here…) follows a consistent model in order to support children in seeing lessons as helping them gain a better understanding of a wider narrative arc. The visual that I use is below and this blog’s focus is within what I have titled historical enquiry lessons to differentiate it from the initial context and the final answer to the enquiry question(s). Each activity adds value to the lesson’s question and therefore the overarching question.

There is a lot of nuance in each stage of this model. Please don’t share this model in isolation without either watching the relevant CPD session or reading the book because it could misrepresent the teaching process and cause misconceptions.

If we aren’t careful, lessons can appear to depict isolated events or individuals. Whilst there is an element of truth to this, a more accurate idea is that attributed to Mark Twain when he allegedly said: “History doesn’t often repeat itself but it often rhymes.” This is one of the reasons that careful and deliberate retrieval practice is so powerful in order to support children in both identifying the concepts they repeatedly examine but also beginning to consider common patterns in concepts such as government, reasons for invasion and conquest etc. As such, before the activity is introduced, activating relevant memories has an important role to play. As Kate Jones writes, “Understanding of memory, such as an awareness of the limitations of working memory and harnessing the power of long-term memory, is absolutely essential for any educator.”[i] So, what am I building on and what does this add is a consideration.

Probably an obvious one but, just in case, when we break history into enquiries with questions and then enquiries into sub-questions, one activity is not going to produce the definitive answer to the question. Remember, in history our understanding is constructed using a number of sources in order to get an understanding which is evidence-led and supportable from a number of sources. The Historical Association’s Enquiry Toolkit suggests, “It is important in any enquiry to try to get pupils to use primary historical sources – e.g. things that were produced at the time. These might be documents, artefacts, buildings, pictures/paintings, film. It is also well worth checking local museums for any collections or workshops they might be able to offer. “[ii] So, think carefully about how multiple activities using a range of source material build a deeper understanding over time. Moreover, does your curriculum facilitate sufficient ‘wiggle room’ or as Emma Turner called it, the 80:20 rule of planning for 80% of the time to leave time to revisit and clarify learning.[iii]

If we don’t do anything with the knowledge, how likely is it to be transferred from the working memory into the long-term memory? As Willingham states, “Whatever you think about, that’s what you remember. Memory is the residue of thought. Once stated, this conclusion seems impossibly obvious.”[iv] As such, what will be the ‘thing’ your children think about because of the activity. Will it be that they had a lovely time making something OR what it adds to their knowledge base?

In addition, when we view history as a narrative subject (which it is!), we need to think about which parts of that ‘story’ we are choosing to emphasise hence the important role enquiry questions provide. The role of the question is to provide absolute clarity as to which part of the story is core to our understanding and which is the hinterland or background which ensures the story functions and makes sense. It’s important to consistently renew the connection between individual lessons and the wider enquiry in order to provide a consistent sense of why this knowledge matters in its own right and to the wider topic at hand… you can’t teach all of it! 

Pre-requisites to the lesson:
These conditions are different as they are not unique to history and the manner in which it is taught. It combines thinking about the logistics of the classroom setup and the inevitable overlaps of children’s developing understanding of skills and knowledge from elsewhere in the curriculum.

What are the practicalities of the lesson? Now, some of my favourite lessons have been really hands on… I’m sure you know the ones! A trip, handling artefacts in the classroom, or conducting a mock archaeological dig. However, these need so much careful planning in order to gain lots from them. Connect them up with other source material and think about their role in the overall enquiry process. Alongside this, it is unrealistic for such lessons to be the mainstay of our teaching because there are 11 other subjects to consider. Also, can the activity be run in the classroom effectively? It’s important to consider the potential carnage which can erupt from a surprise ‘wow’ without sufficient expectation setting. Teacher workload is something to be taken very seriously! Do you have the capacity to run this lesson in terms of prep and the nature of the lesson being implemented in the classroom itself?

How are the children going to engage with the activities? This consideration is inevitably going to vary from classroom to classroom and year group to year group. Some key considerations to think about include:

  1. Activating relevant prior knowledge. Whilst I briefly mentioned retrieval before, it’s important for two regards. First, it allows children to constantly activate and then utilise knowledge from prior lessons within the unit to see how events are connected when it is relevant to connect the wider narrative. Secondly, it allows them to look further back to prior units and year groups then make connections in order to “Cumulatively, pupils’ knowledge of periods and events will form a network of knowledge that might be conceptualised as a ‘mental timeline’. This is an example of a complex schema…”.[v] This needs to be deliberately and explicitly taught so it becomes a normal part of the teaching sequence. In addition, “Progress, therefore, means knowing more (including knowing how to do more) and remembering more. When new knowledge and existing knowledge connect in pupils’ minds, this gives rise to understanding.”[vi] So it’s doubly important this is facilitated.
  2. What pre-requisite skills and knowledge do the children need to have to engage with the task, record observations/thoughts and discuss their findings? Children need to have a certain level of experience and fluency with an activity in so that they can both take part and learn from it. Emma Turner discusses this with reference to knowledge organisers and booklets with the key point – what do children need to have in their toolkit in order for it to be purposeful?[vii]
  3. Recording observations and answering questions doesn’t need to include extensive writing. In the 2023 Ofsted subject curriculum insight video for history, HMI Tim Jenner explains that extended writing is a useful endeavour and has lots of value (not an exact quote) BUT, it is not always the best way to ascertain what children know. Therefore, think carefully alongside point 2 as to whether the activity includes effective ways to discuss, record and think deeply about what knowledge they have gained. Scaffold carefully and then withdraw it as and when children are able to make a more independent role.

Finally (and sorry it took so long!) where is it going and how do you know if it has been accomplished?

Examples of activities:

Below, I’ll share some of my favourite activities when teaching and endeavour to place them within the context explained above. I have tried to show how it forms part of a wider lesson by including the introductory instruction alongside where it sits within the wider unit. Models of teaching such as the core subject mainstay of ‘I do, we do, you do’ and then included screenshots of relevant slides of activity sheets (Because of the tight turn around, I do not have the chance to use children’s actual work because of permissions, etc). Therefore, please, take the use of sheets with a pinch of salt as many can be done in books.

Narrating timelines like a story:

A history timeline has a similar function to a story mountain in a narrative unit of English. Reif (2008) wrote: “Poorly organised knowledge cannot be readily remembered or used. But students don’t know how to organise their knowledge effectively.”[viii] The implication here is that when thinking about the story of Amelia Earhart’s life (pictured below), we can support children’s understanding by telling the story as we might with a fictional book. After all, stories are psychologically privileged.[ix] This lesson is early in the sequence if not the initial one; its purpose is to set out the narrative children will learn more about through the unit and is a heavily guided and scaffolded lesson.

  1. Introduce where Amelia’s life is on the overall narrative timeline in relation to what else has been taught.
  2. Narrate Amelia’s life story where the teacher provides the context for vocabulary children will encounter, begins to link the timeline to the enquiry question etc. For example, she first saw an aeroplane as a teenager. This is so different to today and therefore by narrating the story, children can be introduced to why this is the case (it wasn’t invented until she was 6).
  3. Children interact with the timeline to build investment as to who she was, what she did and any event which, after being explored in more detail, makes them go WOW! What an achievement! Distinguish between these facts and those that are surprising in order to narrow down the field of enquiry.
  4. Subsequent lessons focus in on the WOW moments from her timeline and add depth to the children’s understanding. This lesson serves as an initial hook to excite them about this remarkable lady.
This timeline would follow the use of an overall narrative timeline (please see my chronology blogs for further information on this).

What goes in books? This is a question I am often asked and my initial response is… does anything have to? In an ideal world, no! Let’s keep this paced, practical and purposeful. I absolutely understand that in some schools, evidence of work in children’s books is a non-negotiable so for this lesson, I would focus on understanding and developing “botheredness” as Hywel Roberts calls it![x] So this could involve a series of freezeframes depicting the key events in her life that will be built upon in subsequent lessons or produce a cartoon strip depicting them. The end point is knowing the story to be delved into and beginning to understand her significance.

Use of videos:

Videos are great to support children who find reading difficult (although this doesn’t mean they should never do it in history…) and can be used as a hook to captivate them within the abstract world they are delving into. I will regularly use them when teaching or planning units as an introductory way to begin to help children construct a sense of period as Dawson described it.[xi] BBC Bitesize, BBC Teach etc are great to tap into but have you used them to help connect pieces of the historical puzzle? This is when we can return to them pre and post-lesson to make connections and build a more detailed picture of the past.

  1. Play the video for the first time and let the children enjoy it. I’m a big advocate of moments of awe and wonder – this quite often being one of those with many cohorts…
  2. Then, introduce the context and purpose of the lesson. A sub-question of the overall enquiry and relate it to the timeline and maps as relevant. Re-watch the video in full or snippets as relevant and children will now watch with a sense of purpose. Using it to inform their understanding to specific historical questions.
  3. For the remainder of the lesson, additional sources such as books, internet sites, archaeology adds a greater breadth of understanding to what the video introduces. Use questions so as: how does this add to our understanding of x? Does this tell us something new or different? In history, we attempt to build as clear an image as possible but be mindful the children will not prove anything therefore model how to both collate answers and write conclusions.

In the children’s books, consider using snipping tool to take a screenshot of a key part of the video to annotate in relation to specific questions. Then, build a clearer picture of the past by starting with that annotated pictured and adding further images, website research (used sparingly and carefully guided!), interactives such as inspire education, Mozaik 3D and Sketchfab etc depending on what is available.

This may take more than one lesson but is a key part of the historical discipline as it ensures children in KS1 “should ask and answer questions, choosing and using parts of stories and other sources to show that they know and understand key features of events. They should understand some of the ways in which we find out about the past and identify different ways in which it is represented.” And then, in KS2, “They should regularly address and sometimes devise historically valid questions about change, cause, similarity and difference, and significance. They should construct informed responses that involve thoughtful selection and organisation of relevant historical information. They should understand how our knowledge of the past is constructed from a range of sources.”[xii] This is the bread and butter of historical enquiry so should be evident in every unit. The final example in the blog for KS1 uses a similar approach for that very reason. 

BBC Teach videos are available on the BBC Teach website or on YouTube.

Analysing testimonial sources of evidence:

Testimonial sources such as diaries, newspapers, letters etc are different to archaeology because they offer a “conscious commentary” on what they record.[xiii] As such, they need to be treated carefully and children guided through both WHAT it says but also WHO wrote it and HOW that shaped their particular world view. Without such introductory instruction, children may get a hugely over-simplified perspective of an event or have a misplaced understanding of bias (the class… which source is more reliable? Who can we trust more on this?).

This can be introduced early in Key Stage 1 when children speak to grandparents or community members about what their toys or homes were like when they were equivalent to Year 1/2 now. Oral history offers lots of relevant evidence towards the overall enquiry question but… by simply asking do we think everybody had the same childhood? We can begin the process of identifying that such sources offer a snapshot which is useful but is one of many. Then, when they encounter the Great Fire of London example below, they can activate that understanding and be supported to guide it into a new context.

One of my favourite enquiries for KS2 challenges the perception that the Vikings were merely vicious barbarian raiders… The extract below comes from lesson 1 of the series and looking at where that perception may have arisen from at the time.

  1. The children are aware of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England at this time; the fact they were NOT a singular nation and lived in small farming communities isolated from one another.
  2. It deliberately uses the subsequent extract of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle because it is provocative.
  3. Subsequent lessons which are not included challenge this perspective by highlighting other aspects of their culture such as the rich culture, trade routes and exploration.

In the children’s books, they analyse and annotate the extract of the chronicle and then add to this via subsequent discussion and teacher guided thinking towards not only WHAT it says by WHY this is said. It includes the use of language and how singular the message depicted is.

Building a clearer picture of the past by collating source material:

I deliberately placed this example last because it makes use of many of the examples above. It is a way in which many sources can be applied in order to build a clearer picture of the past than each snapshot in isolation.

Once again, it’s important that each source is contextualised in order to highlight both what it depicts but also how it was constructed (where relevant and possible).

Source 1 – The Great Fire of London: An Illustrated History of the Great Fire of 1666 by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis

Source 2 – Painting by unknown, produced 1675

Source 3 – Samuel Pepys’ diary (available free online)

Source 1 – Story

The joy of using this story is that it is structured to tell the story of the fire in chronological order. It taps into stories being psychologically privileged and can run effectively alongside the teaching sequence. This is more challenging in Key Stage 2 where books are often longer and it is unrealistic to deliver this approach in every unit… but where it does, it’s a good one!

The story is analysed like the source A/S chronicle above to describe what it says and how the author may have found that out (a core part of the enquiry process).

Source 2 – Painting

When looking at the painting, start by ensuring the children understand it is a valuable source of evidence because there is so much depicted within it. Looking carefully is a must and often needs to be explicitly taught. It could be broken into different frames by using a grid overlay or another approach. I tend to do this in two stages:

First, let the children look and enjoy it! What can they see happening? Listen out for children naturally linking to the story they have encountered so far and any other relevant links. If that doesn’t happen, prompt the children to make comparisons and connections. They are, after all, trying to build a firmer sense of what happened during the fire by using two sources of evidence.  

Source 3 – Pepys’ diary

Begin by contextualising Pepys’ diary in order to ensure children understand his writing is one example that we use (not the only one – John Evelyn offers another account). It is important the children know it was rare to be able to read and write in the 17th century as free education like today didn’t exist. Then, narrate extracts of the diary and create meaning (see Amelia Earhart timeline example).

Highlight that it is telling a similar story to the painting and the story book but in a different way. In the children’s books, they can annotate the source material and draw pictures or dramatise the depictions. The key is to ensure children are clear about how each source of evidence contributes to our understanding. Once we have the information, we can look across it to draw a more concrete perspective (as far as is possible anyway…).

A pinch of salt:

Every school is different and has different expectations as to what is recorded, how it is recorded etc. These suggestions are ones I make use of and can be adapted to other units. Please remember the early paragraphs as activities in isolation aren’t inherently going to add huge amounts.

I’ve endeavoured to be as clear as possible with the ideas BUT it’s easier said than done. Please do drop me an email with questions OR tell me how the ideas went for you!  

Activities aren’t tasks in isolation. Make sure they add to children’s understanding and are connected to the wider narrative to be encountered. What will they learn is, and should always be, central to thinking about activities.

Relevant CPD and Resources:

I don’t write these blogs as a sales pitch so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. The ideas I have used are ones from my units of work and CPD sessions for obvious reasons. If you would like to see those sessions or resources in their entirety, you can on the links below BUT I have added the relevant context to the blog so this isn’t something you need to do (apart from the unit of work model outlined at the start).
Mr T does Primary History by Stuart Tiffany

Building a Great Unit of History

Teaching Chronology from EYFS to Year 6

Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to Iron Age Unit of Work

The Anglo-Saxon and Viking Struggle for the Kingdom of England Unit of Work

[i] Retrieval Practice: Primary A guide for primary teachers and leaders by Kate Jones, John Catt – P22

[ii] (this is free to download from the HA website… I WOULD DO THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY!)

[iii] Emma Turner – dynamic deputies podcast –

[iv] Why Don’t Students Like School? By Daniel Willingham, Jossey-Bass, P61



[vii] Simplicitus: The Interconnected Primary Curriculum & Effective Subject Leadership by Emma Turner, John Catt PP73-75

[viii] Organise ideas: Thinking by Hand, Extending the Mind by Oliver Caviglioli and David Goodwin, John Cattm, P28

[ix] Why Don’t Students Like School? By Daniel Willingham, Jossey-Bass, P69

[x] Botheredness®: Stories, stance and pedagogy by Hywel Roberts, Independent Thinking Press

[xi] ‘What time does the tune start?: From thinking about “sense of period” to modelling history at Key Stage 3’. Teaching History, 135: 50–7



There have been a number of teachers asking on social media about what to do for their next history topic. I thought I’d collate some ideas I tend to suggest and some choices I tend to avoid. In no way shape or form is this an attempt to denigrate those that approach history differently so please see this as one of many possible guides – there is no singular way to teach history.

The sequence of thinking I tend to work through when planning a new sequence. The * steps are ones that may or may not be possible, workable depending on school context.

First, panic! Then, focus on deliberate choices to be made! A scattergun approach leads to isolated episodes and less of a coherent sequence.

What does my school’s LTP say? Many schools have spent enormous amounts of time developing their curriculum over the previous few years and it is more prescribed than once was the case. If there is existing planning in place, read it through and consider what it emphasises and the knowledge to be taught. At this stage, resist the urge to focus in on activities. Let’s first emphasise what the children will learn.

What does the National Curriculum say? Read the objective carefully then read it again. What is the nuanced detail? This is key because most objectives offer a clearer starting point than we may imagine. My response to this twitter post followed this line of thinking. NB – check existing planning fulfils this NC specification. It’s important either way!

The wider NC document is something to read when planning. The wider document offers support in terms of the breadth of what is to be covered. The paragraph below is above the bullet point and includes the range of processes and skills children should encounter, develop as they progress through the Key Stage.

Read around to get a feel for the nature of what life was like at the time or what could be learned. BBC Bitesize (KS3 and GCSE are often helpful for teacher knowledge), BBC history, Michael Tidd’s history cheat sheets, Historical Association website including magazine etc. The purpose here isn’t to specify exactly what will be emphasised yet but rather to dip a toe into possibilities. Often, things have caught my attention at this stage and something I’ve developed further when constructing subsequent enquiries or as sources of evidence within one stage of an enquiry.

Construct an enquiry question. This is a historically valid question which guides a sequence of lessons with a clear focus on adding lots of knowledge in order to be able to genuinely answer the question at the end. In addition, it will emphasise the discipline of history so lessons include an aspect of thinking or working like a historian (aims 4 and 5 of the National Curriculum).[i]

For the topic on toys, I’d start with:
a) How have toys changed in the last century?
b) What do those changes tell us about the way people live?

Here, enquiry a is going to be longer than b. It will do more of the heavy lifting in terms of knowledge acquisition. B focuses on drawing conclusions and adding breadth to what enquiry A has done.

For more information on this, download the Historical Association’s enquiry toolkit which is free access with website signup (no payment needed).

This is useful because it enables teachers to distinguish between core knowledge and that which adds little value. Everything children will learn adds value to enquiry a, b or both.

Presenting what is to be learned on a relevant timeline. I’ve written on chronology a number of times, which can be found here on my blog and teachwire. There are a number of explanatory videos on my Youtube channel too.

Have the children encountered these concepts or ideas before?* It’s important to think about the knowledge children will arrive with based on the taught curriculum from EYFS etc. This will be broadened by experiences some children will have from home but this can’t be guaranteed for many.

Now, think about which toys are going to be studied. The enquiry question mentions change but implied is studying some which remain relatively unchanged since they were first launched. A mixture is important so as not to misrepresent the past. I’d personally choose toys that will capture the interest of children and that they can interact with.

My choices:
– teddy bears/dolls
– construction toys like lego
– computer game consoles

The risk here could be to overload the children with too many options. This could so easily make it harder for them to spend sufficient time learning about the story of each of the toys and reduce the likelihood of them remembering more of the substantive knowledge about them.

Substantive knowledge – Ofsted defined this as “their knowledge about the past” in the recent research review[ii]. This is where teachers must make choices! Define the knowledge you want children to know and remember from this unit of history.

How will they learn it? Now the knowledge is clear, think about how the children will acquire it. For KS1, the children may still be based predominantly in areas of provision which impacts the nature of the task. At the end of each stage of the enquiry, bring the children together and ask them what they have learned in relation to the enquiry question. It’s what the knowledge is going to be hung onto. Be careful though, focus on what has been learned and not on what they did.

I call these summaries of learning and find them useful as a formative assessment tool. Children may discuss them collaboratively and produced a word or sentence level answer. This could be spoken or written as either medium is totally valid. A summary picture is a useful cue for further conversation…

What conclusions will they draw? Once again, the role of the enquiry question(s) is key. The children should, to quote the NC2014, “use a wide vocabulary of everyday historical terms. They should ask and answer questions, choosing and using parts of stories and other sources to show that they know and understand key features of events.” To me, this is not an over-scaffolded essay which essentially recites everything the child has learned. Rather, a carefully considered selection of evidence that illustrates the point with a clear conclusion.

In the particular toys enquiry, it could be something like this for enquiry a:

Some toys have changed a lot in the last century and some have not. Computer games were only invented in 1972 when my Grandad was a boy and have changed a lot since then. Other toys have not changed much at all. I have a teddy and it looks the same as the first one.

This highlights the child has learned there are examples of continuities and changes. As a source of evidence for teaching, the child has chosen relevant examples and used them carefully. This could be built on for enquiry b by focusing on examples which reveal technological and societal changes.

The example I have in mind is changes in computer games consoles. The child could compare the quality of the technology by thinking about the graphics, range of actions etc. In a societal sense, they could look at the number of people who have access to them now compared to when they were first launched. A caveat though – be mindful of children’s home experiences as some children may have access to very little and focusing on this is not a pleasant experience for them.

This is an introductory guide that I put together for newer teachers. The structure hopefully guides them in thinking about a sequence of thinking. In no way, shape or form, is this a definitive list (see below) of implications that can affect what is chosen to be taught. Any questions, please do drop me a tweet, Facebook message or email and I’ll happily chat further.

What I didn’t include but would think about as a more experienced teacher:

  1. Which substantive concepts are run through the curriculum.
  2. Is this a diverse and representative unit of work that shows a range of stories and experiences (think ethnicity, social class, gender roles, disability, LGBT etc).
  3. Inter-disciplinary links I can make that add valuable hinterland breadth to the children’s understanding.
  4. How specific sources of evidence can act as a core depth study within an overall enquiry.



This probably won’t surprise you but history is my favourite subject! I love it for so many reasons which is why I do this for a living. It’s why I love(d) leading it across a number of schools; why I’ll always be a passionate advocate for it being so much more than just an agreed sequence of facts to learn. In history, it is rare to say something is universally agreed and/or objectively true which is why it can be a challenge to lead in an ever-changing world. As emerging historians, the children must learn not only the nature of the past but also the rigorous process by which claims are constructed, argued and developed by those looking back at what already happened. A reason why I believe it’s so key to learn about the past is that it helps the children begin to understand why aspects of the world around them exist as they do but also individuals, events etc that shaped them for the good, bad or ‘ugly’ reasons.

My aim across this two-part blog is to hopefully provide some clarity and thoughts on how to begin your journey as a history subject lead. As with anything history related, there is no singular pathway from novice so see this as a possible plan. It is the one I tend to use when thinking about history but am always open to other approaches and ideas.  

The Curriculum

When you first read the National Curriculum for history 2014, it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by what it says but what it doesn’t say. When it was first launched, Alf Wilkinson of the Historical Association described the changes and what it offers history leaders[i]. It’s important to remember that it is NOT a complete curriculum but rather provides a framework that schools can use as a start point. See the curriculum as a minimum expectation of what must be included and not an ambition to aspire toward.

Before you go any further, please make sure you’ve read all of it as each element offers something different. Teachers have huge workloads so part of the role to develop as a subject leader is to provide that overall understanding of the big picture and vision for the subject – this takes time so don’t worry if it seems like a mountain to climb at the start! Below is a very brief summary of what each part includes:

Purpose of StudyThis paragraph is the ultimate end point for the curriculum. It is identical for Key Stage 1, 2 and 3. It sets out what children should be able to do by the end of it so every time children learn about history, it should contribute to this ambition.  
AimsThere are 6 aims for the NC (6 is on the top of page 2 and easily missed). Each of them adds to depth to what the children should know, gain or understand. It’s easy to try and use these as a tick box that should be met in every unit but this would miss the point.  
1) The role of chronology in the curriculum.
2) What to select when teaching world history.
3) Teaching vocabulary/abstract concepts to ensure they are understood for that historical period.[ii]
4) Second-order concepts for history which are used to frame conclusions and historicise knowledge. They set the way in which knowledge is analysed, discussed, and debated etc.
5) Understand how we learn about the past through historical enquiry. It is a process which is used to analyse the available evidence about the past to construct claims.
6) The breadth of the curriculum to be taught and ensuring connections are made between branches of history and across periods of time. In particular, connecting local history to the region, nation and beyond; the types of history that can be stressed (social, military etc) and the importance of understanding short and long-term timescales.
Attainment targetsOne sentence, which at first glance looks less than helpful. However, it sets out the importance of having a clearly defined curriculum for both skills and knowledge. There isn’t a pre-determined list of what must be taught where – that’s for schools to decide upon. It is in line with the idea that the curriculum itself is the progression model.[iii]
Subject ContentBroken into two sections:
a) Processes which should be embedded across every unit of history where they are relevant. This works in conjunction with the above-mentioned curriculum areas.
b) Individual bullet points. This is the section teachers most often consider when planning but take some time to think about the nature of the statement itself. They aren’t just a study of the Great Fire of London or the Romans in Britain.

Most offer more guidance about where to add greater emphasis in terms of teaching time. 

Ask yourself:

  • Is your curriculum facilitating all of this? (Don’t feel you need to know this after one read through as I’ve broken it down into a number of stages you may wish to consider.)

Does your predecessor still work there?

In my mind, I have fingers crossed that they do… it would make things so much simpler if you can have a handover meeting with them and begin to understand what is in place. Think carefully about what would be important to know about their role (three suggestions below) and what their vision would have been should they have continued to develop it further.

However, it isn’t the end of the world if they have left or the meeting can’t take place. Take time to read what the schools’ curriculum includes. Knowing what has been done so far will help make sense of the curriculum as it currently stands.

Questions to ask:

  • What has been done so far in terms of curriculum sequencing?
  • Have there been any developments as a focus?
  • What plans did they have in place for where next?
  • Does anything have a particular emphasis across the curriculum?

Reviewing what is currently in place?

Once you feel that you have a greater sense of clarity over what the NC14 includes, start to reflect on the current curriculum provision. I’d always suggest looking at this in a number of ways to ensure you have covered not only the required subject content but also the underlying intentions of the PoS and Aims. The way in which you do this is, of course, based upon your experience of subject leadership but also confidence with the discipline of history. The list could be done in a day, across a half-term or progressively throughout the year:

  1. Are you meeting the subject content bullet points?
  2. Does the sequence look logical (see endnote for more detailed explanation of what this could look like[iv])?
  3. In how much depth is your curriculum defined and is it clearly prescribed enough to ensure subsequent teachers know what they are building on[v]?
  4. Is it a representative curriculum for your school in terms of diversity and role models?

Do you have plans in mind?

If you’re anything like I was as a new subject leader, I dived in like Scrooge McDuck (Google it if you’re too young to remember). I had so many ideas without a clear picture of what it would mean across the school. It meant I was charging around like a headless chicken, trying to get everyone as keen and excited as me – unsurprisingly, it didn’t work! That’s why the first parts to this blog look at what’s currently in place. I definitely fell into that trap! Being excited and energetic is great… being purposeful and taking people with you is infinitely better!

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want your curriculum to say about your school?
  • What does the school ethos and values add to how, what and why we make certain choices?
  • What do you believe in as a teacher and how can that intertwine with school ethos?
  • What is the school pedagogy and is there an agreed approach?

This isn’t complete! This is part 1 of 2 but I wanted to get it up quickly to give people a useful starting point… hopefully. If you have any questions or requests for part 2, please tweet, message or email me so I can try and build them into it with a Q and A section.

Part 2:

The list below is my current outline in a very rough and early form. The final version may be somewhat different.

  • What is the purpose of teaching history?
  • The discipline of history.
  • Where to look for support?
  • Order of operations?
  • What next?




[iv] When we talk about logical sequencing, there are many possible thought processes to consider. Think about the age of the children, prior experiences and the complexity of what is to be taught – can they actually comprehend WHAT is being taught in sufficient depth to avoid trivialising it. Content does not have to be taught in chronological order but do consider how children will build on what is learned based on what they learn next. Why this? Why now? In a nutshell.

[v] This is where the PoS and Aims are useful to scaffold the nature of what is going to be taught. Is it broad and ambitious as Tim Jenner (OFSTED HMI for history asked in his 2021 HA keynote talk)?

As you may or may not know, I’m quite nerdy about timelines! This is the third piece on chronology that I’ve produced so do take a look at the others because they cover different ground to this one. Displaying a timeline in your classroom would seem to have some obvious benefits such as exposing children to the big picture of history; then setting out the narrative of what is to be taught for the internal narratives. However, children aren’t going to understand and embrace the complexity and nuance of historical narratives without explicit teaching. An analogy I often use when working with teachers is can you imagine counting in 3’s once and saying, “we’ve done it once so you’ve got it!” That would be the dream wouldn’t it.

I wrote about the role chronology plays in the curriculum in my previous blogs on Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 so shan’t be going over that again here more than a summary. First, chronology is a key concept within the NC2014 in part because of Ofsted’s report History for All, 2011. Second, it is described extensively across each key stage. Please make sure you’re aware of that and consider the role your teaching plays in its continued development.   

After getting to a stage where I was happy with how timelines looked, my focus has shifted more toward how we can teach chronology explicitly to ensure children can see the timeline as more than just a sequence of events they were going to be taught about. Willingham’s point that ‘memory is the residue of thought’[i] comes front and centre. Children need to think about the meaning… the implications… the importance of what they are taught – our role as a teacher is not just to scaffold the construction of timelines but rather to ensure that we are the narrator to the historical narrative. Can you imagine a story without a narrator? No, me either…

I broke this down in my May 2022 HA conference talk in Bristol. This is just a summary to provoke thought processes and pose questions for teachers to consider within their own classroom settings. Before diving in any further, it’s important to consider the following points for your own school:

  1. What do the children already know in a chronological sense?
  2. Do they have the mathematical underpinning needed to access the timeline you wish to use?
  3. Is this an overview of a long arc of time or depth study?
  4. Are we focusing in on any aspects in particular (military, political etc)?

All of those points help to focus attention on how the timeline will be constructed and then narrated. Considering them carefully before starting makes the implementation simpler. In Oliver Lovell’s book on CLT in action, he writes ‘working memory is the bottleneck of our thinking’[ii] and the implication for teaching timeline is not to overload it. From this I created some principles which I adhere to:

  1. Visual simplicity
    The logic here is that the simpler an activity or model is to navigate, the easier it is for the children to successfully construct and more importantly, navigate the timeline. The more complex it is as a visual, the harder this becomes. Tom Sherrington’s piece on a model for learning has influenced my thinking on this including the excellent images by Oliver Caviglioli.

  2. Mathematically underpinned
    Chronology is mathematically underpinned in so many regards and therefore we can make our timelines more precise with a mathematical scale. This is key to unlocking the fact that timelines do not depict a complete linear sequence. Rather, they contain selected parts of that period we are choosing to focus on. The scale highlights the varied intervals between events which form part of the teaching sequence when we narrate the timeline post-construction. Children can struggle with the place value knowledge needed to understand what 1666 refers to for the Great Fire of London in Year 1/2 or the fact that there is almost a century between Julius Caesar’s invasions of Britain and the successful conquest by Claudius. The teacher constructing an accurate timeline allows children to identify the varied intervals because the physical gap between them varies.

    This is also key when describing timelines using chronological language: a decade is ten years, a century is a hundred years, etc. A quick reminder, there is no year 0 in history – 1BC to AD1!

  3. Both types are used consistently alongside maps
    I use the terms overall and internal narratives to describe the different types of timeline. They were included in my previous blogs on chronology so do look at the differences.

  4. Key concepts are stressed and built on
    Over time, I have refined the names of the chronological concepts I embed through my teaching and resources. They are not listed in the curriculum but allow me to explicitly teach what is happening or being depicted. Chronology is more complex than an arbitrary sequence. By considering scales, intervals and duration, concurrence and interactions between groups, the richness of history is easier to put across. I produced short YouTube videos on these which can be found here.

  5. Narrate, interpret and link after it’s constructed
    First, we build the timeline and then we make use of it. As mentioned in Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, ‘present new material in small steps with student practice after each step.’ [iii] This is important as constructing a timeline is a multi-step process as I suggest in the previous paragraph. I have multiple groups producing timelines in chronology lessons; they have clear instructions to guide what they are doing. In addition, while constructing timelines, I provide a completed example as a model and scaffold to provide a greater chance of success (they are free to check it as they please or I can guide them to use it if I identify it would be beneficial).

    Narration and linking, this is key! If you construct a timeline but don’t use it for any great reason… have you actually done any history? Possibly, but it’s more likely the children have practised their ordering of 2, 3 and 4-digit numbers.

    When teaching chronology, narration and linking is what should be prioritised if time is limited. Understanding the narrative of what is to be learned adds meaning and purpose to the timeline. Willingham’s observation that I used before is why this is key. Mary Myatt talks about using stories and high-quality texts in the curriculum[iv]. I agree wholeheartedly as they add richness to the knowledge contained within the timeline. However, let’s use the language of story and narrative to make the children ‘bothered’ about the curriculum as Hywell Roberts would say.

    There are several ways this can be done effectively. Susan Townsend of Roehampton University showcased several at the HA conference I mentioned, that captured my interest based on how we can interact with timelines. I am not doing them justice but the example below gives a flavour. Use a human timeline where everyone holds a picture of something pertinent. The teacher can say step forward if your picture shows… power, culture, religion, etc. so simple and so clever. Making connections across periods of history is both powerful and specified as part of the KS2 curriculum – using a purposeful timeline supports this!


Please don’t see this as a complete guide on how to teach chronology – it’s more than this blog could ever provide. Hopefully it’s started your own thinking on how you can refine your chronology teaching to add clarity of thought and purpose.

Once you have that, think about what’s next. First, make sure there is a timeline displayed throughout the topic that you can refer to and add depth to. If possible, have maps to highlight the interdisciplinary links between history and geography – where AND when did these things happen? How did the geography play a role in events and developments… it invariably did and still does in events today.

Don’t presume children will read the information on timelines unless you explicitly direct them to it. Many teachers don’t when I deliver CPD as specific instructions matter. That’s why small steps under direct instruction is my go to approach – it is efficient and supports success.

What interests me now is how timelines look across schools and the varied ways in which teachers use them! Drop me an email or message about how you use them because I’d genuinely love to know.

[i] Daniel T. Willingham – Why Don’t Students Like School PP60-62

[ii] Oliver Lovell – Sweller’s cognitive load theory in action P19



Key Stage 1 Chronology Display Blog

This blog should ideally be read in conjunction with the Key Stage 2 post which can be found here. The purpose of this post is to ensure that children reach the end of Key Stage 1 ready to build on their chronological understanding in Year 3.


The new EYFS framework which comes into effect in September has a strong emphasis on the subject discipline of history. The ELG: Past and Present (P14) emphasises the beginnings of chronological understanding by ‘Know[ing] some similarities and differences between things in the past and now,’ and ‘Understand the past through settings, characters and events encountered in books read in class and storytelling.’. On a personal level, this would bring in line the curriculum approach with that of KS1 and 2.

If we spend time reading the Key Stage 1 element of the National Curriculum 2014 (NC), the many references to chronology should become clear. It can be broken down into two sections:

· An awareness of the past, using everyday vocabulary

· Chronological position (framework)

These are both fundamental and should be evident every time history is taught. The main focus of this particular blog is that ‘They should know where the people and events they study fit within a chronological framework and identify similarities and differences between ways of life in different periods.’ from the KS1 subject content paragraph. But please remember that this should be done in conjunction with the development of vocabulary to show the passing of time.

Key Stage 1 Objectives:

Here is an annotated screenshot of the subject content for KS1. All of the content which is explicit chronology or chronologically underpinned is underlined. What stands out?

Hopefully what’s clear is the way in which chronology underpins every aspect of the knowledge that we teach. In terms of using a central chronology display, there are a number of key ways this would support the development and then application of a greater chronological understanding.

What to Include:

Let’s begin with the obvious. Every suggestion is space dependent! With that in mind, there are two branches of chronology to consider:

1) the overall narrative (framework as the curriculum names it).

2) the internal narrative being studied in depth during a particular topic.

After positing on social media about this blog, I had a couple of people send through their examples. The first, from @Suchmo83 on twitter shows both examples using an expanded narrative below the overall picture.

As you can see, the link is established as to how the scale changes and there is a distinction between single events and duration. This is exactly the way in which I represent it – we both agree consistency of approach is key! He is writing a blog on this which I will link when it goes live. The coloured, numbered key relates to explanation below.

The question around using a numbered scale is an interesting one. If we use the curriculum specification, then ‘common words and phrases’ and ‘chronological framework’ are specified which would imply that no numbered scale is needed. In addition, children’s knowledge and understanding of place value in maths is 100 so are we going to add confusion by insisting on a numbered scale they won’t comprehend? Whilst talking to Chris, he said that no child is expected to use the numbers in Key Stage 1 but the consistent timeline across school means they are exposed to it in Y1 and 2 before making more deliberate and precise use in KS2. My own approach to this is below:

As a personal opinion, there are pros and cons to both but simple, effective and consistent are important which is why I use a colour-coded incremental scale for the overall narrative. I also have certain features which I use in all my timelines. First, scales are explicitly explained to ensure children understand what they are representing. Second, an arrow represents a single ‘point’ in time and a bar represents a longer duration. This helps highlight change over time and turning points more effectively. Chris’ scale would achieve a similar outcome because it’s consistent and developed throughout school in incremental steps. There is a fine balance between visual simplicity and accurately representing the complex narrative of history.

Interacting and Understanding

This second example uses a timeline to reinforce the key concept of duration. Within and beyond living memory are paramount to build on the EYFS’ ELG of now and past. It’s also really useful to have it at child height so that they can interact with it independently and under explicit instruction. The pictures directly relate to what has been studied/is currently being studied.

The colour-coded school to help reinforce the narrative of past starting at today, which is labelled as now, to anchor the understanding and then looking backwards to within living memory (what can be remembered by those alive today) and beyond it.

However your timeline looks, it’s crucial that understanding is built and children have the opportunity to engage with what it means and then what it represents:

1)The scale! This helps introduce children to key concepts such as interval and duration. In addition, it highlights the link between the timeline and mathematical understanding of graphs and bar modelling. Both examples have a clear scale which allows accurate placement of the lives of significant individual or to highlight where in history the changes within living memory ‘sit’.

2)The curriculum specifies ‘They should know where the people and events they study fit within a chronological framework and identify similarities and differences between ways of life in different periods’ and by having a clear timeline setting the overall narrative, this becomes an easier task. It supports children to use everyday vocabulary such as before, after, earliest etc. This isn’t depicted on the second image as the example comes from their first history topic of the year. It will, however, be built up and added to as their knowledge base increases.

3) In EYFS and KS1, using the child’s own lives so far is a good start point to support them understanding that the past is what has already happened and they can remember a small fraction of it. That’s where the original idea for depicting living memory in image two came from including the overlap of grandparents’ living memory including the parent’s and child’s. Image 1 does the same using the child and also the history of the school which ties into their taught curriculum.

Where and when to teach it?

Setting the context is really important. Chronological understanding is built up and reinforced as part of each topic and then a way to link between them. Always begin teaching with context to introduce where and when in the past this new topic sits (that’s the overall narrative). In addition, it’s also a good place to introduce the core vocabulary using a knowledge organiser as both help to master the minimum knowledge (phrase shamelessly stolen from @MrBartlettHist’s recent teachmeet session). In addition, keep reinforcing this understanding of the internal narrative throughout. It helps to highlight the significance of a point in someone’s live, a turning point for an event or the legacy of said point.

Where next?

By the end of KS1, what do we want the children to understand about chronology? This is an initial unedited list of initial thoughts as I intend to refine and revisit when I’ve considered it in more depth:

1) Chronology is a way to understand how history ‘fits together’. We can use timelines to understand where our learning sits in the past and begin to compare it.

2) We start reading timelines from now and always work backwards into the past. Time flows from left to right.

3) The scale of history. Within living memory is a much shorter duration than beyond.

4) There is so much more history to be studied than we have learned so far.

5) Use relevant vocabulary and begin to talk about the narrative they have learned. The earliest event was the GFoL, after that was Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell etc.

What next?

In Key Stage 2, periodisation of the past to show the greater breadth of study we teach and the more precise way our scales and timelines are depicted. These are good next steps for year 3 to begin with.



Understanding and Teaching Primary History by James Percival pp34 – 53 in particular

Mastering Primary History by Karin Doull, Christopher Russell and Alison Hales

Setting the scene:

Chronology is a dominant feature of the primary National Curriculum for history (NC2014). There is a clear link from Ofsted’s report ‘History for All’ in 2011 to the NC2014 (let’s ignore the monstrosity that was draft 1 shall we!). A couple of key phrases stand out: “Although pupils in primary schools generally had good knowledge of particular topics and episodes in history, their chronological understanding and their ability to make links across the knowledge they had gained were weaker.” (p5) This, anecdotally, is something many schools that I work with say is a difficulty for their children. A recommendation from History for All was that: “…pupils in primary schools experience history as a coherent subject which develops their knowledge, thinking and understanding, especially their chronological understanding,” (p7). The influence of this is evident across the curriculum’s purpose of study, aims and subject content. If you haven’t already read them, make sure you do because they explain so much more about how we teach history and the breadth beyond toys, Romans or the Great Fire of London.

How it impacted my teaching of chronology:

Teaching it in two clear ways: the overall narrative or wider history to reinforce how the timelines fit together to form the ‘complete’ narrative. This and the internal narrative of each period of history which is more detailed and sets out the narrative to be taught across that half-term. This was influenced by the glorious work of Ian Dawson who said at the first Northern History Forum (now called the Yorkshire History Forum) to use the language of story when teaching chronology. He used the words to the effect of, “We are learning the story of the Romans. We don’t have time to learn the full story and will only get chance to look at a couple of phrases.” As I now know, this uses the same principles as Willingham showing that the human brain privileges story. The implication for my teaching is that I use narrative extensively as an idea within history… I mean, the word is right there!

Ensuring chronology is just not just a quick tick box activity completed once at the start of the topic to tick that objective off the progression of skills spreadsheet (DON’T get me started on assessment spreadsheets for primary foundation subjects). But rather a fundamental part of the teaching sequence for adding new, linking to existing and reinforcing the core knowledge associated with the enquiry question. “Chronology is a key organising tool for developing pupils’ understanding of history and as a ‘concept’ within the history curriculum.” (Phillips, 2008 cited here) From this, we can conclude that ‘chronology’ is an ongoing process in students learning of history and plays an important role in the both the teaching and learning of history. This is not something I was aware of when I started teaching.

Finally, teaching children how to interpret the timelines had to be a fundamental building block during lessons alongside the substantive knowledge which they presented. There is such a direct link to maths and therefore it was helpful to consider the presentation and complexity of the data. I’ve annotated two of the display pictures I was tagged in (with kind permission from the teachers) to explain this below.

Materials to use:

If you ever have to endure CPD from me around chronology, you’ll come to know my love of using border paper for timeline construction – it’s the perfect material and schools have it in abundance! All of the following points can be done with border paper and either on the floor for more active engagement and exploration or as a display on the wall to refer to and build on. I am absolutely aware that schools use toilet paper for the same purpose, using each sheet as an increment on the scale but, personal preference sends me to border paper.

Building the timeline:

I will always advocate for building BIIIIIIG timelines and ensuring children have chance to interact with them to fully engage with the information it presents. This blog by my great mentor in all things history (@historyprimary) sums it up. The approach mirrors the annotations of the timeline display so should hopefully help:

1) Numbered scale – by adding a numbered scale, we can make our timelines more precise, easier to construct and interpret. A common pitfall is the labelling of year 0. Because of the way we count centuries, there is no year 0 and we move from 1 BC/BCE to AD/CE 1. The clear and precise scale is a requirement for the subsequent points to work. For the majority of primary classes, I construct and label the scale so the focus is on the timeline bars and making the links between them. The exception was a Year 6 class who I had built timelines with before. They were really familiar with the process so it was a step for them to take control over. We built the timeline across the hall and used post-its labelled with centuries as markers. I always put an arrow on my scale to indicate time expands far further into the past than we could every show on a display/in a lesson. It also forms a key teaching point to ensure the enormous duration of the Palaeolithic isn’t misunderstood.

2) Periodisation, intervals and duration – We teach periods of history across Key Stage 2. This is a core concept to cover when we introduce history to Year 3. The fact that we are studying history across hundreds or potentially even millions of years makes and including the lives of a range of people, a multitude of events etc makes it a more challenging concept than in Key Stage 1. To that end, the overall narrative timeline shows simple bars to ensure the focus is on the narrative. The differing duration is simpler to identify because of the accurate scale and bar sizes (similar to a bar model/graph in maths). For British history, where the periods that we teach flow naturally, children can identify that there may be intervals between periods (end of Roman Britain in 410 AD to the alleged arrival of Hengist and Horsa in AD 450).

3) Relative position on the overall narrative – When teaching the achievements of Ancient Greece, we mainly focus on the classical period. This is a smaller part of the narrative of the history of Greece so appears with a small duration on the timeline. We can then have a second timeline with a much smaller scale to interpret that period of time with more precision and depth. The principle is that we can highlight the overall narrative before ‘zooming in’ on one smaller part. I use the phrase zooming in as the children are familiar with the action on iPads etc. If you really must, you can even have a gimmicked sound or action… not for me mind you!

4) Bars for periods or a duration of time and arrows for single events or ‘points’ – this was something that took me a couple of attempts to get right when teaching the internal narrative. I was used to building the timelines, talking about periodisation, duration and intervals but the display didn’t really represent them effectively enough. I tried arrows for start and end points but didn’t feel the connection was strong enough. As such, the arrow for points and bars for duration become my choice. It allows me to distinguish between a singular event and a change over time. This links to the accompanying disciplinary understanding of continuity and change.

For example:

– I’d mark Boudicca’s revolt in AD60 – 61 as a point (marked with an arrow) because it’s a short duration of time and, in effect, one point on the overall timeline even though it covers more than one year.

– the construction of around 8,000 miles of road would be a bar because it was a change that took place across the first 60 years or so of the period. It’s also an effective way of summarising a group of linked events. On the second example shown, it’s harder to see the duration of the First World war with two strings when it’s so close to the Treaty of Versailles being signed.

5) Link between British and world history using the scale to support – one of the most important NC2014 aims is number 6 which is located on a different page to the other 5 so could easily be missed. It states: “gain historical perspective by placing their growing knowledge into different contexts, understanding the connections between local, regional, national and international history; between cultural, economic, military, political, religious and social history; and between short- and long-term timescales.” Because of this, I always depict British and world history separately to ensure the concurrence is clear and make the connections can be established clearly. A natural boundary would be the scale and having British history above and world history below. Then, as the overall narrative is constructed, the concurrent periods can be established, discussed and any interactions considered. Although not literally related to the timeline display, having a world map established to make those links is an absolute must. The two disciplines are absolutely linked when establishing the links between British and world history.

What to include on the overall narrative?

What should I put on my overall narrative is an important question to consider? It depends on a number of variables so the decision is more nuanced than choice a or b (that’s surely the narrative of teaching history…) so this hopefully covers a range of options. For any approach, it’s important to consider how to reinforce which periods of history interacted. The way in which I show this is with an overlap. In Key Stage 2, these would be:

– The British iron age and Roman Britain period

– The Anglo-Saxon and Viking conflict

– The expansion of the Roman empire, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece

– The Viking trade contact with the Abbasid Caliphate (Early Islamic history)

A whole school chronology display – in this case, it needs to represent everything that’s taught across Key Stage 2 history. The teaching would focus on which periods of history the children are already aware of and linking them to the knew knowledge taught.

A timeline in each class (my preferred option) – here, we can limit the amount of information based on what is taught. I would suggest having the LKS2 curriculum in both Year 3 and 4 to begin to build the narrative. The complete curriculum would be displayed in UKS2. The teaching in Year 3 would focus on establishing what a period of history is and how they form a narrative. Making links between what was taught in Year 3 and the continued narrative in 4. My logic here is based upon the fact that only having two history periods taught would result in a largely empty timeline and therefore harder to introduce the concept of periodisation and how the periods form the narrative. Year 4 could then add further depth and ensure links are established and reinforced. I would also consider what information must be presented on the overall narrative so as to reduce the unnecessary cognitive load on children. On the overall narrative, my preference is just the periods of history.

What to include on the internal narrative?

The purpose of my timelines of the internal narrative is to set out the context of what is to be taught during the subsequent enquiry/enquiries. It is representing a much smaller duration of time than the overall narrative and can be more detailed to show specific events, people etc. Using the timeline as an organisational tool helps to make those important links because the information is presented in context.

Once again, the key people, events and changes to be taught are what I would place on the timeline. If you aren’t teaching about something, why is it on your timeline? I’ve included a screenshot of a PPT example where all of the content ties directly to the taught lessons in history or the wider curriculum. The visual depiction allows me to break the Roman Britain period into three phases. First, the actual invasions, conquest and gaining control (although there were rebellions and raids throughout the period). Then, during the consolidation of control with Hadrian’s Wall being built alongside villas etc being built. Finally, post 250AD, the raids from the Picts et al was a feature of the weakening grip Rome had on its empire at large.

The chronology display as part of the teaching sequence

Every time a lesson is taught, the position on the internal narrative is reinforced and linked to what the children already know. If there’s a substantive link between this and a previous period studied, this can explored using the overall narrative timeline. If your school uses a working wall approach to displays, greater depth of information can be added with annotated pieces of work, collaborative tasks etc.

Hopefully what came from this blog is an urge to teach more chronology! – Teach it explicitly at the start of topics, reinforce the overall narrative and where the new period sits.

– Add introductory context by constructing the internal narrative. Be mindful to put key facts on and not overdo it!

– Reinforce the internal narrative throughout each topic and make links where appropriate.

– The importance with teaching history with a sense of narrative. The overall narrative to show how the periods of history we teach fit together, flow concurrently and how civilisations interacted with each other.

– Understanding the composite parts of a timeline so it’s more than just a random sequence with no context.



Understanding and Teaching Primary History by James Percival pp34 – 53 in particular

Mastering Primary History by Karin Doull, Christopher Russell and Alison Hales


This topic is taught to my Year 3 class and is the second history topic of the year, which follows on from the Stone Age to Iron Age topic that I wrote a blog about before Christmas. In English, we used the Leopard in the Golden Cage by Julia Edwards as it is set in Roman Britain around Fishbourne Palace and is a great narrative with some wonderfully accurate details.

Connecting the Historical Narrative:

I deliberately stressed the concept of narrative in British history to help children understand the fact that the British history we teach is a narrative using the ideas of Ian Dawson. This is a summary of the lesson below:

I’ve begun to term this kind of lesson a bridging lesson where the principle is to ensure children understand how history crosses from the Iron Age into the Roman period.

Sequence of Lessons:

1) Bridging the chronology of British history and reinforce periodisation and duration that was taught in the previous unit of work.

2) Celtic reaction to the invasion and the consequences of those choices using Boudicca and Cartimandua as key individuals.

3) Roman achievements (roads, towns and sanitation in particular) using the same criteria for significance each time and evidence gathering systems to allow comparisons to be made between them.

4) A depth study on York as a significant settlement in Roman Britain.

5) The wider Roman Empire including how it spread, contracted etc and a way for children to understand the local, national and world picture of history at this time. Timemaps and this video really helped children understand the scale of change over time – I narrated key changes and reinforced the use of the colours as to the changing face of the Empire.

Key Knowledge and Concepts:

The best place to look for the key knowledge is the overall curriculum statement from the NC 2014. The statutory statement must be the driving force behind the curriculum and the statements in the box below are for guidance only.

Over this topic, the key knowledge children will be coming away with is:

1) The narrative of British history and how this topic builds on what they know already.

2) The concept of migration of people as an invasion compared with the nomadic lifestyle in prehistory.

3) How the Romans changed and ‘improved’ Britain including the legacy that we can still see today.

4) The expansion of the Roman Empire and that it included multiple modern countries then the contraction.

Concepts being covered have been broken into two separate groups: Disciplinary Concepts and Themes which are used to link topics together.

Disciplinary Concepts:

Enquiry Approach – the learning focuses on how the Romans changed Britain and the legacy that we can see today.

Cause and Consequence – how the different Celtic tribes reacted to Roman invasion and the consequences of those choices.

Significance – which of the Roman achievements in Britain had the most significant impact on people at the time.

Evidence – throughout the topic, the children use a range of sources to learn from and combine the findings including archaeology, primary source material from Tacitus, and a range of secondary sources.


Migration and Movement of People – this is a comparison between the nomadic life of people in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic and what an invasion is. The children also began to consider aspects of life such as trade.

Culture – as part of the depth study into Roman York, children learned about the alleged gladiator graveyard and bathhouse mentioned in the class text.

These are my ideas for the teaching of the Romans and is by no means the only option! Remember, there is no right and wrong answer to this topic – it’s important to deliberately stress concepts and vocabulary so ensure that what is taught is thought through as to how it meets with the aim of the overall enquiry.

I’d love to know your thoughts!

Before the topic begins:

It’s really important to consider what the children’s experience of history is from their previous topics in school and what they may have seen beyond. Once I have that in mind, I can adapt my plans to suit.

For my own work (year 3), I know they’ve learned about:

– remembrance and the story of the poppy (Moina Michael) and the local memorial

– aspects of knowledge related to Black History Month

– castles using Skipton castle as a central focus

So, in the first couple of lessons I’ll be focusing on chronology to build up an overview and establish the use of certain terms:

– what a period of history is

– what BC means and how it is structured (larger number = further in the past)

– the names of those periods and their duration and position in terms of children’s previous knowledge

The next steps:

1) Exploring the life and some of the achievements in each period

2) Identifying how we know about this period of history given the limited evidence base

3) Ensure key knowledge is displayed and referred to consistently

4) Vocabulary is selected carefully for relevance, defined and applied

Skara Brae

Key knowledge and vocabulary to include:

Once the structure of the topic is clear, we need to focus on the end points of what the children will have learned through the topic. I’ve begun to map them out like this to make it rally clear and act as a focus for staff during lessons.

This is part of a PPT for a CPD session throughout school but the design is something I use.

Each of these piece of knowledge and vocabulary will be focused on in lessons and reinforced to embed. The knowledge either links to the wider history curriculum such as the mentions to beginning of the narrative of British history and concepts such as trade and society. The aim of this is to guide the learning and act as an anchor point to standardise learning should teachers change year groups or be new to school.

The vocabulary will be reinforced in each lesson and displayed. The aim being to promote its use in the correct context and rewards given for children attempting to use it in their oral or written work. It will also be used on the working wall with word mats for those that need prompts in front of them.

Lesson 1

LO To understand the periodisation of history

This is one of the most fundamental changes from history in Key Stage 1 to 2. The children move from learning about individual events, the duration of people’s lives and key dates and other occasions marked (remembrance or Black History Month). To this end, if we don’t actively teach the definition of a ‘period of history’ and use it in context, the children find it really challenging to understand the structure of the narrative of the past and both how and why it’s broken into those periods. I quite often use the principle of a story book broken into chapters, which is a principle I gained from the brilliant Ian Dawson.

Throughout this lesson, the children have these terms reinforced and we actively make chronological links between their existing knowledge base to establish the comparative position of each ‘topic’ on the overall narrative structure. It also allows children to understand the difference between an event, life of a significant individual etc. This uses the progress tracker PPT linked to the picture below.

The best timeline I’ve found is available on Archaeosoup Productions website. Every child can explore each of the periods of history using either their names or colours. Following this exploration and initial discussion around what the children are familiar with, key vocabulary is introduced and the slide is shared as a handout to ensure the children used them in the lesson and could refer to them when needed – it will be used consistently throughout the entire topic.

Duration is absolutely key

Children are often very familiar with sequencing during a chronology lesson but to truly understand periodisation, duration is fundamental.

Which period is the longest?

How do you know?

Whether children are familiar with, or able to pronounce, the periods of the Stone Age, the duration stands out very clearly and the red Palaeolithic has the longest. This concept is the focus for the remainder of this lesson and can be taught by making a human timeline (use as much space as you can!) or border paper to illustrate the duration of each period of our topic in question.

Summary of the children’s learning

This is a chance for children to define their children’s learning and the knowledge and vocabulary that they’ve gained. It is built on by using the new knowledge and vocabulary gained in each lesson.

On the display board, the overall timeline narrative is placed with period labels. The work from following lessons is added to this.

Lesson 2 – The Palaeolithic

After establishing this overall narrative and the concept of periodisation, we focus on teaching period by period to reinforce this. Beginning… well at the beginning – a very good place to start!

Lesson Structure – Prediction

The children already know this has, by far, the longest duration of any period of human history and some key information about it using the period posters from my Stone Age to Iron Age pack. We are teaching this as an overview therefore choose three aspects of life to track through to learn about continuity and change/similarity and difference. They are: homes, tools and food as they are accessible to all children who have some wider knowledge of them that can be tied in.

After discussing the poster again, the children are challenged to predict what they think life would be like using labelled pictures. The aim is to ensure the children are comfortable ‘having a go’ and making theories in history. As they work, the adults question about why they have chosen to do it that way and ensure they’re focusing on the key aspects of life. It’s also a way to address misconceptions (one child asked about dinosaurs and knew they were much earlier than man but were struggling with how to explain this).

How do we learn about prehistory?

One of the objectives children need to know is how our knowledge about the past is gained and how prehistory lacks primary written sources. So, we explore the evidence base and to what extent our theories were correct and mistakes we made. The text is kept to show how and where these finds came from. This task is completed again using archaeology for tools and the children are encourage to reason how tools were made and would be used. They asked really interesting questions about how people would know which plants could be gathered safely amongst others.

The display board will contain these findings so we can draw on this to look at continuity and change and similarity and difference to ensure easy comparison and an effective reference point.

Lesson 3 and 4 – The Mesolithic and Neolithic

This lesson focuses on creating clear links between the periods of prehistory to explore the concept of continuity and change. The children explored each of the examples of tools and were guided to look closely at how the tools had stayed the same but also changed through periods.

In the lesson, we used specifically British tools and mapped where they were found, but these below are rights free examples.

The children were able to identify the increased diversity in the Mesolithic and how the tools had become ‘smoother’ in the Neolithic. Because this is an overview topic, we don’t have time to study specific traits in depth but rather we focus on a number of key changes that impacted people’s lives. This task was repeated with the ‘homes’ that the people lived in. Alongside the children’s written work, we use the BBC teach videos (free on Youtube) to support further understanding and to give additional examples of how life changed through the periods and to prompt them to try and make additional links.

The discussion focused on how the changes would impact on people’s lives and whether they would improve them or not. We then thought about significance and which change that we looked at was the most significant for human history. To do this, we emphasised the idea of: without…, what wouldn’t we have/be able to do?

The conclusion to this part of the lesson was an answer to the following question:

Which period of the Stone Age would you rather live in and why?

As part of this, the emphasis is on the children’s ability to use evidence and explain their thinking using the knowledge they have gained. In addition, they can ask further questions that they’d like to find the answer to that would help them better answer the question.

Lesson 5 and 6

The final focus for the topic was significance and what makes Star Carr significant. We recapped on what and how we can learn from the archaeological sites and findings that have been made on them. This reinforced the ideas of how we can learn about the past and use questions to further our understanding.

Next, we move on to the Bronze and Iron Age to tie in our next topic on the Roman invasion, conquest and impact on Britain.

This is an update on the previous blog on this subject, which can be seen at this link, and aims to work alongside it. Someone said to me a few years ago my child doesn’t like writing but loves history – making them write will turn them away from history as well. My approach is still the same: keep history at the absolute forefront and use it as a vehicle to include appropriate pieces of writing with a clear purpose and aim.

The New Inspection Framework

The new framework’s clear intention is to put curriculum at the forefront of our minds. What we choose to teach is now crucial and what we record is also really significant as a record of what we have done. In a recent conference session led by OFSTED that I attended, they were critical of cross-curricular activities that don’t show subject progress. Does this mean we cant do them? Not at all! Cross-curricular links are really valuable but it is worth considering what they achieve. It’s also useful to remind ourselves that the books children write in will be one of the main evidence sources viewed so some great quality written work would really demonstrate what our curriculum is offering.

Framework available to view here:

Including Writing but Keeping the Fun

Writing in history needn’t be an onerous task not should it take up the vast majority of every lesson. By carefully selecting those opportunities, we can ensure they add value, meaning and fun to our curriculum.

How can we achieve this?

The Tiers of Language explained in the cake image have really clear applications to history and allowing the children to understand how to write in a number of different styles appropriately. Tier II is the academic style of writing that becomes increasingly more important as we move up through school and Tier III is their use of historical terminology and evidence. These does not in any way, shape or form have to be an extended piece of writing but it does give children a freedom to express their thinking clearly and really ‘show off’ what they’ve learned and understood.

Bringing Words to Life – Beck, Mckeown and Kucan (2002)

In writing, the children learn to use and apply what they have learned throughout the lesson and explain in the same way they’d be expected to in a reasoning lesson or as part of a comprehension.

It’s also really crucial to have a range of ways that children can write about their learning in lessons (as I’m sure we all know). These can take the form of short summaries of lessons through to more in depth explanations, arguments and debates. I always focus on putting more emphasis on how the children use their historical knowledge than their correct use of subordinating conjunctions, passive voice … I could go on. The aim is very definitely to keep history in the forefront of their minds and the attempt to include more complex writing skills is celebrated (accurate or not!).

Incorporating Skills

Any number of English skills can be applied into historical writing with some thought and consideration. Always begin by teaching these skills independently of history lessons to ensure experience and the beginnings of fluent application. Once they have this foundation, we can extend this by linking the writing tasks to the academic style mentioned in the tiers of language. By making clear reference to the formal and academic style, we can tie in a range of SPaG skills. I tend to make use of the following very consciously:

  • Reasoning, justification and explanation linked in to use of conjunctions This works at various parts of the lesson and focuses the children’s mind as to which part of a source or which piece of evidence will best help them answer the question. Reminding how each conjunction is used and then checking accuracy makes it clear why SPaG is important and how it enhances their work. This really fits well with historical concepts such as significance, cause and effect, continuity and change … I could go on!
  • Summarising knowledge At the end of a lesson, a quick summary about what has been learned creates clear use for a range of sentence types whilst focusing in on the application of the most important knowledge gained in the lesson.
  • Those mentioned in the previous blog on this website (link at the top of this page).

Scaffolding and Stretching

The classroom environment is important as it will be full of the scaffolds that children need: word mats, working walls… etc but it’s far more important for them to focus on the history knowledge. Cloze procedures, sentence starters modelling the required English skills and notes from the lesson recorded centrally on the board or sugar paper.

Stretching the more able historians is an interesting and challenging task especially when, in the vast majority of cases, the lesson has been the same for all. It’s really important for the more able to have the chance to study an additional source of a different kind (image, archaeology, primary written source); a source that offers a greater depth of knowledge or the chance to complete further research to answer their own questions. Once they have been exposed to a greater depth of knowledge, they have the knowledge base from which to combine source and produce more developed explanations and justifications.

English or History?

It’s important that we ensure that the focus of marking and any assessment is of the history element of any work completed. In their phase 3 research, OFSTED pointed out the worrying case that ‘There were also several instances when progression in foundation subjects was not secure because pupils’ outcomes were assessed against writing criteria. In other words, the subject-specific knowledge that was intended to be taught was lost among generic writing criteria. Some foundation leaders also reported that senior leaders promoted this and that written outcomes in history and geography were vehicles to successful writing assessments.’ Although this blog focuses on integrating writing, it’s vital that history and its subject discipline skills are the clear focus.

Source here P35

Some final thoughts

This is by no means an exhaustive list or the finished product! I’ve just started adding in motivational elements such as bingo cards to include certain writing skills and use of historical concepts and knowledge.

I’m also looking to actively explore how I can broaden the use in enquiry lessons using scaffolding for knowledge and skills.

Multiple sources of evidence and how to report common evidence, contrasting evidence etc.

Lots of ideas and very interested to hear your thoughts!

Where did this start?

The original idea for this came when I was teaching in Year 6 in 2016-17. We were reviewing the KS2 TAF for writing and really wanted to push writing across the curriculum and I focused on how this could be applied into history effectively, independently and (more importantly) not sucking the fun out of the topics.

To this end, we came up with the guiding principle of ‘logical links’ to ensure that children saw history/historical knowledge/second order concepts etc was the priority and embedding the children’s writing was a secondary consideration. This ran across the whole curriculum.

In May of that year, I presented the findings to a select (small) group of delegates at the Historical Association Conference in Manchester and then, later, at the Yorkshire History Forum. The ideas make use of what’s in the classroom already and get the children into good habits (most of which I’d like to think are common sense).

What are some of the logical links?

Chronological adverbials

If you’ve ever attended one of my sessions, or messaged, you’ll know how much I push forward chronology teaching at the heart of every topic! Without that, it’s just isolated facts.

Once the initial chronology has been taught, we can embed some writing into the lesson as a way of recording into books or, alternatively, as a way of helping children understand why SPaG is important to help us express our thinking.

Steps to follow:

1) Teach the timeline lesson exactly as you normally would!

2) Remind children of the meaning of chronology.

3) Depending on the year group, add in time adverbials such as then, next, after … years, to help them understand a) the linear nature of time and b) the intervals between events being sequenced.

4) To really extend this, we can think about adding in a relative clause to give additional context.

What does this produce?

There are loads of choices you can make: a practical border paper timeline with lots of notes and post-its over it to act as an example of what can be done, a written piece explaining event, dates and using adverbials to link them together.

Crossover between source work and reading content domains

This is definitely one that I’m sure teachers already do, but, may offer some new approaches on how to keep the historical element at the fore of the lesson. There any number of ways in which the two subjects can be tied together and here are a couple of approaches I tend to incorporate:

– Primary sources

What can we learn from this source?

What can we infer about the author’s feeling towards the Vikings?

What does this phrase mean?

The text in red and inside brackets is there to help children understand certain aspects without braking up the flow of the text too much.

An extract from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Modal enquiries

Enquiries are superb vehicles to apply in any number of historical and english skills. From knowledge selection to generating questions and further research. When drip feeding information, like the example below, children naturally use modal verbs to explain the degree of certainty as to if their theory is correct or not.

A source of evidence that opens up many lines of possible enquiry.

Begin with a seemingly simple question: What is it?

Why do you think this?

Use a scale of certainty to explore how certain they are focusing on use of evidence, modal verbs and

Then, allow them to ask questions to test out their thinking. I answer in one of three ways – tell them, say I don’t know if I don’t or I’m choosing not to tell you the answer because it gives too much away (it is actually a really good answer to show they’re on the right lines).

Add more context by showing different views or adding snippets of related information.

The aim is to learn about how we build up our understanding of the past using a range of sources and techniques. This works well with photos, paintings, artefacts etc and is a great way of hooking children in with a pertinent and engaging starter. Take a look at my historic photos album for more images to use in this way.

Impact of these steps?

There was a clear expectation of quality writing in every subject and the children rose the the challenge and, after a term of implementation, very few needed reminders to incorporate a range of skills, techniques and approaches into their work.

It was a natural step to make use of the classroom displays to help make use of the English skills and concepts and the children became far more fluent at incorporating them into various pieces of work.

We all know that making links between subjects and topics is really valuable and these are several ways in which SPaG skills can be used naturally in history. It also works effectively alongside the principles of the different tiers of language (see: Beck, Isabel L., McKeown, Margaret G., and Kucan, Linda, Bringing words to life, 2002)

What next?

The new focus onto curriculum, knowledge, and the broad and balanced curriculum opens up new challenges for us to work towards! How can we we keep progressing?

I’m really interested as to how you embed writing skills into history lessons and topics.

Really informative, great ideas, helpful advise and some fab resources. Thank you so much

C. Fielder, Curriculum Lead, Milton Keynes

We had a training day today; it was both fun and very inspirational. Lots of sensible and clear ideas to make History more engaging and purposeful for pupils.

A. Wells, Deputy Headteacher, Lincolnshire

I can’t recommend Mr T does Primary History enough. I am new to leading this particular subject and I left his training today feeling completely inspired. Thanks again Mr T

Louise Hill, History Subject Lead

Just purchased the Ancient Greek unit plan for 3/4 and its excellent! Certainly made my planning a lot easier! Many thanks, look forward to buying other units throughout the year!

I. Fern, Teacher

Awesome day spent with Mr T today going through our books and curriculum with a fine tooth comb. Great to know we were on the right track and to get clarity and direction on what we weren't sure about. Great staff meeting about how to use historical sources in a range of ways across the year groups.

H. Doust, History Subject Lead, Kirton Lindsey School