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Using your classroom layout to build knowledge of Monarchs, Campaigners, Prime Ministers, Dynasties  … maybe more!

I’m not quite sure how this idea started – it was there in my head one morning when I woke up – and it is only an idea, one which can be developed in a variety of ways, depending on your context and preferences. Hence this summary just provides an outline and leaves it to your inventiveness to develop if you think it useful. One warning however – it’s not an activity that’s done in a week or two. It needs maintaining as a background activity for much longer – two terms at least I suspect.


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The Basic Idea

Imagine a Y7 class who all sit in the same place in class each time you teach them – they have to in order for this to work!  At the beginning of Y7 you go round and give them all a name – start on the left with Edward the Confessor, Harold II, William I, William II, Henry I etc. etc. until you’ve named the whole class in the sequence they sit in. If you have 25 children in the class that takes you from Edward the Confessor to Elizabeth I but clearly you could vary the monarchs you start and end with.

Easily said but how you ‘give out’ the identities is important – make a show of it, be the ringmaster e.g. get the 4 Norman kings to stand up and introduce them one by one – here’s Sarah as William I, then William’s two sons, James as William II and Tom as Henry I [they didn’t get on!] and finally Moira is William’s grandson, Stephen – the only Stephen to be king of England. William, William, Henry, Stephen – the 4 Norman kings, ladies and gentlemen!!

You could continue in that vein – identifying groups at a time and looking for helpful patterns e.g. when you get to Edward VI you could look back ‘and here’s Henry VIII’s son Edward, now which number Edward are you? Can all the other Edwards stand up? Ah, there’s 3 Edwards there in a row – the Plantagenet Edwards 1, II and III and then there were two more Edwards together – IV and V- the Yorkist Edwards and so young Edward here must be, all together now, Edward VI!

There’s plenty of other opportunities to do that kind of thing – the three Lancastrian Henries, for example. And then Henry VI and Edward IV could take turns to pop up and down as they both had 2 go’s at being king – and scope for props, for example a doll for the young Henry VI, king aged 9 months and, of course, a car park ticket for Richard III. Note the to-ing and fro-ing across time and lots of repetition of names.

And while you’re doing this the class fill in a seating plan of who’s sitting where and the dual names of their fellow-students and the monarchs.

The pupils then keep those names and identities for perhaps two terms, maybe three, to really let the identification take hold.

That’s enough to get the general idea across. You could continue this in Y8 with monarchs back from George VI (though being George V or VI lacks the excitement of being Edward II or Elizabeth I). There’s 22 monarchs from Henry VII to George VI – and I hadn’t realised til I added up that the 4 up to Elizabeth II have the initials EGEG – or VEGEG if you’re a vegetarian and want to include Victoria. That would mean overlapping the late medieval/Tudor in both years but that just adds to the consolidation – or be bold and go back to the Saxons in Y7!

In Y9 your class could be Prime Ministers – not all of them as there’s loads [53 from Walpole to Cameron] but a selection of the significant or interesting ones. Again there’s plenty of scope for comparative activities looking at patterns of parties, issues, wars etc.

Or you could use the identification in more interesting and radical ways – each student for two terms could be a different campaigner for freedoms and improvements across time from Wat Tyler [or even going back to Hereward against the Normans] to the Hillsborough campaigners  and taking in overseas campaigners too?. That would create comparisons on aims, successes, when aims were achieved etc. Another option would be to use this personal identification to develop, for example, an understanding of the chronology of the 20th century – individual students could be events in chronological order or a 4 year-period each or … whatever might work!

Of course if you’re a two-year KS3 school you’d have to have a different plan – something like:

• Y7 – two terms as monarchs from William to about Charles I, one term as the second half though you’d start back somewhere around Henry VII-ish.

• Y8 – two terms as campaigners and maybe one as Prime Ministers or 20thC events?

What could you do with this student/monarch etc. identification?

You could:

• in one lesson in three refer to children by their royal name so that everyone builds familiarity with where all the other monarchs are in sequence in the classroom. This may help them get an overall sense of what the names of the monarchs are and where they fit roughly in the sequence e.g. Henry I is early on, John’s a bit later etc. etc.

• set homeworks involving research on their monarch’s reign – dates, how many years that is, marriage, key events, successes and failures, famous people at the time, death (ideally dramatic) – what’s the connection to the next monarch. It’s a version of building Top Trumps cards!

• use this information in lessons to look at links and patterns across time or to provide background to particular events. There’s likely to be all kinds of occasions when turning to Richard I or Edward I or Richard III for information will seem natural as your teaching extends from 1066 into the 16thC.

• use students’ knowledge of ‘their’ monarchs to test hypotheses about patterns of royal power e.g. kings who were bad soldiers were always deposed. This kind of activity can work through textbooks but would come more ’alive’ with ‘real’ kings!

• create an understanding of dynasties as all the members of a dynasty will be sitting near each other. Get them to stand up together in their groups, explain their name and links and why their dynasty came to an end. The pattern of dynasties across the room should gradually become very clear. [dynasties – for simplicity I’d have Normans, Angevins, Plantagenets – H3, Ed, Ed, Ed and R2 – then Lancaster and York. I know Plantagenets covers Henry II to Richard III in some lists but that makes creating small, memorable groups impossible. And while I’m on HEEER 1216-1399 they make a nice weak, strong, weak, strong, weak pattern or Challenged, Warrior, Challenged, Warrior, Challenged ... or invent your own!]

• create a photographic record of who’s who – each student wearing a crown? – maybe one dynasty per A4 sheet, task to fill in names and dates of monarchs to go with students’ names [and similar for other topics such as campaigners]. These could stay on the classroom walls after this stage of the activity is complete as a reminder.

• organize them by century – which monarchs and dynasties go in each century?

Why try this ‘activity?’

All of which may seem a bit vague. It may not have the immediate appeal of a website providing a fully-worked out activity on an individual person or event that you could see yourself using on a Thursday afternoon – which brings me to why you might do this? After all, learning names of monarchs and Prime Ministers comes loaded with lots of educational and political baggage. It’s fairly easy to state the pros and cons:

a) in its favour - having these names in our heads gives us a very useful frame of reference, a common language with other people engaged in studying History. It can facilitate looking at patterns across time and can also boost confidence simply because we know these details. And some children do enjoy and have a facility for learning such details – though usually in the form of the Liverpool FC Cup Final team of 1965 etc. And, as noted above, it can be more wide-ranging than mere monarchs.

b) against – learning names and dates usually conjures images of learning by rote and there’s nothing about this that makes people think back fondly on their history lessons! In addition, such activities seem to lead naturally to ‘tests’ and, while teachers know that tests are good for you, most people fear that tests mean they’ll get some things wrong and that reduces confidence. Secondly very few people seem to know such things – I keep being surprised at just which friends and relatives happily ask ‘which ones were the Stuarts?’ or ‘where does Charles II fit in?’ Not being able to recite lists of kings doesn’t stop people being valuable members of society! And thirdly – even if you do learn them they won’t last! For all the discussions of making knowledge stickier through tests etc. we can’t keep emailing students top-up tests as they advance through their 20s and 30s into middle age and beyond! Information has to keep being used to stay in most minds.

All teachers obviously have to decide for themselves whether they’re going to set tasks aimed at remembering such lists – but too often the choice in terms of methods has seemed a stark one. EITHER it involves ‘learning by rote’, going over and over lists in your head, writing them out etc. etc. – trying to cram those details in OR we cover the material in chronological order – and hope! There hasn’t been much – or anything – between these extremes.

However what the activity outlined above may offer is a middle way – one that gradually builds up familiarity in a way that can be enjoyable, that helps a sense of names, sequence, duration, events seep in over time. It won’t by itself lead to students remembering more than some of the details [to begin with they’ll remember their own king, their friends’ kings, maybe who the class clown was] – but importantly it gets students ready for a more detailed learning stage which maybe makes the hard slog of learning lists less hard. Subsequently sitting down to learn the names is tons easier, much less dull, much more optimistic if you already have some of the lynch-pins in place, know the dynasties, have some sense of sequence – you can begin with questions to answer e.g. who fills the gap between x and y? who came after z?  etc. etc.

In Conclusion

Of course this is only an idea – based on little more than past experience that this kind of activity, creating a sense of familiarity between students and individuals in the past, can lead to effective long-term memorisation.  I don’t have much evidence for this, just a handful of experiences with different age-groups that tells me that this kind of ‘student to past individual’ identification helps, not just that I can remember who I was but I can remember who my friends were too and maybe some more, enough to build the beginnings of an overall pattern.

You may not want to have your students try to learn these details, you may not feel you have time to build this in. But if you do have a go and build it into the warp and weft of your KS3 classes, then play with the idea, run with it, make it fun, be inventive - and if it shows promise do get in touch – and if you try and it’s a complete failure still get in touch and tell me why!


I underlined the phrase gets students ready for a more detailed learning stage because that suddenly felt important. In terms of effective learning the idea of ‘being ready’ seems vital – as well as having complex implications for structuring courses. By and large students only ever have one go at learning about a historical topic so there’s not really any opportunity for ‘getting ready to learn effectively’ – but that’s a whole other can of worms to return to another time. What do I mean by ‘getting ready to learn’? My example of ‘being ready’ is completely different, focussing as it does on my own 63 year-old mind trying to get to grips with Art History but here it is:

Yesterday evening (29th December 2014) I realised I was ready to start learning … about the Impressionists. Since my wife started exploring the history of art in her retirement I’ve picked up a little information – random names (Monet, Manet, Cezanne etc), a sense that this was happening in the late 19th century and an idea of what impressionism is. But it’s all been a bit random – no precise knowledge of which artists came first, what works each artist painted or, especially, which one was Manet and which one was Monet.

But I’d bought Pat a DVD on Impressionism for Christmas and we decided to begin watching it. Up came the menu, a list of artists – Manet, Monet and the rest. And that’s when I realised I was ready to start learning. Looking at the list I had questions – when exactly did these people paint their pictures, who started it, how was their work connected, which one WAS Manet and how was he different from Monet? And by the end of the first programme on Manet I had answers! It helped that Manet was born in 1832 as I knew I’d remember that - 1831 or 1833 would have required a less obvious association than the Great Reform Act. But armed with my questions I listened differently and by the end of the 30 minutes I understood how Manet fitted in with the Impressionist movement [more influence than full member] and he came BEFORE Monet whom he influenced – and I will remember this because the A in Manet comes alphabetically before the O in Monet.

I think this does overlap with the discussion above which is about learning as much or more than it’s about kings and queens. In this case I had already developed a sketchy pre-knowledge of Impressionist names and places – and now I was ready to learn more, to put the pieces together. And this may prompt ideas about how about how to find the best time to do some ‘learning by heart’ or other form of getting a stronger knowledge of kings etc. into students’ minds and perhaps also about how we structure KS3 schemes of work - but I’ll leave that latter idea for another time!

PPS - If you haven’t already seen them there’s a set of Top Trumps cards on the site here …

And for an alternative, football-oriented, way of thinking about dynasties and kings see Kings of Football here …


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

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Basic Idea

What could you do with it?

Why try this activity?


PS and PPS!