Planning & Teaching new KS3 on

Power and Democracy

This theme can be helpfully divided two stories:

1. The story of the British monarchy – its role and the decline in its power

2. The story of the winning of democracy in Britain which can then be linked world-wide events in the 20th century – the loss of rights in inter-war Germany and the consequences in the form of the Holocaust and how civil rights were won in e.g. the USA and/or South Africa.

Planning and teaching the monarchy strand – outline activities

Coverage of the ‘monarchy’ story has been traditionally difficult because to students it seems to consist of a series unrelated episodes spread across Y7 and Y8. Pupils find it difficult to relate the Civil War in the 17th century to previous work on Magna Carta and medieval depositions. Therefore there’s a need to see these events as part of one story.

The Top Trumps and Rebellion Steps activities have been developed to do exactly this, providing pupils with a strong sense of the big story of monarchy from 1066 to at least 1649.


To download the Top Trumps cards [ click here ]

To download the Rebellion Steps cards [ click here ]

Note that the Rebellion Steps cards are sized to give an A3 notice – but assume you’ve got an A4 printer and some sellotape!

Lesson 1 – What was so dramatic about 1649?

Telling the Big Story of monarchy from 1066 to 1649 using Top Trumps cards

Ideally this activity has the whole class on their feet, forming a human timeline. I’ll begin with the explanation of how it works with a co-operative group. Notes on less than ideal circumstances are at the end of this section [ click here ].

Have you downloaded the Top Trumps cards? If not, [ click here ]

1. Give out the 25 Top Trumps cards, one per person, and ask students to stand in a timeline from William I to Charles I. This will take a bit of juggling – it will help to have cards with century dates on the floor to help them sort out where along the timeline they go. [Note the information and ratings on the T-T cards are entirely my own assessment – feel free to disagree!!]

2. Ask each monarch to do a bit of maths – add up their score for the top two categories on their card which will give them a score out of 20. [Note – this will need repetition and undoubtedly someone will add up all 4 scores on the card but that can be overcome]. Now

a) ask which monarchs have a score of 15 or over out of 20 and get them to put a hand up or take two steps forward. Ideally give each of these star monarchs a crown (keep Christmas cracker crowns) or other symbol of greatness! They are Henry I – 16; Richard I – 16; Edward I – 17; Edward III – 15; Henry V – 18; Elizabeth - 16

b) ask why these monarchs have done so well, why they’ve got such a good score – the answer lies in the top two categories on the cards: ‘war’ and ‘peace at home’. These were the main requirements of a monarch, defending his or her people at home and from foreign enemies – so from the T-T cards we’ve identified the most important things monarchs were expected to do.

c) now who did badly – sit down anyone who got 5 or less! A much longer list (in my opinion) – Stephen, John, Henry III, Edward II, Richard II and so on. There were really quite a lot of poor monarchs and this is the point to emphasise as this takes us into the key part of the lesson. This is where you explain that it didn’t matter how poor a monarch was, they always had another. Do this by giving William I a crown and get pupils to pass the crown down the line doing a brief and speedy commentary e.g. “then came Stephen, he was a terrible king causing civil war – how many did you get out of 20 Stephen? 1 – terrible! But they still wanted another king so when Stephen died Henry II got the crown” and so on – some you can skate past quickly but stress the poor ones, especially the deposed ones, but always they had to have another king to defend the people at home and abroad – UNTIL 1649 – then with a flourish you throw the crown across the room. All those kings, good and bad, some even deposed but always followed by another king – until 1649.

The key point is that by doing this whole period in one sweep it demonstrates how shocking, how revolutionary 1649 was – something that’s entirely missed if you don’t see this Big story in one go. This idea can then be captured very simply as a diagram – perhaps a line of stick-men kings with their scores out of 20, good ones in red, poor in blue perhaps. It will be quicker if pupils annotate a diagram you outline for them.

Alternative Strategies

It would be naïve to assume that this will work with every class although as often is the case, it’s not necessarily the traditionally disruptive students who can cause trouble with this physical activity. If you have concerns about some students being disruptive there are two possibilities

a) select students carefully – likely problem students could be used as the successful monarchs as they’ll be involved at the beginning

b) do it sitting down but with each student having a card – a seated timeline that doesn’t get anyone out of their seat. This should be backed up by giving out the A4 stick men sheet in advance – as you go round the kings students have to annotate the diagram as you go, adding a score and a tick or cross for the stars and the failures – basically a strategy to ensure everyone ought to have something to do all the time.

Lesson 2 – What was so dramatic about 1649?

Episode 2: the Rebellion Steps

This builds on the previous lesson, looking at the pattern which emerges from key confrontations between kings and barons/nobles, using the Rebellion Steps cards.

Have you downloaded the Rebellion Steps cards? If not [ click here ]

The task here is to put the kings who quarrelled with the barons on the correct Steps, showing how different solutions were tried to the problem of kings who didn’t consult their barons or Parliament. The pattern that emerges is

Step 1 – kings apologise and say they won’t be troublesome again – Henry II (Becket – see later note)

Step 2 – King agrees to set of rules about how to govern – John (Magna Carta)

Step 3 – Barons hold regular meetings to make sure king keeps his word – Henry III (Provisions of Oxford)

Step 4 – Depose king but crown another, ideally the last king’s closest relative – Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Richard III

Step 5 – Depose king BUT do without a monarch – Charles I

This resulting pattern shows that with each major conflict the barons moved up a step but stuck several times at Step 4 – doing this physically with several students on Step 4 makes the point very concrete.

The most economical way to do this is to set the Steps out on the floor or stick them on the wall and split the class into groups – each group to study one king – John, Henry III, Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Charles I. They don’t need a book-ful of information – just enough to decide which step the opposition reached with each king. Then ask a ‘volunteer’ from each group to put on a tabard bearing their royal name and take position on the steps, producing the pattern above.

More Resources

For another example of an overview activity on monarchy which covers 1660-1901 see ‘When did Prime Ministers and Parliament become more powerful than the monarch?’ on this site here…

There are also other examples in SHP books such as the Rebellion Steps, SHP History Year 7 pp.118-119 and King John pp.50-55.

‘King’ Cromwell pp.62-63 also tells the whole story of royal power from 1066 to c.1900 in one spread.

Planning and teaching the monarchy strand - from outline to depth and other issues

1. Linking outline to depth

From the two outline activities you can spin off depth studies, one on, for example, King John, investigating what a king was expected to do and why his barons rebelled and a second on Charles I (and background) investigating not just why Charles was deposed and executed but why this was done in 1649 when it hadn’t been the solution earlier. For those restricted to a 2 year Key Stage 3 course the difference is that you’d keep the two outline activities but do only one depth study – almost certainly on Charles I and the Civil War with the outline activities still providing context fro that depth study.

2. Remembering the end of the story

Another issue with the monarchy story is the ending – it often disappears or peters out after the Civil War but a key period was c.1770-1830 when the monarchy finally lost power to politicians. This could be the focus of a single-lesson causation activity [increasing complexity of government and society, George III’s insanity and George IV’s incompetence, long wars needing effective leadership at a time when the kings couldn’t provide it, the spread of ideas about alternative forms of government from USA and France etc.] or, to finish the story, you could use the overview activity on monarchy which covers 1660-1901 ‘When did Prime Ministers and Parliament become more powerful than the monarch?’ on this site here…

3. Where does Becket fit in?

The murder of Becket is a good example of a commonly-taught KS3 topic which may seem tricky to fit into the world of thematic stories. Given pressure on time, the question that needs asking about every topic is ‘if you’re never going to refer back to this later in KS3, why are you doing it at all?’ This sharpens thinking about the importance of reinforcement and making connections across time across KS3.

The story of Becket is interesting (blood, murder, mystery) but that applies to lots of topics so where does it fit in – and how? Its best place is in the story of monarchy, as an introduction to John and Magna Carta – after all, going back to the Rebellion Steps activity, Henry II’s agreement to accept being whipped places him on Step 1. However it’s vital to get the enquiry question right. Asking ‘Why was Becket murdered?’ or ‘Was Henry II responsible?’ doesn’t link strongly into the theme of royal power but ‘Why was Henry II whipped?’ helps pupils understand that a king had huge power but didn’t have complete freedom of action. Becket was murdered in December 1170 but Henry wasn’t whipped until July 1174 – why the gap? Henry needed to buy the church’s help against rebel barons. He wasn’t all-powerful – a quite different conclusion (and one linking helpfully into Magna Carta) from one that might be reached by solely studying the events of December 1170.

4. What about Henry VIII and Elizabeth?

The ‘Two Big Tudors’ get mentioned in the outline Top Trumps activity but spending much time on them almost certainly obscures the outline story. How many times has the first half of Y8 felt like 3 motorway lanes grinding down to a single lane as Henry leads to Elizabeth leads to Civil War and, good heavens, it’s February already.

The transition from a ‘do everything in chronological order’ Scheme of Work to one built around thematic stories necessitates thinking creatively about where individual topics fit into your overall scheme. The approach to monarchy outlined above has no place for work in depth on Henry VIII and Elizabeth but that doesn’t mean they disappear from KS3 History. Just because they wore crowns doesn’t mean that their only home is in the ‘Power and Democracy’ story. Henry VIII’s reign may well fit best into the story of everyday life because of the social impact of the loss of the monasteries (which takes you back into his reasons for religious reform). Elizabeth makes a great end of year investigation asking ‘Was she really so significant?’ which then leads onto asking ‘Does anyone deserve to be remembered more from e.g. the period 1500-1900?’ Faraday? Clarkson and Wilberforce? Pasteur? Who do pupils think should be pictured on the front of their textbooks?

Planning and teaching issues - the democracy strand

One advantage of this theme is that it creates a natural link between British and other histories. You could begin with an enquiry into ‘Was the vote won in Britain by violent protest or peaceful campaigning?’, a question that brings together nineteenth-century campaigns with ‘Votes for Women’. That’s the British story but it could leave a sense that once rights have been won they can’t be removed or lost – which is the link into to looking at Weimar Germany, why Hitler was able to come to power and remove human rights - and the consequences of this in the form of the Holocaust. You could then widen the big story further, using the answer to ‘how did they win the vote in Britain?’ as a hypothesis to compare with the experiences and methods of those who struggled for equal rights in the USA and/or South Africa. Finally your case-studies could be linked to events today – where in the world are rights under threat or where have they disappeared completely? Does it matter to us if monks are beaten in Burma or protesters imprisoned in China?

Don’t start from the beginning!

A helpful strategy when faced with too many things to cover in too little time is to create an activity that is set at the end of the period you’re covering, looking back on events. ‘Democracy’ is a good example – ideally you’d like to touch on The French Revolution, Peterloo, the Reform riots, Chartism and the Suffragettes but it’s a lot of lessons and it could get very repetitive – heroic ideals, courageous protests, prison and/or executions, eventual success! An alternative route is to start with Sarah and Alice in 1900 – they want the vote but disagree on how to get it. Alice thinks peaceful methods will prove successful. Sarah favours direct action – so the pupils’ task in a group role as Sarah or Alice is to find historical examples to support their argument – what happened in 1819, 1831, the 1840s and after, why did many (but far from all) men get the vote in 1867 and 1884?

This approach provides a motive for finding out what happened in the 1800s, seeking the best evidence to argue your case, but the task can be divided up amongst groups – two students investigate 1819, another pair the Chartists etc and pool the results. This would obviously have to be highly structured but it could even be expanded to include the French Revolution if you wished. And this takes you into issues of interpretations of events and into analysis of consequences, long and short term, intended and unintended.

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