Physical Family Trees
Family trees, like timelines, often have little impact. How many students (including A level students) have looked at a Tudor family tree yet still think that Mary Tudor and Mary, Queen of Scots were the same person? One solution is to turn the class into a moving, sitting down, standing up family tree. This works with small trees e.g. the Angevins or large ones such as the Tudors.
As an activity this is a classic example of something that seems simple and even, perhaps, insulting for students to do. It is after all, especially at A level, a lot quicker to flash a family tree up on a whiteboard or get everyone to look at a page in a book. But can you guarantee everyone is listening even if they look as if they are? The use of movement is more likely to get attention – although not infallible!
The key point – don’t use this in a very general way to explain a whole lot of connections and relationships. Use it for one or two very specific purposes – the things you know students get wrong time and time again, like the Mary Tudor, Mary, Queen of Scots confusion. It’s yet another example of building the activity around the learning problem.
1. Give each student a blank card or tabard and the family tree in question. Allocate individual students to people on the tree.
2. Ask them to write the name of their individual on the card/tabard and take a close look at where their person fits on the tree and then put the tree away.
3. Now build up the tree by bringing an individual out to the front e.g. Henry VII – and ask questions to bring out others – who was married to Henry? Who was his eldest son?
4. Continue until complete – then you can start asking questions of individuals so they have to explain – who is your father, sister, cousin, who will be king after you etc. If students talk and explain orally this is likely to be a major aid to understanding and recall.
5. Focus on real puzzle points e.g. get Mary Tudor and Mary, Queen of Scots to stand up together – they’re obviously two different people. Or get everyone in a particular line of descent to stand up – this is good for persistently confusing problems such as how Lady Jane Grey had a claim to the throne or why James I inherited the throne from Elizabeth. Again focus on oral explanation – get each person in the descent to explain their position.
6. Next time – get students to complete a semi-complete family tree on paper on your whiteboard.
Things to think about to evaluate and develop the activity:
- What impact did the activity have on specific misunderstandings that happen year after year?
- Are there any ways of streamlining or simplifying the activity?
- Did this technique make a long-term impact on knowledge and understanding?
- Did students enjoy the activity? What can be learned from this about other styles of activities?