Understanding Feudalism

 Activities, KS3  Comments Off on Understanding Feudalism
Apr 222017

An introductory activity for KS3 from Andrew Morel who teaches in Cardiff.

Andrew’s activity takes that textbook feudal diagram off the page and recreates it in the classroom using his students as king, barons, knights and villeins.

This approach has the potential to strengthen understanding of the mutual relationships within feudalism – what each person owes and receives back from others.

Also importantly, if it is successful in strengthening understanding it will also be a memorable activity, one that can be referred back to when learning about related topics such as Magna Carta and the 1381 Revolt. Used at Key Stage 3 it may also build understandings for those who go on to study the Norman Conquest at GCSE and will need to return to feudalism in more depth.

See the activity HERE …


 Posted by at 9:19 am

Helping students think about the provenance of sources

 A Level, Activities, GCSE, KS3  Comments Off on Helping students think about the provenance of sources
Feb 012017

Students often struggle with ‘provenance’ i.e. how to use what they know about the creator of a source to reflect on the utility or reliability of that source. This article suggests ways of helping students focus more effectively on provenance by studying the creator of source before they look at what it says or shows.

I have used examples related to the Norman Conquest as it’s a topic almost everyone knows to some degree.

You can read more HERE …


 Posted by at 4:17 pm

Understanding the English Succession: 1051-66

 Activities, GCSE, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on Understanding the English Succession: 1051-66
Nov 262016

This activity for KS3 or GCSE has four brief stages with each stage representing a different date – 1051, 1059, 1065, January 1066. For each date students position individuals in relation to the crown to create a visual representation of who seemed most likely to be Edward’s successor at each date. I’ve tried to keep things as clear as possible, which isn’t easy given the complexity of the debates over the succession to the English crown in 1066. I’ve added notes on what historians are saying about the succession and why the idea of ‘rules’ about who had the best claim are misleading and hence unhelpful for students at any level.

See the activity HERE …


 Posted by at 10:03 am

Nationalities and Family Connections: 1066

 Activities, GCSE, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on Nationalities and Family Connections: 1066
Nov 202016

It’s easy for students to assume that Edward the Confessor and Harold were English in every respect because they appear in the story of 1066 as the English leaders in contrast to the Norman Duke William. This short activity is designed to help students understand that the issue of nationality was more complicated than that!

I’ve also included a second very short simple activity about the pattern of English kings before 1066 – English or Danish? – to help students appreciate that kings of England were not necessarily English.

See the activities HERE …


 Posted by at 11:47 am

Why was William able to invade England in 1066?

 Activities, GCSE, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on Why was William able to invade England in 1066?
Nov 192016

This brief activity for GCSE (and possibly for KS3) looks at the longer-term Norman background to 1066, focussing on how William’s invasion was made possible by a combination of his military successes against neighbouring states and good fortune.

By the end of this activity students should know and understand that:

a) William had faced and beaten a number of attacks from surrounding states during the 1050s

b) If Edward the Confessor had died before 1060 William would have had great difficulty invading England because of threats to Normandy

c) William’s successes created a breathing space from local wars enabling him to invade England in 1066

d) His resulting reputation as a successful soldier enabled him to recruit followers for his invasion of England and he was able to recruit soldiers who would not have been keen to leave their lands if local wars were continuing.

See the activity HERE …


 Posted by at 10:22 am

Did people worry about dirt and disease in the later middle ages?

 Activities, GCSE, KS3  Comments Off on Did people worry about dirt and disease in the later middle ages?
Oct 162016

At GCSE this activity can be used to introduce the topic of public health or medieval medicine as a whole as it sets out conflicting evidence about attitudes to health and public health. This makes a good introduction because it is important that students understand that there were major efforts to improve health and the rationality of widely-held ideas about the cause of disease. Having a positive image of medieval people’s attitudes then means students have to think harder to understand why they could not tackle diseases effectively – rather than just assuming that people ‘back then’ just weren’t bright enough to do so.

This activity can also be used at Key Stage 3 if you are not teaching ‘Medicine’ at GCSE. At KS3 it can be used to build students respect for people in the period rather than see them as helpless and hapless victims of plague – an image than can be fostered if work on the Black Death focusses only on the horror and death toll of ‘the pestilence’.

See the activity HERE …


 Posted by at 5:05 pm

Raising Attainment: Feedback, marking and how they can improve learning

 A Level, GCSE, Issues, KS3  Comments Off on Raising Attainment: Feedback, marking and how they can improve learning
Sep 072016

In one of the most practical and valuable items we have published here on ThinkingHistory, Dale Banham describes in detail how he has developed a six-fold cycle of feedback which has the development of students’ ability to learn effectively at its heart. This is not just about the mechanics of marking and feedback but about how to help your students improve their understanding of how to study history and therefore raise their attainment.

As Dale argues:

‘Student progress is determined not by the amount of feedback we provide, much more by how we provide feedback. We have tried to address this by placing ‘marking’ within a 6 stage feedback cycle (see below). Our aims are to:

  • reduce teacher workload
  • increase the extent to which pupils take responsibility for their learning
  • improve outcomes by developing effective study habits in history – routines that make sure students review, redraft, respond to feedback and reflect on progress’

The Feedback Cycle

STAGE 1: When the work is set – establish clear success criteria

STAGE 2: When pupils are working on the task – make the most of oral feedback

STAGE 3: Just before pupils hand in their work to be marked – build in self and peer assessment

STAGE 4: When marking the work – aim to save time and maximise impact

STAGE 5: Returning the work – build in opportunities to respond to feedback

STAGE 6: Reflection – create a dialogue about learning

Read the whole article here


 Posted by at 7:45 am

New Activity: Impact of the Normans – with character cards

 A Level, Activities, GCSE, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on New Activity: Impact of the Normans – with character cards
Sep 042016

This excellent activity comes from Catherine Flaherty who has done both a great deal of research to create the character cards and has suggested a wide range of ideas for using them to develop students’ understanding of the impact of the Conquest.

There are 30 character cards providing biographical details of individuals who lived through the Conquest.

The core tasks involves distributing the cards amongst your students so they each identify with the person on their card. Then set them a task or tasks.

You can find the activity and a variety of possibilities here …


 Posted by at 2:07 pm

Teaching about the Norman Conquest

 A Level, GCSE, Info, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on Teaching about the Norman Conquest
Jul 172016

Many people are about to teach the Norman Conquest at GCSE for the first time – these items may be useful to you.

Item 1. Two videos of 20 minute lectures by Carl Watkins of the University of Cambridge discuss key aspects of the Conquest – the words are both valuable and interesting even if the video quality suggests they were filmed by a KGB spy in the 1950s using a camera hidden in a briefcase. As they are on the Cambridge History Faculty website I assume nothing underhand was going on!

Lecture 1 HERE …

Lecture 2 HERE …

Item 2. The Royal Armouries is holding a two day conference on the Conquest on the weekend of 14-15 October at the Tower of London. The programme consists of a battery of 40 minute talks by a host of eminent academics but the intended audience for the conference seems to be teachers and the interested public rather than academics.

Full details HERE …

Item 3. There’s a host of books around about the Conquest and William the Conqueror but I’ve recently much enjoyed two books in the Penguin Monarchs series which has a 100pp book for each reign from Athelstan to Elizabeth II. The two for this period which are currently out are:

William II: The Red King by John Gillingham – Gillingham is always been one of the most readable historians so this is the ideal introduction to William ‘Rufus’.

See Amazon HERE …

Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy by Carl Watkins – you probably aren’t teaching about Stephen but it’s an engrossing book nevertheless, exploring whether this really was a period of ‘anarchy’ and the various contingent circumstances that led to both Stephen’s succession and the ensuing civil war.

See Amazon HERE …

(I’ve provided Amazon links so you can see the contents list but they’re cheaper on Book Depository and elsewhere!)

The  book on William I by Marc Morris is due out in August (on my birthday if anyone in my family is reading this).

Item 4. The Historical Association has a range of material on aspects of the Conquest, some of which are free to non-members

See HERE … and HERE …

Item 5. A series of short films by historian, Marc Morris:

See it on YouTube HERE …

Item 6. In Our Time Radio 4 programmes on

The Battle of Stamford Bridge HERE …

Domesday Book HERE …

The Norman Yoke HERE …

Hope this is useful


 Posted by at 2:43 pm

Raising Attainment: Visible Learning in History

 A Level, GCSE, Issues, KS3  Comments Off on Raising Attainment: Visible Learning in History
Jul 062016

Dale Banham and I have long believed in the importance of making the processes of studying history explicit if students are to improve their knowledge and understanding of the past and to perform better in examinations. This emphasis on making learning visible is itself visible in many of the materials on this site, such as the discussions about ensuring that students really can explain and discuss the enquiry process themselves rather than simply completing pre-packaged tasks set by the teacher where the enquiry question is provided and non-negotiable and the core process of enquiry is left implicit.

This new article looks in more detail at some of the ways of making the processes of studying and writing history visible to students. Some of these ideas will be well-known to some teachers, especially from Dale’s SHP Conference workshops, but it is a pleasure to make this more widely available and to exemplify it with activities from some of the books we have worked on over the last ten years.

Behind this work is the belief that students perform better in examinations if teachers build their course structure around the problems students have year-in, year out. Specifications and content may change but the underlying problems students face when they carry out historical research, construct arguments and communicate their ideas do not. Learning is best conceived as a process and we need to support students through that process by making it visible if we are to fully realise the potential of our students as learners.

You can find this galaxy of material and resources here


 Posted by at 9:05 am