Active Learning on

Hippocrates and Galen:
Why did people believe their ideas for so long?

Two brief activities under one heading:

1.  This helps students understand the question in the heading above, a crucial question in the history of medicine. The emphasis is on creating a positive answer – that their ideas were believed for so long because of their logic and value – rather than on negatives such as people lacked scientific knowledge or were sitting around waiting for Pasteur to begin his experiments!

2. An activity revision we included in our 2008 GCSE books – in which students create photographs to revise the key elements of the work of Hippocrates and Galen.


A WORD version of this activity and accompanying resources can be downloaded:

  • For a WORD version of this activity [ click here ]
  • For the PowerPoint [ click here ]
  • For the Information Sheet and Revision Task Sheet [ click here ]

The Two Activities

These notes follow the PowerPoint sequence – it doesn’t need complex explanation! The material could be used either as an introduction to the work of Hippocrates and Galen or for revision.

Slides 1 and 2 introduce the question and a timeline showing the longevity of their ideas. At this stage ask students why they think their ideas were believed for so long. Ask students to keep a note of their answers and bring out the overall pattern of answers for later use – what do they suggest about students’ interpretations of the medieval and early modern periods.

Slide 3 is a continuum line – students have to place the six ideas on the continuum. The ideas are presented in outline without examples to focus on the essentials of both the ideas and the task overall. This task could obviously be completed in pairs or small groups or by the class as a whole.

Slide 4 – after completing the task ask students again to answer the question about why the ideas were believed by so many for so long and compare their answers with their earlier answers. This slide provides an answer to the question for contrast with students’ own views.

At this stage you can also bring in other reasons for the lasting impact of H and G’s ideas:

a) the longevity of the ideas – it was hard to disagree with such time-honoured beliefs and

b) the influence of the medical authorities who continued to insist that H and G were correct.

Slide 5 moves onto the second activity. This was originally seen as a revision task to be used in conjunction with the Revision task sheet once students had already studied the work of Hippocrates and Galen in detail. However, it could also be used as a starter for work on H and G – give students the image and ask them to use their books to work out the meaning of each of the objects in the photograph and then write thought-bubbles to sum up Galen’s ideas.


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

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The Activities