Outstanding KS3 history lessons on the British Empire

British Empire - Horrible histories

The bestselling historian William Dalrymple has described as a “real problem” the fact that “in Britain, study of the empire is still largely absent from the history curriculum”. The man who has dedicated much of his professional life to writing about imperial India added: “Now, more than ever, we badly need to understand what is common knowledge elsewhere: that for much of history we were an aggressively racist and expansionist force responsible for violence, injustice and war crimes on every continent”. I profoundly disagree that we are ignoring the teaching of the empire (why are your here, after all!!) but I definitely agree that its importance has never been so obvious, not least so that pupils can play an informed part in the national debate about how empire should be perceived. The latest DfE guidelines on teaching politically charged topics like this, published in Feb.2022 remind us of the need to ensure a balanced approach, though I’m not sure I agree with their stance. Have a read and make up your own mind.

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 also need to be balanced in our approach, given the empire-bashing that has surrounded the 160th 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. Cue outstanding lessons…

The over-arching enquiry question is: What can we learn about the British Empire from a study of India? The topic covers four centuries from the birth of the East India company to Indian independence. The spine of approach is chronological with a series of cameos in sequence. But the real strength of the unit is the way themes are pulled out from each of the motivating  key questions/ Subscribers can request a copy to be emailed to them.

british empire
Teaching the British Empire KS3

In a recent article for the Telegraph, journalist and writer Jeremy Paxman made the following case for teaching the history…

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Indian Mutiny/rebellion of 1857

This lesson is aimed at Y9/GCSE students. It addresses three principal aspects of history teaching: How to be thoughtful and…

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British Empire map
British Empire – How can we infer so much about the empire from a study of just one map and the person who created it?

This session starts by looking at the information to be gleaned from a well-known 1886 map of the empire and …

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Rotten apple or …. How should we portray Dyer’s motivation in the Amritsar massacre?

This enquiry asks students to look critically at the depiction of the massacre in the film Gandhi as a way…

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The Empire strikes back! SMART TASK KS3

Having previously investigated the criticism of empire, students now set about defending it.  After studying a contemporary Indian view of…

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What can we learn about the Empire from a Christmas pudding?

This lesson starts with a simple fun activity, working competitively in teams to locate the source of ingredients for an…

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SMART TASK – 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?

This lesson asks an important question that the textbooks rarely cover and comes after students have looked at events in…

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Smart Task: End of Empire: Why did it all end so quickly?

This SMART task ask pupils to classify a number of different smaller reasons why The Empire declined and fell, under…

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