Active Learning on

Introducing Thinking History

This website is far larger than I ever envisaged when I wrote the first items in 2004. Its context has also changed as, back then, I was assuming that the national network of PGCE tutors would introduce the site to their trainees.

So, with the fragmentation of training that no longer happens, the points below sum up the main features of the site:

1. All the teaching material is designed to increase students’ knowledge and understanding of the past. Don’t be fooled by the references to activities and props into thinking the main aim of the material is enjoyment – they are ‘merely’ vehicles (though effective vehicles) for the deepening of students’ knowledge that should be central to all history teaching.

2. The material also focusses on helping students understand the process of studying the past – developing this understanding should be entwined with the development of knowledge.

3. This site features activities such as role-plays and decision-making tasks. I used such major activities at intervals (often at the opening of a section of work) because they helped overcome the problems I knew students had in learning about a topic – they are all designed to solve a ‘learning problem’ about history. They were therefore central to the teaching and had very clear objectives, never bolt-ons or end of unit treats. However it also needs to be said that I didn’t teach like that all the time and don’t expect anyone else to do so! That would be exhausting and confusing for teachers and students. At least 80% of my teaching consisted of me talking, explaining, asking questions, students reading, answering, writing – and it’s worth noting that in all the major activities too the teacher is directing and leading, frequently vocal, always in charge, including being in charge of the most important stage of an activity – the explicit debriefing about what’s been learned.

4. The site doesn’t provide ‘quick-fix’ solutions for a lesson starting in 20 minutes. All the activities need thoughtful preparation and tailoring to the needs of individual classes.

5. There is a great deal more on the site besides ‘activities’. There are discussions of many aspects of history teaching, including the teaching of individual historical topics. There’s also notes for those new to teaching about how to use and get the best out of the teaching material on the site. At the time of writing (autumn 2017) my focus for the future is to support the teaching of medieval history through the Exploring and Teaching Medieval History project.

The HIGHLIGHTS section provides a sample of this variety while allowing me to enthuse about some of my real favourites – but then I can enthuse about everything on the site!

And if you don’t know what a tabard is (they feature in a lot of the activities) here’s a photo! And there's more information HERE …

I do hope the site proves useful to you – I can never keep up with ideas and updates as much as I‘d like but am always happy to receive feedback HERE ….

Ian Dawson



A selection of some of my all-time, very, very, very favourite items on the site.

They also reflect the variety of material and discussions on the site.

More …