Smart Tasks

These are short tasks for history lessons designed to promote thinking skills. Although they might look like starters and plenaries, and indeed some are, most are designed to be used more flexibly at different stages of the lesson. They give you a ready-made activity which you can slot into your own teaching style. It may be an animated PowerPoint presentation, a puzzling image, a set of perplexing statistics or maybe a piece of text to analyse. What they all have in common is that they have worked and have both engaged pupils’ attention and have stimulated further learning. They do not attempt to provide a full lesson plan but they do have clear learning objectives and should fire your imagination to think of creative ways of using or developing them.

SMART TASK: Why were mining towns such lawless places?

This is a very straightforward, yet highly effective task which asks students to distinguish between the generic and the specific, to speculate about possible reasons from clues, to think creatively about historical myths and just as importantly to know how to get full marks on...
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SMART TASK Revision: name your best squad

To help students remember who the key individuals were in the history of medicine, you might like to present them as members of two opposing football teams.... [private] Team A is clearly the best squad of 11, perhaps with a couple of substitutes. The ‘second team’ would be the next...
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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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SMART TASKS: Why did the US get involved in the Vietnam War?

Three separate short activities help students produce  a top grade answer to the question.

Task I - brainstorming early ideas

This first introductory task simply asks students to consider the various reasons why the US got involved in Vietnam, going over what has already been learned. Students...
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SMART TASK: Causes of the Wall Street Crash

Students are given a set of influence cards which help them to work out the answer to an apparent paradox. If people were getting rich quick in the 1920s, why then was there such a crash in 1929? Here the focus is on students making their...
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Teaching international relations 1945-1990

This section, dominated by the Cold War focuses mainly on teaching its origins, its main crises and the reason why it came to an end.  With the recent 'strengthening' of GCSE specifications many schools who had hitherto taught Inter-war International Relations alongside Germany 1918-39, now...
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How well do these cartoons cover the causes of World War One?

In pairs, Y9/GCSE students visit 9 different cartoons posted around the wall. They have to work out: a. Which cause is being ‘covered’ in each cartoon - sometimes two. b. Which causes are NOT covered. They are given a textbook diagram explaining the causes in the form of an...
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Court of King Cholera: Where am I in the picture?

This activity works in two ways; it activates pupils’ prior knowledge in a fun way and raises questions about conditions at the time the chosen image, A Court for King Cholera was produced, i.e. September 1852. Students work in pairs.  They are each given a copy...
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Puzzle corner 3: the strange case of the missing slave

Pupils will find that this example of a black slave, painted out of an eighteenth century painting of a tobacco lord’s family, makes an intriguing starter to any lesson on the slave trade.  They will enjoy ‘finding’ him in the portrait, thanks to 21st century...
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Puzzle corner: The strange case of the steel helmet

A short intriguing starter activity for pupils presents them with a puzzle to solve. In the First World War, why did head injuries increase when the metal helmet replaced the cloth cap as part of the British soldiers’ uniform?  The answer is not obvious at first sight...
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How significant was Magna Carta? SMART TASK KS3

Pupils have been commissioned to produce two brief podcasts for the British Library website aimed at a teenage audience. The first podcast is to last 100 seconds and must explain why Magna Carta is significant.  (You might want to look at the section on the...
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Bonfire Night when Granny was a girl: Smart Task

These activities have been designed for the new 2014 history curriculum, covering the past within living memory and commemorative events. The three PowerPoint presentations, including copyrighted images of the 1950s and early 60s from Mary Evans picture library give children a flavour of a familiar event...
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Help Tom to fight the Great Fire. Smart Task

This ICT based activity draws heavily on the superb new website created as a joint enterprise by the National Archives, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of London and London Fire Brigade Museum. It appears on the Learning Curve section of the National Archives site. The interactive...
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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 Empire, which they critique in terms of usefulness, students explore a range of possible achievements of the empire, some using a structured sheet, others are...
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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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Ancient Greece: Short task on using Greek pots

What can I do with just one Greek pot in the resource cupboard? Collaborative and creative storyboarding At the core of this activity is the development of pupils' creative imagination and their sense of the past as evidence for just one object.  To make it work...
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Crime and Punishment starter: Smuggling – SMART TASK

This simple smart task uses the rather unusual source of a famous Kipling poem to ascertain what students already know about smuggling and what they need to know. The lesson starts with you quickly reading the poem aloud to help with motivation and encourage the lower-attaining...
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Poaching: Need or Greed? A 3 minute starter SMART TASK KS4

Throughout history, people have had different views of poachers. Were they: a. Starving labourers, snaring game to keep body and soul together, OR b. Members of gangs targeting places such as deer parks in order to sell on what they caught? Pupils are give just a couple of minutes to...
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Teaching American West at Key Stage 4

Schools have been teaching the American West as part of the SHP course for over 30 years. I introduced it myself in the first department I led. There have been so many examination questions set on this module and so many good textbooks now available...
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Mountain Men – Myth and Reality SMART TASK KS4

Having looked at the role of Indian trappers who had been supplying skins to British, French and Spanish traders on the Missouri river for decades, students now turn their attention to the Mountain Men. What were they really like? The lesson starts with a funny story...
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