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Activities, Discussions and Background Material for A Level

Not all the activities listed below were devised for teaching at A level and therefore will need adapting in detail and demand. That might lead you to wonder why they are here at all. The answer is that, allowing for those adaptations, the nature of the activity will work perfectly well with older students, at A level and at university. All students benefit from a variety of activities and many A level students gain a lot from structured role-plays, living graphs and the other techniques because they help build up a first layer of knowledge, enabling students then to go on and read with greater confidence and therefore more effectively.

One of the key messages of this site is:

A good teaching method is a good teaching method, no matter what the age of the students

So don’t reject an activity because it was originally devised for KS3. If it’s a good activity, based on sound teaching and learning principles, it will work at A level too.

General Techniques

Helping Students Think about the Provenance of Sources

A couple of ideas putting analysis of the source before what it says.

Helping students learn and remember Who’s Who

How to involve students in creating a human map of ‘who’s who’ in any period – vital for improving their confidence at GCSE and A Level.

Twitter Biographies

A twitter-style activity requiring clarity of thought and precision of language and which helps sort out confidence-sapping confusions.

Physical Essays

An effective if unusual way of helping students improve essay structure.

Outlining Historiography at A Level

Create a timeline showing why interpretations change

Timelines for Understanding Duration

Simple techniques for developing a key aspect of chronological understanding

Who's Round the Table?

Help your A level students remember who was who

Comparative Lifetimes

A group activity for comparing periods of history – good for KS2 and KS3 – good for A level synoptic understanding.

Physical Family Trees

Ever confused Mary Tudor and Mary, Queen of Scots? A simple way of disentangling the Marys and many other confusing people.

What's on the Agenda?

Get your next A level topic off to a demanding start by turning your class into the royal council, the cabinet or the Politburo.

Digging Up a Mystery

A motivating and fun way to start a topic – all the way from KS2 to A level

Guess Who? Post it!

A gloriously simple idea for use from KS2 to A level, as a lesson starter or to conclude a whole Key Stage

Personal memories as stimulus for creating or summarising a sense of period

Using your own memories to model the key features of any period

Market Place strategies

Ideas for helping students develop as learners in the historical Market Place.

Independent Learning at A Level

An article suggesting ideas for developing independent learning amongst A level History students; it describes one strategy that can help students develop that ability to study a new topic independently and with confidence.

Developing Independent Learning at A level and undergraduates

A revised article, originally written for teachers in HE but just as relevant for A level teachers.

Timelines, Time-Stories and Developing Confidence at A level

Discussion on the use of timelines and time-stories to develop an overview of the content of a new module – vital because it creates confidence, it creates a context and it starts to give a module a unity.

Flipped Learning and Independent Study – a 1970s forerunner?

A quick description of how we tried to give students more independence in A level studying – all of forty years ago.

Are All History Books the Same?

Helping students identify different types of history books (Updated 2019).

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c.1000 – 1450

The Impact of the Normans: A Character Cards Activity

Students use information about a wide range of Saxons and Normans to explore the extent of the impact of 1066

Getting Started with The Crusades

Three activities helping students get to grips with all the names, places and terms encountered with The Crusades – so essential for confidence, when starting a new A level unit.

Events of the First Crusade: helping Y12 understand the course of events

An active, enjoyable way to find your way from western Europe to Jerusalem! Deus Vult


King John in the Hot Seat

A hot-seating activity that can be used at KS3 or extended for use at A Level. RADA qualifications not required!

King John; The Decision–Making Game

Can your students do better than King John or will they lose their crowns?

Burgundians, Orleanists and Armagnacs: French politics in the age of Agincourt

Making sense of the divisions in France c.1400-c.1435 that aided the English conquest

Hundred Years War Sources

A collection of sources on events 1415 to 1453 for use in A level courses and for independent studies (on the HA Site)

Standards of Living in the Middle Ages

This review article was published in 1995 but may still be of value on changing living standards after 1300.

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1450 – 1700

Battle cards, tweets and mini-sagas

A set of simple resources and ideas (using the example of the Wars of the Roses) which may be useful for A level teachers – of any topic.

Anne Herbert: A Life in the Wars of the Roses

An introduction to the people and events of 1450-1485 for A level students

The Wars of the Roses - More Resources

A bundle for The Wars of the Roses at A Level – resources, additional activities and more

Wars of the Roses Sources
(HA site)

A discussion for A level students exploring the nature of late medieval sources and summarising their contextual backgrounds (on the HA site).

Wars of the Roses ‘Who’s Who’ (HA site)

Activities with a lengthy set of mini-biographies of key figures for A level students (on the HA Site).

The Wars of the Roses – a light-hearted outline!

A structured role-play covering 1450-1487, intended as an introductory activity for A level students.

The Wars of the Roses Part 1: Rivalries and Alliances 1450 – 1455

An introduction to the events leading up to the first battle of St. Alban

Using articles on the 1450s with students

Two activities and articles provided by Helen Snelson that she’s used with her A level students.

Feuds and Alliances: 1452–1455

A brief activity enabling students to work out how feuds led to alliances and how these alliances determined the sides at the first battle of St. Albans.

The beginnings of the Wars of the Roses: 1452–1455

A role–play introduction to the people and events for A level and above

Understanding the Pattern of Events 1455–1461

Three brief activities exploring the pattern of events between 1455 and 1461

Understanding the links between nobles and gentry

An activity from Helen Snelson who teaches in York which helps students understand the links between and pressures on gentry and nobles around 1460.

The Fishpool Hoard: Evidence of Lancastrian Resistance 1461-4?

A puzzle from the 1460s – why was this large collection of coins and jewellery buried?

1471: Why did Edward IV win the crown back?

A card-sort demonstrating how to use the Enquiry Process to help students study more independently and with more confidence.

Why did Burgundy help Edward IV win back his crown in 1471?

This brief role-play explores why Burgundy helped Edward IV in 1471.

Richard III and the problem of how to secure the south

A case-study for A level students examining Richard’s options and decisions in the wake of the 1483 rebellion.

Four activities for A level on Richard III

Resources created by Andrew Wallace to help students deepen their understanding and knowledge of the events of 1483.

Henry VII and the Early Tudors

Valuable reading including a very helpful review essay summarising changing interpretations of Henry VII and much else.

Henry VII Survival Game

A decision-making activity which introduces the key events of Henry’s reign

Henry Tudor's Road to the Throne

Create a living graph to show just how unlikely a king Henry Tudor really was

Ryther Hoard & Lambert Simnel

An intriguing find and a possible introduction to reading about the 1487 rebellion

Henry VII's Use of Bonds

You play the part of Henry VII and your students are the nobles - how will they feel about bonds?

Henry VII: Diligent bureaucrat or paranoid blunderer?

A brief update on recent interpretations (which appeared in Teaching History, 118, March 2005).

Henry VII: Out of the shadows?

A good deal of work has been undertaken on Henry VII in recent years but Henry remains puzzling and students still have the same problem I was trying to deal with here – how to reconcile the intriguing complexities of Henry’s personality and reign with the often dull certainties conveyed in older textbooks. (From The Historical Review, 22, Sept. 1995).

Henry VIII – the Glory Trail?

A decision-making activity for use as an introduction or conclusion and revision at A level.

Henry VIII, Wolsey and Europe 1509-1529

Turn your room into a map of Europe and chart Henry's road to glory – or failure

Henry VIII & his Wives – which Queen lasted longest?

A timeline to develop a sense of duration

Martin Luther and the Road to Worms

A play by Mark Fowle to help his A level students deepen their knowledge.

William Cecil’s Dilemmas 1547-1558

A short decision-making introduction to the key events of 1547-58 for A level students.

Kett’s Rebellion – what happened and why?

A role–play that brings people and decision–making off the page and helps students deepen their understanding.

Holy Box and the Altar Table – 16th century religious changes

Create your own church interior – then change it, then change it again, then ...

Elizabeth I – Survival Game

A decision-making activity for A level which introduces the key events of Elizabeth’s reign.

The reign of Elizabeth I: A Scripted Drama

Jen Thornton’s structured drama provides a memorable overview of Elizabeth’s reign

Why did the Armada fail?

Tell the story of the Armada by turning your pupils into ships and develop their understanding of causation and interpretations

Civil War comes to Deerhurst

A role play for A Level students who take the roles of the leading villagers of Deerhurst, dealing with the pressures put on them by Royalists and Parliamentarians

Will you have finished school before Charles I is executed?

A timeline to develop a sense of duration

1646-9: Who was the blame for the execution of the King?

Jen Thornton’s structured drama introduces or summarises the key issues and events

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1700 – 1900

Pre–1832 Election Game

A role play that’s simply not fair – but very good for learning

Shall we join the Chartists?

Test your acting skills and get your students researching Chartism with renewed interest and purpose

Which one is Piedmont again, Sir?

Getting started with Italian Unification at A level.
A physical map activity helping students make sense of all those different states and the story of unification.

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1900 & After

Failure of the Schlieffen Plan

Walk your students through the map of Europe and make your decisions - then discover the grim reality

Should we support the Bolsheviks – 1921

A role-play, by Mick Long, to develop students’ understandings of the political situation in Russia in 1921.

Stalin, Trotsky & the struggle for power after Lenin

Sally Burnham demonstrates how these complex events can be readily assimilated. Chocolate biscuits an essential resource!

Weimar Republic Party Games

Help your A Level students get to grips with all those Weimar acronyms

Hyperinflation Crisis in Germany

Can your students buy a bar of chocolate before their money runs out?

Germany 1918–1939; Living Timeline

An active overview of key events that creates more complex explanations

Reichstag 1932-1933: How did Hitler finally gain power?

Ian Luff explains how to introduce students to Hitler’s rise to power and then build in complexity.

Rhineland Occupation Game

Were the politicians of the 1930s really blunderers?

Eye Spy Gestapo

This activity created by Martin Strawson demonstrates that fear of the Gestapo rather than numbers explains their effectiveness.

Role-playing Unemployment in the 1930s

Make the Depression personal and enhance students' understanding

Re-packaging the Alphabet Agencies and the New Deal

Turn a difficult topic into an enjoyable, effective and inspirational lesson

Shall we escape to the West?

Will students risk trying to cross the Berlin Wall?
A practical activity that really improves discussion, thinking and understanding.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

A gloriously simple way to make your students’ understanding far more sophisticated

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General Techniques

c.1000 –1450

1450 – 1700

1700 – 1900

1900 & After