The Wright brothers offers an exciting opportunity for pupils to explore a topic that should engage their interest, provide plenty of opportunities for drama and creative thinking and should fit well into a cross-curricular topic plan. Pupils live in a highly technologically-driven world, so this topic is both relevant and important in helping pupils to understand how fast the world has changed in the last 100 years. With the current requirement to link your famous people within a theme, why not use ‘flight’ as you topic. You could then study Amy Johnson as a famous person as well as the First Moon Landing as a significant event, thereby covering over half a century in time.

We have decided to focus on six key questions here which are fully detailed in the accompanying medium-term planning which you’ll find in the medium-term planning section of the site.

  1. What do these clues tell us about why the Wright brothers were famous? The core activity is a slow reveal of visual images, with pupils making ever-more informed guesses as more of the images are revealed. Pupils understand the significance of this breakthrough by comparing ‘before and after ‘pictures of flight.
  2. How did the Wright brothers manage to be the first to launch a man powered flight? Activity 1: Story telling relay using props Activity 2: Reconstruction relay: a fun team drawing task Activity 3: Living graph, looking at the highs and lows of their life to date.
  3. Why did the Wright brothers succeed where others had failed? Activity 1: Diamond 4 ranking activity Activity 2: Hot seating Orville Wright. Pupils generate questions to ask.
  4. How do we possibly know about their first successful flight, when it happened over 100 years ago now? Activity Prove it: Pupils are given 10 statements that appear in books about the Wright brothers and then have to work in pairs to find a source (i.e. picture) that provides evidence to prove the statement is correct.
  5. How did flight change as a result of the Wright brothers’ work? Pupils firstly speculate about possible changes before being given some cards with ideas which they have to place on a spectrum.
  6. How should we commemorate their great achievement? Activity 1: Pupils suggest, share, and then rank possible ways of commemorating before creating their own memorial of their choosing Activity 2: pupils re-write the existing plaque to make it comprehensible to pupils.

For centuries, man had dreamed of flying like birds. By the end of the 19th century, men could ascend into the air using balloons, kites and gliders, but always needed wind to power them. The invention of the internal combustion engine in the 1870s now provided an alternative power source for controlled flight. But how could you make it powerful enough to lift its own weight and design an aircraft to carry it. Enter the Wright brothers. You can then follow this study with a detailed look at Amy Johnson so see how a strong-minded woman became an accomplished engineer as well as an aviator.

Helpful resources for teachers

This site has some interesting material on the history of flight. It covers issues such as myths and balloon flight as well as the pioneering work of the Wright brothers.

The story of the Wright brothers seems a perfect tale of virtue, hard work and common sense. They arose from a humble family, had no formal training in engineering, yet they built the world’s first working aeroplane in four years on an investment of just $1,00 of their own money.The brothers endured accidents, sickness, gales, swarms of mosquitoes and blistering heat before finally taking to the air in their flying machine. Crashes were frequent but determination always prevailed. Steely resolve left no room for temptation or romance.