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The Events of the First Crusade: a model simulation for Y12

This activity is another gift via Twitter!

I was intrigued by a set of photographs appearing from Mildenhall College Academy (I should say ‘another set’ – they’re very generous with ideas at Mildenhall) and asked what was going on. ‘The First Crusade’ was the reply and a further enquiry led to Richard Kerridge sending the script and his explanation and rationale for the activity which you can read below.

In most ways the activity is not a million miles from others on this site – it tells a complex story by giving students roles, using the room as a geographical area, building familiarity with names and places, exploring motives and other aspects of causation. It adds another layer to students’ understanding of this complex story, building on and consolidating what they have learned from reading – this layering is a vital part of embedding knowledge. The nature of the activity can also build individuals’ confidence and enhance group dynamics.

What I particularly like is Richard’s analysis below – he says he wrote it a while ago but hasn’t had time to up-date it each year, that he has varying degrees of success with it, that there’s flaws – but this is the reality of teaching, as you’ll know if you’ve been teaching for longer than two weeks. Perfection may be a goal but it doesn’t happen often! What’s important is to try an idea even if there’s still scope for improvement – and to remember that even if an activity isn’t as big a success this year as you’d hoped some students will still have benefited and next year it may be a storming success as next year’s group dynamics may be different. Don’t ditch an activity that isn’t ‘perfect’ – think about it and develop it.

Richard is also brave enough to say that this activity ‘introduces the students to the main protagonists in the First Crusade and in a silly way’.  Silly? At A level? How can this be ‘proper’?

Two important points – firstly there’s plenty of scope for being serious in A level and an occasional outburst of frivolity can really help concentration, group dynamics and sheer enjoyment of the history! A good relationship between teacher and class and an overall sense of respect for the individuals being studied make sure a silly moment or two don’t undermine depth of understanding. Secondly there’s the potential for using this ‘silliness’ in relation to the individuals being studied – each student could take a historical person in the script, describe how he or she is presented and then do a short biographical study, reporting back on how far the character in the script fits what’s known in reality. ‘Silliness’ can be immensely productive if used in the right ways.

Another important point to note is the importance of the debriefing which is enhanced by the use of photographs taken during the session. Debriefing is vital, providing another layer of consolidation, the chance to ask questions about what’s been puzzling - and students do find it easier to identify and ask about confusing details as the result of this kind of activity.

So even if you don’t teach the First Crusade enjoy reading about Alexius, Bohemond and the rest and think about how this approach could be applied to your own topics – and have fun writing the script [that could be the best department meeting you’ll ever have!]

And keep an eye on Mildenhall’s twitter stream @MilHums

PS – I added the appalling ‘raisin’ joke – do not blame Richard. 

Explanation and Rationale

Richard Kerridge, Mildenhall College Academy

Y12 students have spent the first few weeks getting reacquainted with medieval life: society, the geography, the Papacy etc. Previous to this lesson they should have read pages 34-46 of the SHP Enquiring History textbook to get familiar with ‘the story’ of the First Crusade. I find that by now students can’t wait to find out what happens on crusade and are willing to get involved in the story. [In fact I've tried this activity both before and after students read about the events. Both work equally well – it’s not a test of knowledge but about building up knowledge and understanding in layers that’s important.]

We are blessed with a decent dressing-up cupboard at MCA! I wrote a script covering the main aspects of the First Crusade and should really alter it every year to suit the group and the numbers in the group but I never have time! The script I have attached [ here ] was for a large group of AS level students so there are some small parts for the less lovey students.

The idea is that we use the class room as Medieval Europe and the Near East and the students are in role reading from the script as they move across the room. I have laminated A4 place names and pictures and put them out to help students’ confidence with the geography. See attached PowerPoint [ here ]

Again, I have had varying degrees of success with movement depending upon the nature of the group. At least having to negotiate upturned chairs as part of a mountain range shows the difficulty faced by the crusaders.

I usually act as the narrator as I can keep the pace up and dictate the pronunciation of difficult words to help their reading. However this year a confident student who didn't want to 'act' was the narrator.

The script introduces the students to the main protagonists in the First Crusade and in a silly way highlights the main rivalries between them.

Taking pictures during the activity (even if the connection did not let us tweet from the class room) means students have a visual reminder of the main events of the First Crusade.

After this I copy the photographs into a PP for use in the next lesson.

  • Place the events in the correct order.
  • Write brief notes about each event.
  • Highlight the reason for crusader success (leadership, Muslim disunity, Byz help, religion)
  • Retell the story to the class/small group

When first doing this lesson it was just a fun way of telling the story. Its use has developed a little over five years and it has helped get the ‘story’ into their heads. For other crusades students freeze-frame the Second Crusade, draw the tapestry of the Third Crusade from multiple viewpoints (Anglo-Norman, French and German). I’ve normally run out of time for anything too adventurous for the 4th!

I haven’t yet been able to revisit the script later in the course for revision because of time constraints but when we move to the new style A Level and I have more time I will. I'd look to get students to improve sections of it.

I know the script has flaws but it works for our kids – especially if they’re brave enough to put on accents!


A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser.

• For Richard's script [ click here ]

• For his PowerPoint [ click here ]


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

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Explanation & Rationale