What is it about?
The Everyday Life story contains two elements:
a) The continuities and changes in how people lived and worked – in shorthand, ‘standards of living’. However, as this is a very broad term, it’s worth thinking about what constitutes its core – perhaps comfort of housing, working conditions, health and leisure.
b) Why these standards of living changed. This includes specific major events such as the Black Death and Industrial Revolution but also factors such as harvest quality (and climate), war, population change, technology and government intervention or lack of.
For clarity, it may help pupils to cover these two elements in separate but linked enquiries, first establishing the pattern of change and continuity, then exploring the reasons for that pattern.
Issue A. How do you create a coherent story across 1000 years rather than a series of episodes?
Sporadic studies of medieval village life and the nature of life in a 19 th century industrial town don’t add up to an overall story. To provide that overall story you need an overall activity – see below for suggestions.
Issue B. Will you create an international dimension?
This story can be related to European or World history if you wish. It’s not simply a case of taking 3 weeks to look at Mughal India or medieval Baghdad as a separate case-study but to using a comparative study for examination of similarity and difference and diversity – if you had travelled from 13 th century or 17 th century England what would you have found you had in common, what would have surprised you, what ideas or inventions would you want to bring back with you? [Such a comparison could be carried out if visiting a museum gallery based on another culture]. Similarly, the continued existence of diversity of living standards world-wide can be linked to developments in British social history in the 20th century through looking at life expectancy, water-supply etc today and comparing the factors operating in, say, Britain and parts of Africa. This needn’t take long but will place developments in Britain in context.
Issue C. Are you going to treat this story as a running thread or a development study?
i) a running thread across your 2 or 3 year course, splitting at 1500 and 1900 or maybe at 1800 in a 2 year scheme? Doing it this way provides a good core for each year, clearly establishing a visual sense of period through homes, work etc
ii) a development study covering the whole period, perhaps in a single term? This approach provides a good sense of overview in Y7 with material that’s more accessible to Y7 pupils than that in other thematic stories.
What does the story look like?
Is it possible to describe this thousand years of standards of living in one go? The graph in the section below tries to do so, incorporating the patterns of change and continuity and indicating the major factors that created affected the pattern. In many ways it feels easier to do visually than in a couple of paragraphs of words but I’ll have a go nonetheless.
Medieval life was tough, with lots of hard, physical farming work. Diets were based on vegetables and were unvaried. Homes were simple but were cleaned. Most lives were much shorter than today and the sick and elderly turned to the church for help, not to the government. People had plenty of time off on Holy-Days but the fastest form of travel was on horseback. Everybody was anxious about how good the harvest would be and that depended on the weather – two or more bad harvests on the run (e.g. 1315-1319) and there was the danger of death from starvation. Many were better off after the Black Death, spending higher wages on better housing, clothes, good and education and in many ways standards of living were higher in the 15 th century than for the next 200-300 years.
The greatest change to that pattern came with the Dissolution of the Monasteries removing a major source of help for the needy. Homes did keep improving but the dependence on farming and harvest quality continued (e.g. harvest disasters of 1590s) and life expectancy stayed low. Religious changes also altered leisure with fewer holidays and even the closing of theatres etc in the mid 1600s.
Change accelerated from the mid-eighteenth century – more food being produced, development of manufacturing – but more suffered than benefited initially as rapidly-growing towns harboured diseases and workers had to get used to being in time or losing pay. So awful were conditions in many places that governments finally made efforts to improve people’s living and working conditions, reforming public health so that by 1900 life expectancy was finally on the rise – reforms not unconnected to more men having the vote. Industrialization had also revolutionized transport and the railways in turn played a big part in making professional sport and seaside holidays possible. Change accelerated in the twentieth century – harvest quality was no longer a worry (in Britain), life expectancy virtually doubled, war created a sense of community, triggering the development of the welfare state. We even go abroad for holidays rather than to kill people, sell them things or plant our flag. We expect governments to improve our lives – an attitude that existed for little more than a century.
That’s one story, definitely an individual interpretation. I'm sure that there will be a wide range of reactions to that outline. One may well be that it's all too simple, very much a generalisation that fails to take into account a wide diversity of experiences in any period. My reply to that is that it's necessary to start with a simple outline that can be understood and then build complexity into it, starting with complexity tends to be a recipe for confusion. It's fundamentally about establishing a low entry point that can be confidently achieved but aiming for a more complex exit point in terms of understanding. At the same time other people may be thinking that it's just too complicated a story but having established an outline it is possible to strip out detail in order to reach the bedrock that your pupils will be able to deal with.
Whatever level of detail you outline attains you can use the graph below to form the basis for the story you want your pupils to be able to tell writing, ICT, film or podcast by the end of KS3 – and, of course, there’s nothing to stop you going further back, very briefly to incorporate the Iron Age, Romans etc – that story can be told very quickly in three or four illustrations – see SHP History Y7 for an example.
A final point here – what’s the link to today? What is it about this story that will help pupils have a perspective on and understanding of their world? That needs to be clear to pupils, not left implicit or they will miss the link.
Suggestions for planning and activities
1. Creating a sense of the big story of everyday life
The Standards of Living cards were created to provide a very visual sense of the story from the 1200s to the present. Importantly they make the whole story visible in one lesson, identifying periods of change and continuity, progress and regress but also reasons for change. They work very well spread on the floor of a large room, using coloured tape or rope (from Homebase or similar) to create the line itself.
There are various ways of building the graph up. The quickest is to give one card to each pupil and to ask them to lay their card in the right place on the graph, link the cards with rope and hey presto, the graph has appeared very quickly. Alternatively you could do the section up to, say 1500, discuss what it’s telling you and ask pupils to lay out the rope suggesting how the graph will shape between 1500 and 1800 – then bring in the cards for that period and explore the differences – and what pupils have learned from them.
For a more detailed description of this activity [ click here ].
Of course, it’s also an interpretation and a whopping great generalization – so moving pupils towards thinking about whether more than one line is needed for different experiences is important – at whatever stage you feel your pupils will cope with this idea.
2. How to use this Big Story graph – a variety of methods
Method A. If you are breaking this story up into chronological chunks across 2 or 3 years you can look at the whole story through the graph, then focus in on this year’s chronological section. Set pupils the task of looking at evidence to decide whether the pattern for, say, 1200-1500 is correct or if they would like to redraw the line and amend the factors explaining the pattern. If doing this, you might want to alter the pattern of the graph or add in some deliberate mistakes to the cards so that pupils will very definitely want to correct them. The culminating task is for pupils to redraw the graph and add their own annotations – a good wall display. In terms of conceptual focus this task would help pupils develop skills selecting sources that are most useful for a particular enquiry and skills associated with planning and carrying out an enquiry – the graph is a hypothesis – what questions will they ask of it, how will they test it and communicate their findings?
Method B. Continuing from the above approach, if you then move on in Y8 to Everyday Life 1500-1900 begin by giving pupils the graph up to 1500 and the 20 th century part but leave a gap in the middle – what do they think the graph will look like here – and which factors do they expect to affect it – the same as in the Middle Ages or new ones? So instead of checking a given graph, this time the task is to create one from the evidence provided, first identifying the pattern of change and continuity, then identifying the factors creating that pattern.
Method C. To save time (in a 2 year scheme, for example) you could treat this story as a Development Study, covered in one long-ish term. Follow the approach described above in (a), modelling how to check the accuracy of the graph for 1200-1500 with the whole class. Then give parts of the graph to different groups to check and re-design, using the same approach that you modelled for the Middle Ages. This means that everyone doesn’t do the whole picture in detail but everybody does see the whole picture in the form of the completed graph – and it’s the broad picture of pattern and factors that you want pupils to take away, not necessarily all the details that make up that pattern.
3. Other approaches to the Everyday Life story
These two strategies provide different models for exploring this story, trying to adopt a very different approach from standard textbook question and answer activities.
Approach A. Travelling in time
Taking a time-travelling approach can be great fun, ideal for Y7 while saving valuable time by tackling the whole story in one unit as a Development Study.
This approach has been tried out successfully by schools using SHP’s Lost in Time textbook which models this approach. It begins with a time-machine, a rather decrepit one that’s bringing a class back from a time-trip to Ancient Rome. What happens if the class can’t get back to the present day? Which period will they choose to live in?
That’s the general scenario – from there it’s best to give pupils specific choices – Lost in Time covers the 1330s, 1660s and 1870s. Pupils are given 5 criteria to judge each period by – how comfortable would they be? What would they do for entertainment? How dangerous would life be? etc - and seek out evidence from each period. You could speed up coverage by giving each group in the class a different criterion to investigate and then pool the conclusions.
So in one time-travelling investigation pupils can study the whole swoop of social history from the Middle Ages to now and you can also use your existing resources. Having decided when you would like to live in the past, time can then be given to exploring why lives changed by looking at the impact of the Black Death, the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution.
Again the whole story graph (described above) provides the backdrop and links the periods studied by the time-travellers, providing an overall coherence. Pupils, sense of chronology will also be enhanced by placing real people they encountered on their time-travels on the graph.
Approach B. The Theme Park
This approach is based on resources in the SHP History Y7 material. As well as offering a different strategy it has clear literacy objectives in developing paragraph writing and aims to develop a sense of co-operation with groups contributing to a final product everyone can be pleased with. And in even more practical terms it will save time on what can become a time-intensive extensive topic.
The core task is to re-write a draft and very inaccurate guide book for a new Theme Park, provisionally called Muck and Misery in the Middle Ages. Ideally you’d begin by finding out whether and why pupils think that would be a suitable name for the Park. Begin by modelling the task, researching and re-writing one paragraph. We’ve chosen Fun (what people did when not slaving over a hot plough) as the topic and build in work on what makes a well-structured paragraph - begin it with an overview sentence followed by supporting evidence. Having modelled the activity with the whole class then give groups individual topic paragraphs to check and revise themselves e.g. Homes, Freedom, Religion, Health – whichever aspects of medieval life you wish to cover. With the whole guidebook re-written (and illustrated?) decide on the best name for the Theme Park and develop any other Theme Park activities you wish – creating advertising posters, games (find the answers to our true or false game) etc.
The big graph is an outline that could provide a framework for creating the story of Everyday Life on PowerPoint or Moviemaker. Which images would you choose to illustrate this section of the story? What would the captions or voiceover say? The visual and oral form may well enable many pupils to tell the story in greater complexity (and with greater retention) than they could on paper.
A note on conceptual focus
Amidst all this discussion of content it’s important to end by relating this theme to process and concepts. It’s important to build the precise conceptual focus in from the beginning of planning with that focus integral to the enquiry question. Clearly Everyday Life offers plenty of opportunity to develop understanding of Change and Continuity and the reasons for the changing patterns of standards of living create similarly good opportunities for developing understanding of causation. In addition you could bring out understandings of:
Evidence and Enquiry process – asking questions about everyday life; building and/or testing a hypothesis, selecting sources that will be useful for the enquiry; using combinations of sources to develop cross-referencing skills and complete the enquiry. Also changes in the kinds of sources we use over time.
Diversity and Interpretations – examine the variety of experiences of people at a particular time and how choice of evidence and individuals for, say, a museum display on life in your town or area, affects the interpretation.
You won’t want to do all these at once but picking a clear focus at the outset helps shape the enquiry and gives you the best chance to teach effectively about process and concepts in the context of the topic.