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Helping Students Identify Different Types of History Books

These notes link to an A level textbook spread I designed back in 2010.

See a larger version [ here … ]









Reluctantly I left it out of the book because I didn’t have enough pages but the ideas still seem important, especially for A level students thinking of going to university to study history. It may be easiest to start by having a quick look at that spread, then read on!

What I was trying to do was help students:

1. place the A level book/s they use in the context of other types of book, by showing some of the resources I used in writing my book. (These included primary sources as, having taught the topic at degree level, I have a good knowledge of the sources for the period).

2. see how different types of book relate to each other

3. see how they can develop their own reading, working back from general to more detailed books and articles, especially if they move onto degree level.
Underpinning these issues was a belief that students should gain an understanding of how the subject is studied in order to develop their independence as students – this should be part of the unwritten curriculum at A level even if of no obvious value in gaining a good grade.

Thoughts this raises:

I haven’t tried to update or change the draft spread (it was very much a draft back in 2010) as I’m not suggesting using it with a class. However here are some thoughts it raises, in no particular order:

1. How would you adapt and improve this idea for use with your students?

2. Would this work as a wall display and what might be in it?

3. Would it work better as a physical display – with real books and articles, linked by pieces of string etc – maybe asking students to explain and comment on the pattern and links?

4. Is there an activity here, asking students where within the pattern they would put books A, B, C and D i.e. they’d have to decide which category other books belong to?

5. Could you build these ideas up across years 7-11 as well as at A level?

And finally, and possibly mischievously:

Should every textbook have such a plan, showing how the author built up his or her book?


The reference to ‘History on the Move’ in question 6 on the spread is to a feature in the books looking at changing interpretations. What we were emphasising is that understanding of the past doesn’t stand still – we wanted students to see the study of History as a continuing conversation between historians – what we know and understand is the result of that developing ‘conversation’ taking place in books and articles as each generation of historians builds on the work of previous historians, challenging but also deepening previous understandings.


Download the textbook spread here …


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

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