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Teaching Upper KS2 History – Part 2

This is part 2 of this blog series. If you haven’t read part 1, please do read it first as this both references and builds on it.

Continuing to establish historical context

Establishing a rich and in-depth context is not something which can be accomplished from one exposure at the start of the unit. It requires repeated meaningful exposures to ensure children continuously develop a sense of period.[i] As such, the worldbuilding for this unit continued in every lesson of the unit. It was the first time I have planned and taught history to this year 5/6 class therefore it was something they hadn’t encountered in as explicit detail before. In addition, the nature of this unit means that the impact effects the world of the 19th century on many fronts (more on that later).

Invention and expansion

The invention and development of railway locomotives is a proverbial rabbit hole to get lost down. The key story in lesson 2 was to provide an overview of some key inventors and victories in the early 19th century. Specifically, Richard Trevithick’s unsuccessful locomotive, then George Stephenson’s victory at the Rainhill Trials. Maintaining a clear balance between complexity and manageable cognitive load was a fine line.[ii] This simple video from Cambridge University was the perfect way to convey the expansion as a short and effective source. With liberal application of a snipping tool, it allowed the children to focus on extracting ideas and then, under guidance thinking about so what… (e.g. impact).

Alongside this clear focus from extracting evidence and moving to interpreting the findings, the lesson ensured children were introduced to how we ‘know’ about the history in question. Given the range of 19th century documents that survived, and the breadth of statistical evidence, this was easier than in other units that are from the early medieval or ancient worlds. In this case, the fact that railway expansion was part of wider industrialisation and the Rainhill Trial was a competition to find suitable technology instead of something that merely happened. The children studied it to identify both the strict rules and why the specification would be key for the technology.

This small exposure to some of the other developments that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries made it easier to explain that many changes occurred concurrently, and we were choosing to focus on some. It is key to remember that rarely does a single change happen in isolation. when studying the source material, the children found some of the language difficult to understand which is why it was delivered in the manner they are used to for whole class reading. The mode of delivery enabled success in history; it was NOT merely stealth English. Disciplinary knowledge is a key area for development highlighted in the recent Ofsted subject report which highlighted: “The scope of this disciplinary knowledge may be more limited for younger pupils. However, it must avoid misconceptions and unhelpful oversimplifications about the processes of historical enquiry.”[iii] The emphasis here, therefore, was to ensure children were beginning to develop their understanding of how historians study the past and the breadth of source material they consult.

As the unit progressed, it was key to link the new knowledge into the period in which it took place. The children needed explicit scaffolding and guided navigation to ensure they only went where the evidence took them… quite frequently, they were taking giant leaps beyond!

A Contextual Framework

I am a huge fan of Inspire Education’s platform (full disclosure – I receive free access and if schools sign up from my recommendation, I receive a referral fee.) and wanted to use it in this unit to provide an engaging introduction to the sights and sounds that formed the backdrop of people’s lives in the new towns and cities like Leeds. When we moved the emphasis onto the role of the railways, it was the logical start point. To ensure the children understood the scenes were fictional but based on the historical reality, they were carefully explored and built upon with future tasks. has many scenes for history and a section for English. If you would like to book a free trial, you can do so by clicking here:

For the first few minutes, I just let children enjoy making broad observations about what they could see, hear etc. Then, added a simple focus by asking them to explain to their partner what role the railways played to support the steel factory and textile mill. The discussion enabled them to focus attention on the previous lesson using the expansion of the railways to create an interconnected network for trade. The scene was one we came back to at the start of lesson 3, 4 and 5 to reaffirm the connections to this ‘world’.

Connecting local to national

Aim 6 of the National Curriculum focuses on connecting knowledge. 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.”[iv] This unit was the perfect example to study industrialisation across the country.

First, what did it look like in Leeds? The children have studied Leeds’ history in other units and most will have visited the centre on a number of occasions. As such, they have a foundational understanding of the layout of the city and some of the buildings will be similar to what is introduced in the lessons. This was supported by the use of a range of maps which are freely available from the National Library of Scotland website[v] and artworks found online. The emphasis was on what industry took place around the city centre and how could this benefit or be benefited by the railways. The emphasis was economic history with careful narration of just who in society would likely benefit from the flourishing mills, etc.

When studying source material, it is important to prompt children to consider which part of the narrative this helps us to understand and which it does not. The lived experiences of different social classes were not part of this lesson… that was to follow! It had to follow as, even with the careful narration as the owners being the beneficiaries, the children held onto the misconception that everyone got rich together in some kind of egalitarian way.

Lesson 5 built on this by asking, how did this compare to elsewhere?

Using a local example to teach a bigger picture is an approach that is valuable across the history curriculum where it offers value!

Part 3 focuses on why and how I changed the planning because of the misconception mentioned above, the branches of history the children were discussion and final thoughts…

[i] Ian Dawson, Historical Association’s Teaching History 135, P. 50




[v] Immense thanks to Chris Trevor who introduced me to this brilliant resource several years ago. The full collection can be accessed here:

This half-term (Autumn two, 23) I am teaching history to my mixed Year 5/6 class in Leeds. We’re focusing on the railway revolution under the enquiry question: How did the railways benefit Britain? This focuses on the economic and societal impact brought about because of the expansion of the network including the railway revolution of the 1840s. Whilst not explicitly stated in the EQ, this unit includes a strong element of locality as there were immense benefits brought to Leeds by the arrival of the railways.

It is broken into four sub-enquiries across the half-term:

  1. How did people transport things before railways?
  2. How quickly did the railways expand?
  3. What benefits did it bring to Leeds?
  4. Was this the same across the country?

Before Starting:

As a school, we use knowledge organisers therefore I spent time considering the layout and core content in order to allow the children, as Mary Myatt calls it, to “master the minimum.”[i] The layout and content aim to be deliberate and simple – cognitive load and efficient navigation are primary concerns throughout after all. My key principles are below having re-read pieces from Jon Hutchinson and Bev Forrest.

Locomotive image ref

The vocabulary table was a careful balance of vocabulary quantity and importance to the enquiry. In subsequent lessons, the vocabulary will be embedded directly into the teaching and what I want the children to include in both their discussions and answers. As such, I’ll ensure I model how and when to use them at various stages.

I have divided the core knowledge to mirror the sequence of enquiry sub-questions. Whilst there is a case to be made about whether or not to give children the knowledge before starting, the school does and I can see the merit. In future teaching, this ‘minimum to be mastered’ will be reinforced, depth added and the stories connected to form a clear narrative.

The two images act as a reference point to what the children will be studying but, at the right time, a bit of a hint at the benefits the railways brought to Leeds economically and the wider industrial revolution shaping the city’s skyline. One thing I was keen to avoid was stereotypical illustration images sometimes found in resources to ensure the reality is front and centre.

The timeline highlights two things:

  • The narrative of history the children have learned in order to act as a retrieval mechanism to consider the concept of the industrial revolution fundamentally changing life in Britain. A way to navigate prior history learning to consider where the children have encountered societies and economics in Britain and the wider world.
  • A way to consider the relative duration of the industrial revolution and its transformative effect on the country societally and economically.

The sequence of sub-questions is done in line with what I advocate for in my book so please do consider buying a copy if you would like to know more. Broadly speaking, questions 1 and 2 above encompass worldbuilding and setting out the early narrative arc of railway expansion. This vital background (hinterland) definitely supports Christine Counsell’s assertion that “the hinterland is as important as what is deemed core.”[ii] Within these lessons, the children start by thinking about the abstract world they will be learning about and precisely how it differs from their lives in specific ways. Then, introducing the railways and expansion of the network in the early half of the 19th century. Lesson 3 and 4 provide specific depth studies to consider the societal and economic benefit that came as a result.

Activating relevant prior knowledge:

The children had encountered the concepts of the different people may have moved/migrated or traded in the past across various units of history studied. Therefore to activate relevant prior knowledge, I focused this chronologically to prompt children to think about technological trends over time. The green box is to prompt lines of thinking by starting with a heavily ‘hinted’ example of the Vikings and then a scaffolded cloze procedure. This ensured children understood most people (if they did travel distance) would have used boats and horses/carts.

This was was followed by the first introduction to direct vocabulary instruction which is a big emphasis for the unit. The fact they linked to economic history and it is a key focus throughout the unit was explained… may have even offered some class dojo bribery to get them using it! My use of icons is to help children identify concepts they have encountered before to strengthen connections and facilitate comparisons. It is not, however, dual coding as some people asked. For clarity, “According to dual coding theory, if the same information is properly offered to you in two different ways, it enables you to access more working memory capacity. This means that you can benefit from access to both visual and verbal memory capacity. It’s known as the working memory model from Baddeley and Hitch.”[iii] The role I use it for is to deliberately target the concepts I wish to emphasise to strengthen understanding over the course of the curriculum. The emphasis being on trade meant some children were connecting this concept to the previous half-term’s geography unit in which it played a role.

Sub-question 1 – How did people transport things before railways?

The aim of this question is to immerse the children in the abstract nature of the past using Mike Hill’s brilliant worldbuilding blog by focusing on modes of transport but also the challenges that this presented into the lives of people. This includes the retrieval outlined above but also emphasised the role of making the children focus their attention on ‘so what?’ in order to consider this aspect of teaching history. It is deliberately embedded throughout the lesson to allow me to model how it is a natural and continuous part of the historical discipline. It also was an area to develop mentioned in Summer 2023’s Ofsted subject report: Rich encounters with the past (an apt title as I always aim to facilitate this when teaching). It said: “In most schools, the disciplinary knowledge that pupils learned focused on sources and evidence. To some extent, this is a helpful approach. Knowledge of how historians use sources to construct accounts can help pupils to learn other aspects of disciplinary knowledge, such as how and why historians form different interpretations of the past.”[iv] As such, throughout the blog, you will hopefully notice repeated references to gathering relevant evidence and then utilising it. The example image below highlights the prompt to consider facts and instantly focus on the ‘so what?’

In this lesson, the children learned about pre-industrial transport to establish that in most cases you could travel relatively quickly (by the standards of the day) or transport a large quantity of cargo. A range of source material was used deliberately to subtly introduce the fact that different types of source contribute different aspects of the answer.

The logistics of the lesson were relatively straightforward and, if you have joined me for any CPD sessions, not surprising. I do, we do, you do and carefully scaffolded in order to obtain a high success rate and work in small steps. The lesson may have appeared collaborative but in reality I was guiding them through the unknown world and prompting them to reflect at various points with ‘so what?’ to think about the implications of what they had just learned. In short, I knew where the lesson was taking us and what the outcome needed to be. Instead of one long task or children focusing on different areas of the study then sharing outcomes, they worked in small steps to ensure a clearer picture (see above).

The earned of the lesson was the first time this class had encountered my use of a summary of learning. A simple question used to clarify core knowledge to remember: what have you learned today that could be useful for our final answer? In this case, I scaffolded using a combination of a cloze procedure and sentence stems. This level of scaffolding will be required in subsequent lessons to ensure the children are clear about how to structure short-form answers in history.  

What did I want to accomplish here?

First, it was bloomin’ lovely to be teaching history again! I have missed it and am totally aware that makes me sad haha. The knowledge outcomes were as follows:

  1. There was a time before highspeed transport and it meant people lived very different lives.
  2. Transport of goods and people was usually via road, canal, river or a combination of them. The majority of people would have just walked locally and not travelled as widely as is normal today.
  3. Technology developed in order to improve the road, river and pure canal infrastructure.
  4. Broadly speaking, transport could either be quick or have a large capacity. No mode of transport had managed to accomplish both.
  5. History isn’t merely a case of gathering facts; we must do something with the facts in order to think about what they mean in that context.

Which of those are core and which are hinterland? Odds and events… the odds are important background that help the core (evens) to function in the context the children encounter them. For the children, that is the knowledge they encountered in the lesson. The purpose of the summary of learning is to ensure they would prioritise the importance of the evens… In a story, the narrator guides the narrative. That’s what I seek to accomplish when teaching.

Where next?

The arrival of the railways of course. With the broad intention of tapping into Daniel Willingham’s work: “From a cognitive perspective, an important factor (on whether children like school) is whether or not a student consistently experiences the pleasurable rush of solving a problem.”[v] This lesson will introduce the success of Stephenson’s rocket at the Rainhill trials (1829) and subsequent expansion of the network including railway mania in the 1840s.



[iii] Dual Coding with Teachers by Oliver Caviglioli, P20


[v] Why don’t students like school? By Daniel Willingham, PP10-11

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. (c) BBC The examples below are designed to illustrate a use of them in an educational setting.

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). For the Great Fire of London, I would recommend this book: The Great Fire of London: An Illustrated History by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis.

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!

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!

I just wanted to send a quick email to say how fantastic the resources and planning are for your recent unit on Ancient Greece. So far, I have only done the first session, but have prepared/read through the second session and it is so pleasing that I have very little to do for it!! The kids loved the lesson style - so much time to chat and dig deep into proper history talk and I feel their learning will progress so much more satisfactorily because of all this.

A. Amos – Teacher, Leeds

Your visit was really inspiring, and having a pair of impartial eyes to look over our curriculum and books is just what we needed. We have really clear points going forward on how we can improve. Staff were so positive about the training too, something for everyone to take away. I'll be doing a follow up staff meeting in a few weeks.   You are genuinely brilliant at what you do and it was great to chat with a fellow history nerd! Really appreciate the documents you have sent over too, very generous.

N. Evans – History Lead

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