Students at all levels benefit from having an overview of a period before plunging into the detail of part of it. However overviews can be boring so it’s better if students get involved in creating their own. One way is to put students into groups, each group investigating the part of the period that’s their notional lifetime. Their job is to research and report back, perhaps creating a physical lifeline of the highs and lows of their experience. Then, when all have reported, they can decide who was born at the best time.
That’s the overview but the approach can be used across a wide variety of age-ranges for different purposes in the following ways:
- Advanced level – use to create an initial overview of a period of a century or longer or can be used for creating a synoptic overview.
- GCSE – use for GCSE Medicine or Crime through time, particularly for the 19th and 20th centuries – focus the task on either health care, surgery etc or on prisons, punishments etc. This can also be used for overviewing the 20th century in Modern World courses but here it can be varied so that the focus is a decade – which decade was it best to have your 18th birthday in? Each group therefore is given a birthday in a different decade.
- Key Stage 3 – good for end of year or end of Key Stage comparisons e.g. Would you rather have lived 1180-1220, 1320-1360 or 1430-1480?
- Key Stage 2 – helps pupils develop a sense of change e.g. comparing lifetimes of 1800-1840 with 1860-1900 or their own lifetime with that of their grandparents – what did each possess, what did their home look like and contain?
1. Split into three groups, each having a 40 year life span - 1480-1520, 1520-1560 and 1560-1603.
2. Set them their task - to investigate their lifetime and to tell the others their life story by mapping it out as a physical lifeline on the floor of the room or hall. One axis of the life line is obviously the date, the other runs from 'Highlights, optimism, good times' to 'Low points, pessimism, bad times'.
3. Research time in groups - give them a timeline with key events and some other useful information – for some periods graphs showing annual harvest quality and real wages and prices are important sources but it all depends on the period being studied.
4. Give each group 5 minutes to tell their story, putting cards on the lifeline labelled with the key highpoints or lowpoints and explaining their choices. Your task as teacher is to encourage the asking of questions e.g. why did you choose that? They must do this standing up, walking round the lifeline, standing at high and lowpoints.
5. Get the class as a whole to vote as to who had the cushiest lifetime - in this case 1480-1520 usually wins hands down.
Things to think about to evaluate and develop the activity:
- What was the impact of this activity on understanding of changes and continuities within the period and students’ abilities to make comparisons?
- Was this a motivating and enjoyable activity and how effectively did the groups work as groups?
- How else could this technique be used within your course?
- Did this technique make a long-term impact on knowledge and understanding?