Planning & Teaching new KS3 on

Integrating Outline Activities and Depth Studies

The reasons for planning KS3 courses around an effective integration of outline and depth are three-fold:

a) Effective outline activities save time, creating time for depth studies and so avoiding the kind of coverage where everything gets a mention but always at the same shallow level.

b) Effective outline activities provide a proper historical context for studies in depth, while depth studies can be used to test the interpretation in an outline and show how one is built up.

c) Effective outline activities provide coherence, helping pupils understand how the course fits together and gives them a sense of the individual thematic stories they should be able to tell by the end of KS3.

Linking Depth Studies and Outline Activities

Depth studies are easy, maybe too easy, to envisage. They are focussed on an enquiry question which is engaging and stimulating and which opens up a particular area or areas of conceptual understanding. They can also contribute to understanding the attitudes and beliefs held in a particular time. But the tricky part is how a depth study contributes to understanding of the overall thematic story – rather than being an isolated, if interesting, bit of History. This entails thinking about three things.

1. The exact enquiry question needs to link clearly to the overall thematic story.

As an example I’ll take two different approaches to King John.

Several years ago, Dale Banham and I wrote a book which has a depth study enquiry ‘Was King John such a bad king?’ This, thanks to Dale’s work, was a brilliant depth study but it doesn’t link clearly enough to the overall story of monarchy across time, about why royal power waxed and waned over time. In selecting the depth enquiry for our next KS3 material we needed to have our big picture firmly in mind, not just the Middle Ages but at the patterns linking challenges to the king in the Middle Ages to the Civil War - were challenges to medieval kings similar to or different from the challenge to Charles I in the 1640s? So second time round we still chose a depth study on King John (you learn more about monarchy by looking at failures rather than successes) but chose as our enquiry question ‘why did the barons rebel against King John?’ because the answers can then be used to set up an overview activity looking at similarity and differences in causes of revolt and on how far rebels went in taking action against the king.

You can find more about this example and the overview activity in the Power and Democracy section and in the article Thinking across Time. Each of the other thematic story sections contains other examples of the interplay of Depth and Outline.

2. How are you going to interlink them – which comes first?

A year or so ago my ideas about outlines tended to centre round the outline coming at the end, the product of a course, something building up across time from a number of depth studies. One obvious weakness of this is that the only time that pupils see the whole story is right at the end and so there are no opportunities for consolidation or for thinking about the outline as an interpretation that can be challenged or presented differently. For this and other reasons I now see them as being much more useful ‘up front’ in a course, providing in a single lesson a big picture of where pupils are going with any particular thematic story. Putting the outlines first also creates opportunities for integrating depth and outline in more sophisticated but still accessible ways. For example, you can provide an outline and ask pupils to find evidence to support it, choosing the evidence that provides the most convincing support. Or you can provide an outline containing some very doubtful judgements and ask pupils to correct it from their depth study – which doesn’t just involve linking outline and depth but opens up the whole historical process, beginning with a question, treating the outline as a hypothesis to be tested by evidence and then comes the revised answer.

However each thematic story needs to be looked at in its own right as they aren’t all the same. Some are what we recognize from SHP GCSE as Development Studies e.g. Everyday life, Monarchy, Democracy and Human Rights. Others are more comparative. For example, a study of Empires is likely to function better as a comparative study, comparing the motives for empire and effects of empire across at least two empires. Movement and Settlement probably works best in this way too, taking core questions and applying them to emigration and immigration separately rather than treating both together. The exact nature of the thematic story is one of the things that determine how depth and outline are linked and you will find them described in more detail in the relevant sections.

Most pragmatically, having the outline activity up front gives you the chance to control how long you spend on a thematic story. Pupils can see the big picture from that activity and you can tailor the amount of time you spend on a depth study to the amount of time you’ve got. There’s a danger if you start with depth that it rolls on, squeezing out the concluding outline. In some cases, I wonder if the main distinction between a Scheme of Work for 2 years and a Scheme of Work for 3 years is that you have the same outline activities in each one but simply fewer depth studies in a 2 year scheme? But more of that in the section on 2 year planning.

3. Does everyone in the class have to do every aspect of a depth study to understand the outline?

One of the benefits of effective outlines is that it can reduce pressures of time in unexpected ways. In terms of what we want pupils to take away in terms of knowledge it’s likely that the outline contains that level of knowledge – I suspect that no-one really expects pupils to remember every aspect of a depth study. So why does everyone in the class need to cover every aspect of a depth study? For example, you might show a Moviemaker story to Y7 about the story of royal power, why some kings were challenged but leaving spaces in the story to complete – what did happen to John, Henry III, Edward II, Richard II - and then ask pupils to investigate and complete the Moviemaker story. But because the overall outline is there for them to watch and listen to, they don’t all have to work on every king – each group can take a different king and you will have a completed account in 25% of the time it would have taken to cover all the individuals. (There’s a particular reason for tackling all those 4 kings quickly – see Power and Democracy section).

How can you present outline activities?

Outlines seem to work best in visual and physical formats – hence the emphasis in the individual thematic story section on living graphs taking up lots of floor space, timelines, Moviemaker stories, Venn diagrams, jigsaws - anything that allows pupils to get an overall sense of the story in one lesson. Equally there needs to be the opportunity for pupils to build their own versions of these stories – providing evidence to support your outline, correcting your outline with their own version, showing why one graphical line is too simple an interpretation given the range of experiences. Again, physical or ICT versions have the advantage of being more easily amended and developed – Moviemaker or PowerPoint versions also have the advantage of being great finished products to show off at home or at parents’ evenings.

Planning & Teaching KS3 History


What is history?

Frameworks, Themes & What's in it for Students?

Planning Issues

Integrating depth studies and outlines

Everyday Life




England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Power and Democracy