Active Learning on

Thinking History & the NTF Award

This page acknowledges the contribution that the Higher Education Funding Council played in setting up this website and discusses my plans for its future.


This site was developed as part of my National Teaching Fellowship, awarded in 2003 for excellence in university teaching. NTF awards are funded by the Higher Education Funding Council and promote high quality teaching and learning in higher education.

The focus of my project was the filming of active learning techniques used in history teaching and the dissemination, by 2006, of the finished video resource to PGCE history tutors. I hope that this resource will enhance the training of history teachers at secondary level. This site supports the visual material by providing full texts of activities and discussion on active learning strategies but can be used separately from the visual resource by PGCE students, schoolteachers and university teachers.

For details of the National Teaching Fellowship scheme, open to university teachers and learning support staff see

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Who is this site for?

In no particular order!

  • PGCE History students and their mentors
  • PGCE tutors
  • History teachers in primary & secondary schools and in FE
  • University teachers of history
  • Education officers in museums and heritage sites

Think – flexibility!

There may not be an activity on the site that matches the topic you are seeking or the age-range you teach. However that does not mean the site can’t help you! There are many different models of activity here that can be adapted to other topics and to other age-ranges. For suggestions see the Notes, Variations and Feedback section under each activity or use the Site Search facility to track down references to topics.

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How will the site continue to develop?

The site contains a variety of activities, building slowly from the initial 12 activities in September 2004. I had one day a week available for the project, of which the website formed only a part, so there was limited time available. That’s why I could only add one or two new activities each month.

The first activities onto the site were those I’ve used in teaching or tried out at Inset courses. This means a certain bias towards SHP topics and medieval history but, in time, this was less apparent! However I am in no way apologetic for the early emphasis on medieval and Tudor topics, especially for A level. Teachers of these periods have great difficulty obtaining new, accessible materials and activities and this is one way to meet that need.

The activities vary in length and complexity. Some are very long and fully-transcribed scripts are provided. Others are shorter and some may turn out to be simply ideas for development. I started by using a set structure for each activity but this has varied slightly with time.

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Can teachers contribute activities to the site?

Yes – one way to build the site quickly is to include other people’s good activities. This also ensures a variety of wider approaches and thinking. However, as I want this site to provide activities that demand high standards of both students and teachers and reflect the best of current practice, I won’t publish everything that’s submitted, will discuss amendments and editing (just as in textbook publishing) and the timescale will be elastic, depending on my other commitments. Having said that, I’d be delighted to receive good activities on this site – provided you don’t mind contributing your ideas without payment!

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Why the one-eared bear logo?

The one-eared bear commemorates one of my favourite activities Je suis le roi! Like all good ideas, it came out of the blue. I was driving round the Leeds ring road on the way into the second day of the SHP conference some years ago, having already demonstrated this activity in one workshop. For no reason that I can recall, it suddenly occurred to me that the Harrying of the North section of the activity would be more memorable if, instead of just sweeping the teddy bears off the desk, I slowly and calculatingly cut an ear off one of the bears to reflect William the Conqueror’s treatment of the north.

I tried it at the next workshop and was rewarded by anguished cries of “No, don’t!” from mature and hard-headed teachers. Since then, bears have been being mutilated in classrooms all over the country. Students of all ages find the unusual and unexpected memorable. In the activities on the site, you’ll find plenty of stuffed toys, a hairdryer, anachronistic mobile phones and other daft ideas – but always with a serious purpose!

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Thank you’s

Firstly to Ian Coulson for the conversation that made me realise I could use the NTF award to support teachers and trainees.

Secondly to Dan Moorhouse who did the original site building, technical development and put the site on-line.

Thirdly to all the teachers who have sent in ideas, activities and comments which have enriched the site considerably.

And finally SHP conference-goers, many of whom arrive smiling year after year, eager to keep learning about teaching. When the conferences began in the late 80s there was a fair degree of scepticism about active learning whereas now there’s so much more enthusiasm – ‘that wouldn’t work with my classes’ has become ‘we can do that!’. Providing workshops and Saturday evening events is great fun because your contributions have been so constructive and positive.

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What about feedback?

And last but not least, feedback. Simply, the answer is yes please.

More on feedback  ]

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This Page

Genesis of the Site

Who is the Site for?

Development of the Site

Contributions from teachers

One-eared Bear

Thank You’s


Active Learning DVD

The Active Learning DVD was also a product of the NTF award.

More Info  ]