Outstanding history lessons

When talking to a highly talented history teacher recently he said,

“I really wish I had had a site like this when I started teaching”.

It hasn’t done him any harm, I must say, but his view is symptomatic of a wider issue. There is plenty of theoretical advice out there, but very few people are willing to say ‘this is really good, why not try it and develop it”. We exchange materials, activities and ideas, but seldom whole lessons. This is what makes the site really useful: strength in depth.

What you’ll find in this section are high quality lessons. These are not just ideas submitted by helpful and effective teachers: they are actual lessons all of which have been quality assured by an experienced history inspector/adviser, (that’s me), or have been judged to be outstanding by OFSTED. I have observed thousands of lessons at Key Stage 3 and 4 and hundreds at Key Stages 1 and 2. This should reassure you that the quality of the lessons will be really high, though this should immediately be obvious! They may have been written in the first person, by the teacher who actually taught the lesson, or more likely, in the third person by the teacher with whom I planned or whose lesson I observed. Sometimes they are the best first part of one lesson added to the best second half of another.

Because the site has uniquely strong links with top-quality practitioners, many of whom are Advanced Skills Teachers or Leading Primary Teachers, the quality of the ideas that appear is exceptionally high. The frequent up-dating of the site ensures that you are kept in touch with the best ideas. Do remember though NOT ALL LESSONS WILL BE LIKE THIS! If you teach some outstanding lessons in a week, and mostly good lessons you can still be an outstanding teacher!

At Key Stage1 you will see that many of the lessons have an explicitly cross-curricular feel to them. They also reflect considerable work that has gone into thinking and enquiry skills. Hardly a worksheet in sight!

At Key Stage 2 you will notice that many of the lessons revolve round strong pupil involvement, often linked to creativity or thinking skills. The lessons are active, the approaches varied and the outcomes imaginative.

One of the strongest features of the Key Stage 3 examples is the emphasis on enquiry. You will see exemplified in these lessons not just the features of the Foundation Strand Strategy but also imaginative approaches to helping pupils grasp complex concepts. You will find a clear focus on pupils making their own meaning and arriving at conclusions having worked with the evidence.

At Key Stage 4 the emphasis is firmly placed on showing imaginative ways of helping students with different preferred learning styles to meet challenging objectives. You will see familiar topics taught in familiar ways but with that extra edge of activity that is so often lacking at Key Stage 4. Students are encouraged to apply new knowledge to form their own understanding, not merely to reproduce it for examination purposes.

Latest outstanding lessons

What did people do at the seaside 100 years ago? KQ2

From mime to movie. SMART TASK

This fun activity is carried out by children working on tables of six.  Half the class work on one image, the other half  on another interesting image.  Each table is given an A4 colour picture either A or B.  For...
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KS2 Outstanding Lesson on the Old Stone Age

Is it true to say that Stone Age man was just a simple hunter gatherer only interested in food and shelter?  Key Question 1

This KS2 outstanding history lesson on the Stone Age revolves around the reveal of an object found at Star Carr in Yorkshire...
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Grace Darling: setting up the enquiry KQ 1

This is the first lesson on an enquiry into Grace Darling: what she did, and why she was famous. The kernel of the lesson is a slow reveal activity which works really well on an Interactive White Board.  The key image comes from the...

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Italian foreign policy-outstanding lesson

At what point did Mussolini seem to side more with Germany than with Britain or France? Students arrive at the lesson having familiarised themselves with key events of Mussolini’s foreign policy which is checked with a quick sequencing task which is turned into two living graphs...
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Who started the Korean War? Smart Task

In this short starter smart task students are given two contradictory accounts of the start of the Korean War, both emanating from Korea. But which account do they think is more plausible and which extract goes with which book? Students look for loaded language and...
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AS/A2 SMART TASK Threats to Henry VII, a living graph

Students create event cards for homework by way of preparation for creating a multi strand living graph showing the degree of threat to Henry VII from different quarters and how it changed over time. They look at a the range of different AS/A2 questions asked...
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KS2 Quick Quiz on the Vikings

This exit task is a quick way of working out whether the key messages of your teaching about the Vikings have been understood and is best done towards the end of this KS2 topic so that you still have time to remedy any misapprehensions. But first...
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The Ups and Downs of Mary Anning’s life

This lesson focuses on helping pupils to move beyond simple story telling and sequencing to thinking about the effect that each event in her life had on Mary. By encouraging pupils to think in terms of happy and sad events, you will help them build...
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Florence Nightingale Lesson and sample planner

Fighting Fit. What did Florence do to improve the lives of the soldiers when she arrived in the Crimea? One example of a series of lessons for teaching Florence Nightingale as part of your KS1 history. A sample from the full planner in the medium term...
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What do we remember on Poppy Day / Remembrance Day?

This session revolves around a PowerPoint presentation which poses 6 significant questions, each designed to encourage pupils to think and to share their knowledge and understanding of this annual event.

Question 1

Who and what do we remember on Poppy Day? Show PowerPoint slide 2 which shows poppies...
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Teaching Local History at Key Stage 2

So, where do we start if we haven’t a clue about Local History? Unlike all other areas of study Local History has no real prescribed content. If you live in the middle of a new town, then your locality is quite different from that of a school...
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The rise of Stalin: 4 smart tasks

Included here are 4 distinct smart tasks which could be used in various combinations at AS and A2 level. They vary from laying odds on the outcome of the leadership contest, and working out why Stalin triumphed using influence cards, to critiquing a modern explanation...
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The reasons why Labour won the General Election of 1945.

If Churchill’s popularity rating rarely dropped below 80% during the Second World War, why then was there a landslide victory for Labour in 1945? Building on the obvious paradox of the question, students need to work out for themselves a convincing explanation and be able to...
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Hitler Youth AS/A2 task

This smart task uses one of the most frequently misunderstood Hitler Youth posters. By taking students through a step-by-step deconstruction of the poster using an animated PowerPoint presentation, students are shown the overwhelming importance of context and purpose when trying to establish the true meaning...
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Why was Anne Boleyn executed? Which of these seems most plausible?

In this short task students work out for themselves the key inter-related reasons why Anne Boleyn was executed. Using the influence cards provided (see resources section below) which draw on recent different interpretations, students make their own meaning before answering the sample question for the...
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Is this another Roman villa? Key Question 4 part 2

For this lesson pupils are in role as experts to help Tony Robinson’s Time Team.  He has seen aerial photographs that suggest there might be a villa nearby but none have ever been found there before.  He wants to know what to look for...

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Why did the Saxons invade? Push or pull? KQ1a

A fun thinking skills activity in which pupils infer from visual clues before moving on to analyse a range of influence cards and evaluate a video before coming up with their own explanation for the Anglo-Saxons invasion.

This activity is part of a series...

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The mystery of the empty Saxon grave. Anglo-Saxons KQ2

This highly engaging lesson places pupils in the role of detectives.  After a short briefing they have to work out the significance of the various clues found in the bodiless ship burial.  They then use their deductive power to work out which of 4 suspects...
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What image do we have of the Vikings? KQ1

This two part session gives the topic on the Vikings a really active start. Following an introduction to the Vikings in time and place, including a competitive Time Team task, pupils investigate stereotypical images of Vikings as a start to the overall enquiry. The main fun...
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Anglo-Saxons: Coming of Christianity KQ3

A series of smart tasks, rather than a full outstanding lesson. The first part of this two part session looks at how it happened, the second at how we know. The early part asks pupils to grasp the narrative of events within a timeline from Roman...
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Reasons for Vikings’ bad reputation KQ2

Having explored the nature of the stereotypical Viking image in the first session, it is now time to examine the origins of the image. Pupils compare two very contrasting accounts written by different people, at the same time, and then try to work out why they...
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Anglo-Saxons struggle against the Vikings

How did the Vikings try to take over the country and how close did they get? (Vikings KQ3 & Anglo-Saxons KQ4)

This task encapsulates the struggle between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings in an engaging way that really makes pupils think about the dynamics of the...
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Alfred the Great. How great was he? KQ5

In this outstanding lesson, pupils are asked to critique and then improve the BBC children’s website entry for Alfred the Great. But first they need to see how history has commemorated Alfred and then carry out some research for themselves. This lesson offers plenty of opportunities...
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How effective was Anglo-Saxon justice? KQ6

Pupils work in groups to create a series of short dramatic enactments, each of which illustrates a way of keeping law and order / punishments meted out in Saxon times. These are then summarised before giving the real-life case of Edgar for them to decide...
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Were Saxon times really ‘Dark’ Ages? KQ7

Pupils design a two-sided paper plate on which they record the arguments used in the debate about the 'Darkness' of Saxon Britain. On one side they show the enlightened side of Saxon society. On the other, covered in black paper to represent the Dark side...
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