Active Learning on

Activities for GCSE

General Techniques

Population: Continuity and Change

The power of simple demonstrations – three activities providing an overview of patterns of English or British population across time

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.

The Big Human Timeline

Use your students to create a memorable timeline that will help them understand all kinds of issues of chronology.

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

What’s Under the Sheet?

Puzzle and intrigue! A mysterious way to help students sum up a topic.

Historical Who's Who?

Borrow the idea of a well-known children’s game to revise knowledge of individuals.

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

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

Using family history to create an overview of the 20th century

Students can struggle to see the 20th century as a whole - can family stories help?

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Discussions and Issues

My grandfather, the Great War and Medicine

Explaining how I investigated my grandfather’s wounds and illnesses in 1918.

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Thematic Studies: Medicine

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

Two brief activities focussing on the essentials of these long-lasting ideas. These could be starter or revision activities

Change and continuity in Ancient Medicine

Create a physical timeline, using students to represent the periods and key developments in Ancient Medicine

The Medical Marketplace – an Ancient Egypt exemplar

Help your students gain independence, learn from each other and build up their knowledge of Egyptian Medicine.

What did the Ancient Egyptians think caused disease?

Act out Egyptian ideas by turning your students into human anatomy

Four Humours made Simple

The simplest possible demonstration of the theory

Visiting an Asclepion

Can your students find the cure for their ailments at the Asclepion?

Having fun with a pig: Making Galen memorable

An activity from Richard Kennett – see it on his own website.

What’s Under the Sheet?

Puzzle and intrigue! A mysterious way to help students sum up a topic, exemplified by Galen's work on medicine.

Big Brother meets History of Medicine: Debating Significance

Who was the most significant figure in Ancient Medicine? Was it really Hippocrates or would you chose someone else?

Meet Oswald of Ormskirk, Medieval Physician

Your script for playing the part of Oswald and answering your student’s questions. Apple juice required!

Did people worry about dirt and disease in the later middle ages?

A favourite activity from the 1990s that may still be useful at GCSE or at KS3

Medieval public health: News from the archives – Part 1

A summary of the conclusions of two recent academic texts on medieval public health

Pare, Vesalius and Henri II

Report the big news of 1559; simulate the work of Pare and Vesalius as they struggle to save Henri II; identify key aspects of Renaissance Medicine

Pare - Why did it happen then?

Explore the reasons why Pare made his surgical breakthrough by creating a mobile factors web.

Arteries, Veins and Capillaries – what Harvey couldn’t see!

Use a tin of tomatoes to help students understand Harvey's discovery

Revisiting the plague of 1665-6 in Cambridge

A short commentary on Evelyn Lord, The Great Plague: a people’s history (2014)

Simulating an Early Nineteenth-Century Surgical Operation

Find out how Andy Harmsworth provides his students with an engaging and memorable introduction to a series of lessons on the development of surgery (Bring your own saw!)

Lister's Antiseptic spray

Explore the difficulties Lister must have had in using the carbolic spray and perhaps discover why he faced so much opposition. Activity by Ian Luff.

Salvarsan – Guiding the Psychopathic Germ Killer

This activity explains simply, but powerfully, why Salvarsan was effective, but risky. Activity by Ian Luff

Thinking skills for Medicine through Time – Creating Memory Frames

Constructing memory frames on PowerPoint that summarise the key points, aiding memory and revision

Using family history to reveal the people behind 19thC public health statistics

Two examples from my own family showing how to see the people behind the statistics

Public Health through the Ages

A living graph that examines change, continuity and significance in the history of Public Health

Historical Speed Dating: Medicine and Health through Time

Can your students find their ideal match and improve their knowledge of medicine through time? Flowers and chocolates optional!

Big Ideas in Medical History

A grand overview, creating a physical timeline across the room and asking students to identify the big medical ideas of each era

Germs have feelings too! A Lifeline

A valuable revision activity for GCSE, telling the story of the germ!

Bringing Medicine Factors to Life

Turn your students into War, Government etc to help them understand the concept of factors more effectively.

Injecting personal experiences into GCSE Medicine through time

Can individuals’ modern experiences help guide students through the ‘factors’ to understand how much medicine has changed?

My grandfather, the Great War and Medicine

Explaining how I investigated my grandfather’s wounds and illnesses in 1918.

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Thematic Studies: Crime

Punishments through Time

An introductory activity that will get students thinking and asking questions and will reinforce their chronological understanding

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.

Who Will Hang? Unpredictability of the Bloody Code

Bring the accused to court to tell their stories. Can the rest of the class predict who will receive the death penalty? Why was the legal system so unpredictable?

Smugglers Ahoy: Tea for Sale

Why was 18th century smuggling so profitable, and so accepted?

Would you become a highwayman? Explaining the causes of crime

Turn your students into causes and get the rest of the class to sort out the rise and fall of highway robbery. Sadly, no masks or horses required.

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Norman Conquest

Why was William able to invade England in 1066?

A short-role play explaining how events in northern France affected William’s chances of invading England

Understanding the English Succession: 1051-1066

An activity providing an overview of the changing possibilities regarding the English succession in 1066

Nationalities and Family Connections: 1066

A short activity explaining some of the links between England, Normandy and Denmark

The York coin hoards c.1066-1069 – raw material for intriguing lesson introductions

Information and ideas for using coin hoards to introduce the Norman impact on the north

‘Efficient and ingenious.’ Why is that an accurate description of the Domesday Survey and Norman government?

Can students come up with a good way of collecting the information the king needs?

What does Domesday Book reveal about the impact of 20 years of Norman rule?

Use extracts from Domesday Book to research the effects of the Conquest

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

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Norman Conquest – Originally Created for KS3

Note: The following activities were designed for KS3 use.

They may still be useful for GCSE students but will need further detail adding.

The Battle of Hastings: Decisions on the Spur of the Moment? (Groan)

Recreate the battle and help your students understand why the Normans won

The Events of 1066. Could it have ended differently?

Create a map of England, walk your pupils through key decisions and see how their chronicles match up to the real thing. (Don't forget the hair dryer!)

Je Suis le Roi. What happened after 1066?

Rebellions, castle-building, changes in land ownership, Danish invasions, the Harrying of the North and William getting angry in French – c'est magnifique

Changes and Continuities: The Impact of the Norman Conquest

A physical, involving and very clear way into the nebulous business of assessing consequences. We're hanging out the consequences on a washing line!

Why did William want to conquer England?

Your chance to play William – can you pupils sort out your motives?

The Riccall Mystery – how do we carry out historical enquiries?

Start with an imaginary excavation, finish by understanding vital ideas about enquiry. A lively and involving introduction to the process of historical enquiry

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c.1100 – c.1500

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.

Making Magna Carta Personal

An activity that sets students ‘thinking from the inside’ as barons facing King John.

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?

Wales and Edward I: Finding a Purpose and an Approach

Reproduced from my article in Welsh Historian

The Battle of Agincourt (HA site)

A role-play helping students understand the narrative of events and the reasons for Henry V’s success (on the HA Site)

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16th-19th Centuries

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

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

The reign of Elizabeth I: A Scripted Drama

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

Elizabeth I and Europe in 1558

You'll need to move the furniture for this one – but it clearly, simply and painlessly explains the power situation in Europe in 1558.

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

Shall we join the Chartists?

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

Pre–1832 Election Game

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

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20th Century

How did Europe come to the brink of war in 1914?

Turn your classroom into a map of Europe to help students deepen their understanding of the outbreak of World War One. Activity created by Megan Underwood

"Like Hell With the Lid Off"

My grandfather’s description of fighting at Ypres in April 1915.

Understanding Trench Warfare

Created by Megan Underwood, this activity shows Y9 pupils why trenches were such effective defensive structures

My grandfather, the Great War and Medicine

Explaining how I investigated my grandfather’s wounds and illnesses in 1918.

Failure of the Schlieffen Plan

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

The ‘stab in the back’ 1918

Arm wrestle your way to understanding the German army’s reaction to defeat

Treaty of Versailles Territorial Land Lost Game

A revision activity for GCSE provided by Lesley Ann McDermott

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!

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.

Hitler’s Restrictions Against The Jews 1933–1945

A very effective activity exploring how anti-Jewish restrictions destroyed Jews’ ability to resist Nazi oppression and discrimination

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

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.

South Africa in the 1930’s & 40’s: A Living Timeline

An active overview that’s challenging, enjoyable and effective

Breakthrough in the West, 1940

How did Hitler's forces reach the Channel? What was special about their tactics and what did the Allied defences get wrong?

Why did the RAF win the Battle of Britain?

Simulate the rival qualities of Spitfires and Messerschmitts and give your students more fire power in their explanations

World War Two: Why was accurate bombing so difficult?

Turn your class into bomb aimers to discover how difficult their task was - and why civilians were so at risk in bombing raids.

World War Two Living Graph

A really good overview activity that helps students to see the patterns in all those events.

Where are the Viet Cong?

Recreate the tensions of the search for Viet Cong to help students understand why the US army couldn’t win

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 Atom Bomb – a Classroom Demonstration!

How powerful was an atomic bomb compared with other weapons? All you need is an egg - and some egg-proofing!

Cuban Missile Crisis

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

Gerrymandering in Northern Ireland

Your chance to fiddle the votes and improve your students’ understanding

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History Around Us

Making Sense of Hadrian's Wall

Use your pupils as milecastles, turrets and forts to help them understand the Wall and, if they’re lucky, where their site-visit fits into the big Wall picture

Did the Train Arrive on Time?

Liven up the railway revolution with a trip from Stockton to Darlington

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This Page

General Activities

Discussions and Issues



Norman Conquest
(created for GCSE)

Norman Conquest
(created for KS3)

c.1100 – c.1500

16th-19th Centuries

20th Century

History Around Us