20 tips for training history teachers

Author: Will Bailey-Watson
Published: 25/08/2020

A training teacher

1. Peer discussions. Next time you ask a challenging historical question to a class and no one gives an accurate or valid answer, give everyone 30 seconds to discuss with their partner. Then pick someone at random to share what they discussed. You might want to remind students to revisit prior learning in thinking about their answer.

2. Recaps. Begin a lesson with a BBC1 Line of Duty style recap of prior learning. What does the audience (class) need to have at their fingertips from last lesson, and from elsewhere in the curriculum, to access today’s lesson?

3. Family tree. When teaching about any sort of dynastic dispute (such as in 1066, the Wars of the Roses or the Tudors), try beginning a lesson by giving students a family tree and asking them to work out the different claims to the throne. Extend this into specific questions, such as ‘How secure is X’s claim to the throne?’ ‘Who is most likely to challenge them based on the family tree?’

4. Concept drawing. When ensuring students have secure understanding of a substantive concept (such as famine, nationalism, communism, democracy), get them to ‘draw the concept’ in two minutes – in a similar way to Pictionary. An extension of this at the end of a unit is to draw the concept at different points in time (such as ‘Civil Rights’ in the USA in the 1930s, early 1960s and 1970s).

5. Map work. When describing movements in history (such as the movements of a person, group of migrants or an army), print out a relevant map and get students to annotate the map. As they track the journey, talk them through the relevant contextual information, such as the weather and terrain, for them to write in their annotations. This could be used when teaching about Medieval Crusaders, the Pilgrimage of Grace and Blitzkrieg in Poland, to name a few.

6. Guided reading. Choose an extended passage of text (perhaps from a history textbook) and read it as a group. This will involve you reading some bits and students reading some bits. Aim to break the text into manageable chunks by stopping to ask questions, clarify words, link to prior knowledge and enact simulations (for instance, if the term ‘joust’ appears or ‘creeping barrage’, then a simple teacher/student simulation can help the class picture the text).

7. Recreate. In order to retrieve knowledge about an event the students studied last lesson, begin the lesson by giving students three minutes to recreate the event using the contents of their pencil case.

8. Cross-curricular connections. For homework, set a ‘Meanwhile, elsewhere…’ worksheet on a topic occurring parallel to the curriculum topic you are teaching. Then spend the first five minutes of the next lesson discussing the parallel topic AND what it tells us about the curriculum topic. The website can be found here.

9. Timeline it. At the beginning of a lesson, give students a blank timeline with a beginning and an end date. Set them the task of remembering as much as they can from the previous sequence of lessons and placing it on the timeline. If your students find this particularly challenging, try giving them events that they have studied and sequencing them on the timeline.

10. Alternative marking. Try marking a piece of GCSE work without using the exam board mark scheme. Instead, give feedback solely focused on improving students’ historical thinking.

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Will Bailey-Watson

Will Bailey-Watson is the PGCE History Subject Lead at the University of Reading.