Active Learning on

Medieval Lives:
Helping KS3 pupils begin to see the Middle Ages and its people
as historians see them


This page provides an abstract of this core article.
Download the full discussion as a PDF HERE …


I’ve spent large parts of the last few years thinking about how best to teach medieval history at KS3 – having the time to do this is a luxury probably only available to the retired! My ideal is that pupils begin to see the Middle Ages and its people as historians see them, by which I mean pupils developing:

a) a more balanced, positive and respectful understanding of the Middle Ages and its people

b) a deeper knowledge of the period, especially a stronger sense of an overview of the period

My conclusion is that achieving this aim requires a move away from schemes of work dominated by enquiries about individual events such as Magna Carta or the Great Revolt of 1381. There are three problems with the events-driven approach:

• These events largely focus on wars, rebellions and plague – this deepens the negative and erroneous preconceptions that students have of the period and its people.

• Reduced teaching time on the Middle Ages has meant that coverage of events has become more and more episodic, preventing pupils developing a clear overview of the period and identifying the significant changes that took place, which in turn encourages the belief that this was a period of stagnation.

• Events only allow us snapshots of individual people, seen briefly at one moment of a lifetime, and so students get little chance to develop their understanding of people and human nature.

Therefore, to help pupils begin to see the Middle Ages as historians see them, I think they need to study three different types of enquiries. These three types are enquiries exploring the humanity of the people, enquiries that explore ‘big stories’ of change and continuity across the period and the familiar enquiries based around events. This will necessarily mean studying fewer major events in depth – nobody has time to simply add in more topics – but will lead to a much stronger understanding of the period.

How this article relates to the Medieval Lives classroom resources

In order to illustrate these ideas, I have begun to create a set of KS3 resources under the heading of Medieval Lives. Having briefly introduced the rationale behind these resources in the Introduction above the rest of the article explains that rationale in more detail so that teachers can see why the resources take the form they do. I could have gone into a lot more detail but think that it’s better here to be as concise as possible. I have discussed a number of the issues in more detail in other articles on ThinkingHistory and links to those articles can be found below 9when most relevant) or at the end of this article.

Please note that I don’t expect anyone to use the Medieval Lives resources ‘off the shelf’ – I assume you will adapt, edit and shorten them to meet the needs of individual classes. Treat the resources as a bank of models, ideas, sources, information, questions etc – there’s far more than you’ll need – but it’s better for me to provide too much so you have choice than for me to pretend I can guess exactly what every teacher needs.


This page has provided only an abstract of this core article.
Download the full discussion as a PDF HERE …

This Page


Classroom Resources

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Other articles explaining the ideas and planning behind the classroom resources are available HERE …


Exploring & Teaching Medieval History

Download it from the HA website HERE …

And see the contents pages HERE …