The Big Story of Everyday Life
This living-graph activity aims to cover a mere 1000 years in one lesson to provide pupils with a really big overview of the patterns of Everyday Life from the Middle Ages to today. Developing this kind of activity will play a critical part in creating coherence at KS3 and staying on control of content.
The main problem I have with writing up this activity is that it can be used in myriad ways, depending on when within KS3 you use it and how it relates to follow-up work. I have indicated major uses but for more on this approach see Planning and Teaching KS3 and particularly the Everyday Life and Integrating Outline and Depth sections on this website.
As an initial activity this introduces the following ideas but, used again (at least once during KS3) it consolidates pupils’ knowledge and understanding of
- the main periods of change and continuity and key turning points from the Middle Ages to the present
- major reasons for change in standards of living including individual events such as the Black Death and Industrial Revolution and continuing factors such as government, war and harvest quality.
- making links, contrasts and comparisons across time
- telling a Big Story across time and it’s role in the KS3 History curriculum.
If you are building this activity around creating a large graph on the floor you need the following items
a) the Standard of Living cards with date/events (see above in Support section)
b) the graph axis cards – numbers for the quality of standards of living vertical axis (0 - 10) and dates for the horizontal axis (1100-2000) (see above in Support section)
c) coloured tape or rope to link the cards and form the line of the graph (Homebase or other DIY store is best source)
You may also want to use the Factor cards (see above in Support section). These are best printed in colour to easily distinguish the factors and you need to decide how many of each you want to use.
2. Relationship to subsequent work
The other key issue is exactly what you are using the activity for and how it relates to subsequent work. You could use this activity in 3 different ways (at least!):
Y7 – provide whole graph for overall pattern but focus on Middle Ages – in follow-up work pupils work on medieval life to find evidence to support the pattern in the graph.
Y8 - provide whole graph but give a pattern for 1500-1900 that won’t stand up to evidence – e.g. a sudden improvement in standards of living for everyone c.1800. Pupils’ follow-up task is to test the validity of the graph, redraw it and annotate it with evidence.
Y9 – provide the graph complete up to 1900 but the post-1900 section blank – task for pupils is to build up their interpretation, using the methods they have previously learned.
So exactly how this activity integrates with follow-up depth work needs sorting out carefully in advance. Note that the date/events cards are intended to create a reasonably accurate picture of the overview story – so you’ll need to add your own deliberate mistakes!
1. Set out the graph outline on the floor – marking the horizontal axis with dates and the vertical with numbers to indicate quality of life.
2. Give out cards to pupils – one per individual (some pupils may be paired up). Model creating the graph by placing one card on the line - ask a pupil to place card on right place on chronological axis, then move it to right number on vertical axis. Repeat this modelling if necessary – then ask pupils all to place their cards – or, for more certain control and less stampeding, do it in periods – cards up to 1500, cards in 1500-1700 period etc.
3. Ask pupils in period groups to join up the cards to create the line of the graph using coloured tape or rope.
4. Ask pupils to describe the pattern using words such as change, continuity and turning points, progress and regress – exactly how you do this will obviously depend on the class. Move forwards along the graph, asking questions – what’s happening here – were people’s lives staying much the same or were there changes? What kinds of changes? Can you see any important turning points? What does the phrase ‘turning point’ mean? When was the time of greatest progress?
5. Look at the reasons why the pattern changes. Send pupils back to read their card again to remind them of what it said. What reasons for changes are there? You could use the Factors cards (see above), distributing these coloured cards along the graph to show when factors had an effect – but only you know how complicated you can make this activity with any individual class.
1. The next lesson may be the ideal time for consolidation, asking pupils in pairs to recreate the graph or sections of the graph – e.g. in Y7 you could provide the complete graph but with a blank for the Middle Ages and ask them to reconstruct that section.
2. Now move on to build a depth study out of this outline – perhaps using one of the approaches outlined above or in the Everyday Life section
Notes & Variations
1. One issue with this graph is that it’s quite impersonal – there are no real people on it. To help pupils consolidate their chronological knowledge and understanding it may help to ask them to name people from history they have heard of, write the name on an A4 piece of paper and place it on the correct part of the graph. For some it will help to add a grandparent to get a sense of how little distance back in time that takes them.
2. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you could begin by asking pupils to predict what the graph will look like – begin with now and give today a number – 8.2 for example and then ask whether they think the Victorians had as good lives as people today. What number would you give them? Continue in this way, developing a sense of what’s in pupils’ minds so they can compare what they assume to be the story with the actual story.
3. A major issue with this graph is that it tells only one story – it’s a huge generalization as there were clearly great varieties in standards of life at any time in the past and today. To what extent you want to bring this in (and when) will depend on each class.
- What have pupils learned from this activity? E.g. has it helped them develop their historical vocabulary re change, continuity etc?
- How would you improve the way you handled the space and physicality of the activity next year?
- Will you change the way you link the activity into depth study work on everyday life next year? If so, why and how?
- Has this prompted you and colleagues to think differently about the nature of outline activities and their place in KS3?