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Teaching KS3 History: The British Empire

>>ADDED AUGUST 2013 Smart Task: The Empire strikes back! SEE BELOW

The requirement to teach about the British Empire at Key Stage 3 presents us with a range of challenges. We need to make the topic relevant and interesting. We need to be balanced in our approach, given the empire-bashing that has surrounded the 150th anniversary of the Indian Mutiny (or should I say First War of Independence?) and the bicentenary of the abolition of Britain's involvement in the Transatlantic Slave trade. We also need to be aware of the sensitivities of teaching this topic in a multicultural society. But you know all this! What you want are some interesting approaches. And here they are, with a full array of resources including PowerPoint presentations:

Key Stage 3 Outstanding History Lessons

Smart Task

  • NEW AUGUST 2013 The Empire strikes back! Having previously investigated the criticism of empire, students now set about defending it. After studying a contemporary Indian view of Empire, which they critique in terms of usefulness, students explore a range of possible achievements of the empire, some using a structured sheet. Groups predict the 6 top arguments Niall Ferguson uses to defend the empire and then prepare a short written defence of the empire to combat the negative view given in Horrible histories.
  • NEW JANUARY 2013 End of Empire This task ask pupils to classify a number of different smaller reasons why The Empire declined and fell, under four bigger headings. But they are not told what these headings are. This they must work out for themselves. Includes PowerPoint and reason cards on resource sheet.
  • How did a small country on the edge of North West Europe manage to rule a quarter of the world’s land surface and 400 million people? Pupils are presented with a hypothesis which they have to challenge and come up with a better explanation of their own.  The final product asks them to create a visual display.  Includes PowerPoint and 14 influence cards.


Want to know what's coming next? Click here.


Sample page of ingredients for an Empire Christmas pudding. But where do they come from?

What have these images got to do with Empire?


Teaching the British Empire

Each of the above lessons features a different learning style. The Christmas pudding lesson starts with a fun kinaesthetic activity  finding the source of the ingredients followed by a thoughtful analysis of data. In the second, groups work on different countries' experiences before pooling their findings to create a whole class living graph. The Empire Strikes back lesson starts with a Terry Deary Horrible History excerpt which pupils have to counter by looking at the positives of empire. The next  is a study of causation whereas the last one on India looks at specific episodes such as  the Indian Mutiny, the Amritsar Massacre and the role of Indian troops in World War Two.


A useful set of video shorts on the theme of empires is available on this site TimelinesTV, created by Andrew Chater. His treatment idea of empire spans a much wider timeframe and is a great way of linking developments in different periods.

If you haven’t already used it, have a look at the National Archives Learning Curve material on the Empire   It comprises three main sections and has been authored by Ben Walsh, so you know it will be trustworthy.

The first section looks at the Rise of the British Empire.  Pupils look at case studies of North America, Africa, India and Australia to work out which of the following motives explained why empires were built there: trade; adventure; politics; religion; ambition and land.

The second section looks at what it was like living in the British Empire and the final one looks at why the Empire came to an end.


Up next

  • What does a study of India tell us about the British Empire?
  • The Ups and Downs of the Empire. Pupils research in groups and then create a whole class living graph

NOTE FOR SUBSCRIBERS: If you would like to preview sample activities and resources from these lessons, then email us and we will forward some draft material prior to formal publication here.

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