Planning & Teaching new KS3 on


1. Why study more than one empire?

There are two good reasons why it’s worth studying at least one empire in addition to your work on the British Empire.

a) Whatever you do on the British Empire the chances are that you will look at its effects, both positive and negative and this may well lead into work on Interpretations to examine why there are differing interpretations and why the British Empire is a controversial topic. If so, is it right to create the ideas that the only major Empire was the British Empire and that only the British empire had a range of positive and negative effects and so is the only one that is both criticised and controversial? Covering at least one other empire, however briefly, will help to make comparisons with the British Empire.

b) A second reason for covering more than one empire is so that pupils can begin to grasp key issues e.g. about the diversity of effects of the Roman empire (albeit briefly and in a more distant context) before tackling them in relation to the British Empire. Most pupils will tackle these issues more effectively if they’ve had a trial run earlier on, e.g. the Romans, to begin thinking about the issues.

And a sort-of third-ish reason for tackling another empire is that you already do so and have good resources (and maybe a handy villa nearby). It’s not a case of just doing ‘something’ on the Roman Empire but of making sure that work on both empires is clearly inter-related and comparative – as is explained below.

2. What do you want pupils to learn about empires?

Planning begins with the take-away – what is it that you want pupils to take away about empires from KS3? The first decision is the one above - is the take-away solely about the British Empire or is it more generally about empires, something that helps pupils deal with issues in the contemporary world – e.g. why empires are controversial, why differing interpretations are possible and therefore the ability to place the British Empire in the context of other empires.

Another point worth making about planning is that we don’t need to see Empires as a linear big story like Everyday Life (i.e. not a development study). It is probably be more useful to build your coverage around a set of questions that apply to empires in general:

a) Why did they build an empire?

b) How did they get it and keep it?

c) What impact did the empire have?

d) How did it fall apart – was it given back to its people or …?

By comparing the experiences of the Roman and British empires or other combinations of empires pupils will get a better sense of perspective on the British Empire in relation to these questions.

A product of questions (a) and (d) is the understanding that until relatively recently the right to build and maintain empires wasn’t questioned. However one feature of 20th century ideas and beliefs is that empires should be dismantled - but this in turn has led to a host of other problems, some visible in the collapse of the Soviet Union’s empire in eastern Europe – very similar in some ways to what happened in Britain after the Roman legions left.

3. How do you structure the coverage of empires?

The advantage of using questions like those listed above is that they can control the amount of content you cover. A broad heading like “The Roman Empire” can suggest a good ten weeks’ worth of work, which most people haven’t got time for. However you really focus down if you tackle the questions above in just sufficient depth to establish some outline answers which can be taken forward for comparison with the British Empire – so in effect, you’re structuring your coverage of empires round comparing two or three empires rather than simply telling the history of a single empire.

Different structures include 2 or 3 year schemes.

3 year scheme:

Y7 - very briefly tackle the following questions

a) Why did the Romans build an empire?

b) How did they get it and keep it?

c) What impact did the Roman empire have?

These aren’t exciting enquiry questions but you can develop those around these general themes. See SHP History Y7 for examples.

Y8 – compare the Roman Empire and British Empire, but focussing on

a) Why did the British build an empire?

b) How did they get it and keep it?

c) What impact did the British Empire have?

Y9 – focus on the end of empire by comparing how and why these empires ended and bringing in other empires for greater variety.

A key component of this approach is being able to record key points briefly and carry them forward using PowerPoint slides (maybe pupils’ own bullet point summaries), to be used again next year.

2 year scheme:

Here you might do one unit on Empires, spending the bulk of your time on the British Empire but maintaining the comparisons. So

a) Why did they want an empire? How similar were the Roman and British motives?

b) How did they get and keep their empires? Compare Britain – and Spain for variety or stick to Rome.

c) What effects did these empires have? Why do people disagree about the effects of Empire?

d) How did they end – were they given back to their people or were they forced out or…? And what were the consequences?

4. Outline ideas for activities

These ideas are for activities that focus on the core questions listed above so you don’t get drawn into extra detail that uses up time you don’t really have. The key to the Roman examples is speed – you do them in a single lesson - and interest because if it’s not interesting and memorable you won’t be able to refer back to it later for comparison with the British Empire.

You can find fuller descriptions of these activities elsewhere on the website or in the SHP KS3 material, beginning with SHP History Y7.

A. Why did the Romans want an empire?

This single lesson activity identifies a mix of reasons why the Romans conquered their empire – in fact it’s really just a card-sort made more memorable because you play the part of the Roman governor of Britannia and get kitted out in a toga. As Paulinus you explain to your slaves (sorry, class) why you have conquered Britain and they have to organize the motives into groups. The product is a single screen summary that can be saved and re-used later when comparing with other empires – that’s all you need.

When you then come to another Empire you’ve got Roman motives for comparison but you can also recycle the method, playing the part of one or (perhaps team-teaching with a colleague) two empire builders – perhaps Cecil Rhodes and for contrast someone with more humanitarian motives, Lord Curzon perhaps. Thus the method has gone straight to the heart of a comparison of motives.

To see the full description of this activity [click here]

B. How did they build and keep their empire?

This is another single lesson activity, focussing on how empires were built. I think this found its way into SHP’s planning because we know everyone who does Rome does something on the army and we were trying to find an effective link into our wider questions rather than doing something on the Roman army that has no clear connection with the wider theme of empires. So we came up with an activity that asks ‘why was the Roman army like a top football team?’ (see SHP History Y7 pages 30-31). You would begin by identifying what makes teams successful (fitness, tactics, being well-paid etc) – then identifying, from material you give the class, the parallels.

Again saving a single screen of features is sufficient to re-use when making comparison with the British or other Empires – was it all down to military success? The Roman impact was also due to trade and, eventually, more peaceful factors but was essentially military. Was the balance of factors the same for the growth and development of the British Empire?

C. What impact did the empire have?

This is another classic ‘how long is a piece of string activity?’ but, for maximum impact, it can focus on a small number of individuals to make the key point that empires affect people in different ways. Establish that point in relation to Rome, then explore it more fully later in relation to the impact of the British Empire. In the case of the Roman Empire you may want to spend more than one lesson driving home the point but two lessons should be sufficient.

For maximum impact and memorability, the activity involves creating a continuum or washing line with ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ marked at the ends, so you can explore whether individuals loved or hated being part of the Roman Empire. You could start with a couple of straightforward examples by telling the stories of first Boudica and then Cogidumnus, the ruler who welcomed the Roman army and owned Fishbourne palace in Sussex. After modelling the activity in this way you can give each group in the class an individual to place on the line – with the aim of ending up with a good spread across the line. This can be great fun with individual pupils wearing names tabards and holding props to say something about their experiences e.g. a villa owner with a new bath-house has a bar of soap, a wealthy Roman woman with a party invitation has tinsel, party poppers and one of those wiggly, party head-dress things, a laundry worker has a scrubbing brush and dry bread to eat.

The product could be a photograph of the line, annotated to explain the positioning of individuals and then saved and re-used when you come to look at the impact of the British Empire. You could re-use the same technique as an introduction to the impact of the British Empire and then explore the impact in more depth e.g. was the pattern of effects the same in every part of the British Empire or at all periods of time? Here you could have groups exploring case-studies of different parts of the British Empire.

For the full details of this activity see SHP History Y7 pupils’ book or CD.

A related content issue is the place of slavery in the Scheme of Work. It obviously fits within Empire as a theme but a) runs the risk of swamping other aspects of the impact of empire and b) also highlights the dangers of only looking at the British Empire as slavery was a feature of many other Empires and societies. For example, young British boys and girls were sent to America in the 17th century to “clean up” British towns of potential troublemakers and they lived in conditions as near to slavery as makes no difference. At various times the British coast was raided by slave traders who carried off men, women and children to be slaves. An alternative placing for slavery in terms of thematic stories is in the story of Beliefs and Attitudes – when and why did slavery become something to be campaigned against and abolished, how as that achieved – and has it disappeared completely today?

Decolonization - the same washing line technique could be used to explore the various effects of decolonization with the ends of the washing-line labelled ‘benefits’ and ‘problems’.

D. Mapping empires

Describing the pattern of the growth and decline of Empires may be most clearly understood by turning a large floor space into a map. For the British Empire, for example, you would need the floor to become a map of the world with continents labelled. The next item of equipment would be cards labelled with the names of parts of the Empire, when they became parts of the Empire and when they became independent. Importantly they would be colour-coded – a different colour per century. Each student would be given a card and asked to place it on the map (necessitating quite a lot of checking and making sure they’re in the rights places) – which would show (a) the extent of the British Empire and b) the pattern of growth over time because of the colour-coding. You could add more information to the cards to explore motives if you wish to develop the activity. A similar approach could be taken to the Roman Empire, showing how it grew and where in its history came the expansion into Britain.

5. Conceptual links

a) The concept of empire – helping pupils to understand what an empire is.

Teaching History provides a range of interesting material, including the whole of Issue 112 (September 2003) on the theme of Empire. See also

Issue 128 (September 2007) ‘Getting Year 7 to set their own questions about the Islamic Empire’ by Sally Burnham

Issue 115 (June 2004) ‘Assessment without level descriptions’ by Sally Burnham and Geraint Brown doesn’t sound as if it’s about empires but contains valuable ideas about building and assessing pupils’ thinking about empire as a concept.

Past editions of Teaching History are available to HA members at:

b) An obvious conceptual target of work on Empires is interpretations. The activity described above on effects of empire was set up specifically to move on from effects to examine why different interpretations are possible – because the nature of interpretations depend on the evidence you focus on- individuals, places, specific moments in time etc.

c) The enquiry process – the ability to ask questions, plan enquiries, test hypotheses and construct answers is a central part of the Attainment Target and accessing this range of skills can be helped by using the approach outlined above, of returning to a common set of questions asked about empires. For example, having briefly looked at the Roman Empire in Y7, later study of another empire would begin by asking pupils to come up with their own questions (what kinds of questions did we ask about the Romans?), to think out how they would plan an enquiry on the impact of the British Empire (how did we look at this question last year?), what do you think the answer about the British Empire might be, using what you learned about Rome?

Planning & Teaching KS3 History


What is history?

Frameworks, Themes & What's in it for Students?

Planning Issues

Integrating depth studies and outlines

Everyday Life




England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Power and Democracy