Active Learning on

Approach 3 – Personal memories as stimulus for creating or summarising a sense of period

This activity I owe to Dale Banham.

When Dale was working on SHPs Year 9 textbook he used an extract from David Kynaston’s book ‘Austerity Britain 1945-51’ to sum up life in the late 1940s and as stimulus for students to write their own version of their own decade. The essence of this extract is that, rather than being written informal sentences, it accumulates words and phrases to build a word picture. We then developed the idea for the decades from the 60s onwards for the accompanying Dynamic Learning web-based activities and I was given the task of writing my summary of the 1960s (when I was a teenager) in 200 words at most.

Here’s my effort.

The 60s – ‘I have a dream’

The Famous Five, Airfix kits, Biggles, Blue Peter, The Sound of Music, James Bond 007, record players and discos, John, Paul, George and Ringo, Yeah, yeah, yeah, ‘Turn that racket down!’, mini-skirts, Hippies, Flower-Power, Woodstock, ‘Hair – flow it, show it, long as God can grow it.’

Churchill’s funeral, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassinated, Aberfan.

‘I have a dream’, Martin Luther King assassinated.

Civil Rights, Black Power, Student riots, Make Love not War, Sit-ins, End the Vietnam War, Ban the Bomb, Anti-Apartheid, Ban the South Africa tour, Northern Ireland, Send in the army, The Troubles. Another soldier … next of kin have been informed.

One small step for man. National Service – the end. Hanging – the end. Race Relations Act, abortion legalised, The Pill, heart transplants, moon landing, motorways, fridges, washing machines, tights – warmth for women!, 3 TV channels – now in colour!, central heating (for some) – no more freezing bedrooms so teenagers have their own space, cars (for some), foreign holidays (for some), university (for some), students leave their home towns (and don’t go back), comprehensive not grammar and secondary modern. Blocks of flats, concrete, concrete, concrete, ‘all the lonely people, where do they all belong?’

You’ll never walk alone. The Kop. Leather footballs. £100 a week footballers, 1966 World Cup – 4-2 extra time.

‘I have a dream.’

‘They think it’s all over. It is now!’

Summarising a Decade, a Century, an Era

This task seems a really good way of summing up a period of history, whether it’s decade or a century or an era such as Roman Britain, the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution. However I think it gains an extra edge if it begins with your own summary of the decade you grew up in because you engage students by revealing something of yourself. So – choose your decade and write your summary – in the number of words you want students to use for the task you’ll set them. Then read it aloud, using lots of intonation – surprise, delight, sadness, shock etc. Finally, for this stage, ask students to analyse the words and the sounds – what range of topics you have included (inventions, sport, people and events, having fun, etc etc), what’s the overall theme, the one greatest symbol of the period, how have you written it, any other features (e.g. lines from songs)? This process of analysis helps define their task.

Then set students their task – to sum up the 1940s, the 1530s, the 14th century, Renaissance Medicine or an era such as Roman Britain in 200 words or whatever limit suits them. For most students this could be done as a summing up but at A level you might use this at both ends of a module – at the beginning as a research task (how much can we learn and convey in 200 words about the reign of Elizabeth I) and then re-do it at the end – what’s similar and different from the first version, what’s been learned and conveyed in this second version? For both GCSE studying the 20th century this might be tackled with different groups describing different decades to get a sense of similarities, differences and key features of each decade. Similarly A level classes could use this to look for similarities and differences within a period.

Students with an artistic streak could do this in images, filling a sheet of A4 with drawings but picking one image as the central dominant one to sum up the period.

Other valuable and important elements, once the descriptions are complete, are

a) for students to compare their descriptions and explore why there may be differences

b) going to the heart of sense of period by picking out of the descriptions those elements that have similarities with other periods and those that do most to distinguish this period from others. Sense of period is very strongly about this balance of similarities and differences amongst periods.

Student Summaries

Richard Kennett has been using this activity to help his GCSE Medicine classes improve their sense of period. Quite rightly he aimed for a shorter piece of writing – 100 words or thereabouts as the shorter the piece the more it has to concentrate on essentials.

You can read a couple of his students’ summaries on Richard’s blog (the Egyptian one’s great)

And also see Richard’s blog on using artefacts to create a sense of period (29 September).


BACK to START                        NEXT APPROACH

This Page


‘I have a dream’

Summarising a Period

Student Summaries


Using Family Histories

Using Family Histories

  1: Generations

  2: Migration

  3: Sense of Period

  4: Industrial Revolution

  5: Changes in Everyday Life

  6: Overview of 20th Century

  7: Outbreak of WW2

  8: GCSE Medicine


The entire article (PDF)

My mother’s 1930s (PDF)

Dad’s 20th Century Lifetime (PDF)

My mother’s Wartime (PDF)

What do we owe our lives to? (PDF)