Active Learning on

The Impact of the Black Death: Changes and Continuities


Analysing the effects of a major event can be a nebulous business, even for students at A level. We ask students to identify changes and continuities and to 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 making the pattern of changes and continuities more concrete through physical representation may help students to understand more and to understand it more deeply.

This activity on the effects of the Black Death parallels the activity on the impact of the Norman Conquest. The impact cards were written by Ashley Bartlett during his school placement while completing the PGCE course at the University of Leicester.

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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 Black Death and which were not
  • the complexities of continuity and change e.g. that most aspects of society saw change but there were some continuities

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

Setting Up

1. You need two sets of cards (provided below)

a) Topic cards e.g. Wages. These need to be large and visible to everyone in the room. Instead of using cards you could make tabards for students to wear.

b) 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



Home Life






Labour services



Relationship with Lords


Role of Women

Art and building



Impact Cards

1. Even though the plague seems to have vanished, I am still very scared that it will return and kill me and other survivors in my village.

2. Now that so many have died, there are fewer people to work on the land.  I can get paid lots more money for the work I do because there are less people to do the jobs.

3. Farmers and merchants have had to reduce their prices now that there are less of us to buy goods. Otherwise we will buy from someone else.

4. There is now lots of land in our village that belonged to those who have died.  I have bought some of this spare land and others have rented it.  Peasants like me are getting richer from our new land.

5. Most peasants, like me, were villeins.  We used to have to work for our Lord for forty days without pay each year.  Now that there is less labour I have made a deal with my Lord to pay him instead of working for him.

6. Since the Black Death, I have rebuilt my home, making it bigger and more comfortable.  I eat more meat and less bread; I even wear clothes made from coloured material!

7. My Lord did not like paying me higher wages after the Black Death.  In 1351 there was a new law, the Statute of Labourers, which said no peasant could ever be paid more than he was before the Black Death.  This has made us very angry.

8. I have been able to buy my freedom from the Lord but many peasants are still villeins and aren't free.  They are still under the Lord's control and can't leave.  This upsets some peasants.

9. During the plague we tried many different ways of curing the sickness.  None of our cures worked, we still have the same medicines.

10. Since the plague it's harder to find people to trade with.  Some villages still fear the spread of disease whilst other villages have disappeared.

11. I still go to church because some people say the plague was sent by God as punishment for our wicked sins.  However, some people are now saying that the church is too wealthy and did not do enough to help us.

12. Now there are fewer workers we women have more chance to find work in towns. I know one woman who has started a business as a blacksmith. We can also be choosy about who and when we marry.

13. Building on our church has stopped because there aren’t enough skilled builders. We have a new wall painting but it shows Death and the dying instead of the old more colourful Bible stories.

14. The king had to stop his plans for war with France for a while but he’s recruiting men again now. Nothing stops government and war for long.

15. Although there aren’t as many workers our farming methods haven’t changed. We still do everything by hand with the same tools.

The Activity

1. Distribute the two sets of cards among pupils so that every student has a card.

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.

4. Now ask the class who has the topic card or tabard that matches that sentence. Bring the student with the Fear card to the front.

5. Now you can start to build up your Change-Continuity continuum. Ask where the student with the Fear 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 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. Some topics could go in the middle of the continuum if there’s been both change and continuity. Use a student 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. why were there so many topics at the change end?
  2. what links can you see between the topics at the change end?
  3. why did the topics at the continuity end not change?

2. The pattern you have created can provide a simple essay plan for students writing about the impact of the Black Death – 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 the impact of the Black Death. 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. 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. Much better in terms of keeping a record is to build up the pattern on your IWB. 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 and comparing the comparative impact e.g. compare this pattern with that created by the Norman Conquest activity elsewhere on the site. 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.


  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?
  1. How will this activity link into the rest of your KS3 course?
  1. content - how and when will you return to the impact of the Black Death 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?

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

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Setting Up

The Activity


Notes & Variations