Teaching the British Empire

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

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.

Teaching Empire; How do they do it in India?

Have you seen the Teachers TV programme on the teaching of Empire in Indian (elite) schools?

It lasts 30 minutes, but you can get a flavour from the first five minutes.  Students explore differing interpretations of the Indian Mutiny and have an interesting debate.  Students talk of different British perspectives and challenge the idea of calling the mutiny a Sepoy mutiny or a Peasants’ Revolt or a war of independence.  Well worth a brief look.  The rest of the programme looks at practice in other private schools as well as discussing the furore that erupted when, three years ago the Indian government introduced a set of textbooks that were thematic!!!


A useful set of video shorts on the theme of empires is available on this siteTimelinesTV, 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.

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

What have these images got to do with Empire?