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Changes and Continuity: The Impact of the Norman Conquest


Analysing the effects of a major event can be a nebulous business, even for students at A level. Students need to identify changes and continuities and also be aware of aspects of society that saw both change and continuity. And then there’s the question of whether there was more change than continuity. It’s a lot to hold and organize in your head but this classic ‘washing line’ activity helps students to make sense of the pattern of changes and continuities. It works by making the concepts more concrete through physical representation and, as a result, students do understand more and understand it more deeply.

While this activity is aimed at Year 7 it can be used in a different way with A level students (see Notes & Variations).


This activity (originally part of the Thinking History Active Learning DVD) is now available on YouTube.

But please don't just leap into watching the activity – please read the introduction, context, points and questions first [ HERE… ]


A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.

This activity is based on the ’Washing Line ’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.


At the end of this Activity students should have developed an understanding of

  • which aspects of society were changed by the Conquest and which were not
  • the complexities of continuity and change e.g. that some aspects of society saw some change but a lot of continuity

The activity also provides a structure for a piece of extended writing.

Setting Up

1. You need two sets of cards (content listed below)

  • Topic cards e.g. Cathedrals. These need to be large and visible to everyone in the room. Or, instead of using cards you could make tabards for students to wear.
  • Impact cards – sentences describing the impact of each topic.

There is one Impact card for each topic card.

2. Set up the room so there is space at the front to organize about a dozen students along a straight line, a Change-Continuity continuum.

Put a big notice saying CHANGE at one side of the room and another saying CONTINUITY at the other.

Topic Cards

  1. Cathedrals
  2. Language
  3. Home Life
  4. Punishments
  5. Government
  6. Farming
  7. Castles
  8. Transport
  9. Travel
  10. Medicine
  11. Destruction
  12. Lords and Masters

Impact Cards

1. Most things in the village have not changed at all since the Normans came. We still live in the same houses and wear the same clothes. The Normans haven’t changed what I eat or drink.

2. The Normans say we can no longer hunt for meat. These new Norman forest laws say only the King and his lords are allowed to hunt deer and other animals. If you are caught with a weapon in the forest then they cut off two of your fingers to make sure you never go hunting with a bow again. The second time they put your eyes out. If a Norman is found dead then everyone in the area has to pay a large fine.

3. We still use the same coins and pay the same taxes. These Normans haven’t changed the way the country is governed but it’s harder to get away with anything any more! Why are they asking all these questions about our village? They are even counting every sheep and pig. Are they going to collect even more taxes or take our animals back to their farms in Normandy?

4. The Normans are ruthless. What about all the places they have destroyed and the people they’ve killed? They’ve forced people to leave their homes so they can make their new forests. They’ve burned villages all across the north after the rebellions. Refugees have been begging food from villages and monks all over the south.

5. There were no castles before 1066. They just build them to intimidate us and they knock down people’s homes to build their castles. I hate castles and I hate watching Norman soldiers ride past. They’re so arrogant. They look at you and talk and you don’t know what they’re saying.

6. They are rebuilding our cathedrals and making them larger. King William was very religious and gave a lot of money to churches. Rebuilding cathedrals is a good way to worship God and it makes work for English men so that they can feed their families.

7. It feels safer to travel to fairs and markets to sell my cloth. These Norman soldiers keep us merchants safe from thieves, at least down here in the south.

8. The Normans haven’t changed how we farm the land. I need to plough my land whether my lord is Norman or Saxon. We still depend on the harvest to have enough to eat. Best get on with the ploughing!

9. People in Winchester have a fancy new fashion. They call their sons after King William’s sons, William, Robert and Henry. They say they prefer these new French names to our old Saxon names like Ethelred.’

10. The Normans used the same medical treatments and cures as we do. They use cures based on herbs that are handed down through families or they use charms and chants to scare away evil spirits.

11. Our old lord was killed with Harold at the great fight at Hastings and we’ve got a new Norman lord so we have to be careful. Most people are afraid of how their new foreign lords will treat them.

12. These Normans haven’t made my life easier. The fastest way to travel was still on horseback – if you’re rich! I have to make do with walking and using oxen to pull my plough.

The Activity

1. Distribute the two sets of cards among pupils so that nearly every student has a card. Give a couple of blank cards or tabards to the remaining students – it will become clear why in Stage 6.

2. Ask the students with the topic cards or tabards to line up at the side of the room so their topics are visible.

3. Ask the student with Impact card 1 to read it out aloud i.e..

Most things in the village have not changed at all since the Normans came. We still live in the same houses and wear the same clothes. The Normans haven’t changed what I eat or drink.

4. Now ask the class who has the topic card or tabard that matches that sentence. The answer should be Home Life!

5. Now you can start to build up your Change-Continuity continuum. Ask where the student with the Home Life card should stand on the Continuum – at the change end or the continuity end? Get the student with the Impact card to read it again to check that everyone has taken in the details. Now reach a decision as a group and place the student pupil at the Continuity end of continuum.

6. Now repeat stage 5 with each of the other topics until all topics are distributed along the continuum. However some topics could go in the middle of the continuum if there’s been both change and continuity or pupils may realise that they could go at either end e.g. language did change for the wealthier English but relatively little for ordinary people. So raise the question how do we show this complication? Perhaps we could cut the student holding the Language card in half and put one half at each end! If that’s too bloodthirsty, use one of the students with a blank card so that the topic is represented twice – but raising the idea of cutting a student in half will help cement the idea in their minds!


1. Once all the cards are on the continuum everyone can see which aspects of society changed and which did not. Some questions to ask, using this:

  1. Can you see any links between the topics at the Continuity end? (they tend to be those linked to the everyday life of ordinary people)
  2. Can you see any links between the topics at the Change end? (they tend to be those linked to government, the Normans taking control and the richer classes)
  3. Does this pattern give you any clues about which English people were most affected by the Norman takeover? (note that upper classes saw the most changes but ordinary people were probably very frightened by the changes around them e.g. language even if their lives didn’t change much on a day to day basis)

2. The pattern you have created can provide a simple essay plan for students writing about the impact of the Conquest – a paragraph on continuities, one on changes and another on aspects of society that saw some change and some continuity with a conclusion about the overall balance of impact of 1066. Students can use the information on the Impact cards as the raw material for their paragraphs. Talking through the essay while students are standing on the continuum helps them to visualize the structure and they can also move around a little to simulate the order of topics in the paragraph. They can also practice writing by talking – trying out the sentences verbally and thinking about connecting sentences and phrases so that they have both visualized and talked through the writing task before putting pen to paper – a form of oral drafting.

3. Recording the pattern - the danger is that once students put down the topic cards or take off the tabards and return to their seats then the pattern is lost.

Click here to download the full room plan in a new window

One way to record the pattern is to get students to peg the cards onto a line strung across the classroom (your highly academic ‘continuum’ has suddenly become a much more mundane clothes-line!) or to leave them placed on the floor so everyone can then copy the pattern as a diagram. Alternatively, a digital camera could be used to record the scene and put onto the school network for annotating.

Notes & Variations

1. This structure can be used for analysing the impact of other major events e.g. the Black Death, Civil War, Industrial Revolution, World Wars although you would obviously need a different set of cards. It can also be used to compare the impact of these events e.g. at the end of Year 9, to look back over the whole of Key Stage 3, repeat the activity for each major event, plotting the different patterns and identifying which event led to the most changes.

2. For more advanced or older pupils, including those at A level or at university, this activity can be used as a hypothesis generating activity. Begin as described above and create the continuum, then ask students to research their topics. When they come back they need to explain whether their research backs up the initial placing of their topic or whether they would move it along the continuum or sub-divide it. This modification gets everyone off to a clear start, clarifying the nature of the task but is very open-ended in terms of the detail of the analysis that can be carried out. It’s a good example of an activity that is simple to begin with but can lead to students developing a much more complex understanding.

User Feedback

From Stuart Roper

I worked with a trainee from Bath Spa and created a piece of work centred around an English housecarl who returns home after Hastings to live his life under Norman rule.

We used the continuity/change lesson as the focus for our last chapter (we were writing a story based on true events) in a piece of writing about his life. It was really useful to put the lesson into a context. We ended up having our character, Bardolf the Axe Lover, discussing change/continuity in an inn after news had reached their village that William had died.

Here, we used many of the statements you provided.

It worked fantastically well through having Bardolf commenting what had happened to him, whilst the students could relate this to other groups of people in the village and change where the card may go for that particular person.


1. What have students learned about the process of doing history? e.g. how has their understanding of change and continuity developed?

2. How effective was your use of space and physical movement? Would you do anything different next time? [and don't be afraid to pat yourself on the back]

3. How did tackling this topic through this physical activity affect students' learning? e.g:

  • was understanding of topic deeper/no different?
  • did different students participate?
  • did you gain any insights into individual students' abilities or attitudes?

4. How will this activity link into the rest of your KS3 course?

  1. content - how and when will you return to the impact of 1066 later? When will you want students to recall doing this activity? Which strands or themes across KS3 does it contribute to?
  2. methodology - will you repeat this kind of 'washing line' activity to build on students' familiarity with the activity? Is so, on which topics?


Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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