Planning & Teaching new KS3 on

Planning Issues

The Thinking History KS3 course at the British MuseumThe issues discussed below are of varying length – in some cases they are very brief because they’re dealt with more fully in other sections. However I thought it was worth including all these issues here to provide a sense of the range of issues you might take into account in KS3 planning. No-one is likely to address all these issues immediately in one go, so this is more of an aide memoire for use over several years of developing your KS3 course.

Please also note that major audiences for these notes include trainees and NQTs which may explain points that you think are too obvious to be worth including.

1. Integrating British and World History [ click here ]

2. Thinking laterally – kings don’t have to go in the story of monarchs and democracy [ click here ]

3. Making it memorable – the value of active learning [ click here ]

4. Linking concepts and processes to enquiries and content coverage [ click here ]

5. What’s the product? What will pupils take away that they can be proud of? [ click here ]

6. Helping pupils visualize the take-away [ click here ]

7. What are pupils bringing from KS2? [ click here ]

8. Auditing your scheme of work – individuals and events [ click here ]

1. Integrating British and World History

You will find examples of integration of British and World History in the sections devoted to each of the thematic studies but it’s worth noting that structuring KS3 around these thematic stories should produce a much more coherent course, linking, comparing and contrasting events across the globe, rather than having separate boxes labelled British, European and World History.

For example, the story of the development of democracy embraces the winning of the vote in Britain, perhaps by asking ‘Was the vote won in Britain by violent protest or peaceful campaigning?’, a question that brings together nineteenth-century campaigns with ‘Votes for Women’. That could leave a sense that once rights have been won they can’t be removed or lost – and that’s the link to looking at Weimar Germany, why Hitler was able to come to power and remove human rights - and the consequences of this in the form of the Holocaust. You could then widen the big story further, using the answer to ‘how did they win the vote in Britain?’ as a hypothesis to compare with the experiences and methods of those who struggled for equal rights in the USA and/or South Africa. Keeping the story going enables references back and forward which is critical for consolidating pupils’ knowledge and for helping them see how past events are linked to their world today.

2. Thinking laterally – kings don’t have to go in the story of monarchs and democracy

Thinking creatively can help to solve some of the time-honoured KS3 problems. For example, the beginning of Y8 often resembles a motorway jam as three lanes channel themselves into one. You want some momentum to keep the class involved but first there’s Henry VIII, then Elizabeth, then the Civil War – it feels as if time is grinding to a halt. They’re great topics in themselves but one after the other they tend to sap enthusiasm and it can be very hard for pupils to see the story linking them (and I once wrote a 400 page A level book on the Tudors so I’m not the sort of person who thinks the 16 th century was of no consequence).

The message here is that, just because they wore crowns, doesn’t mean monarchs need be depth studies in the story of Power and Democracy. As the material in the Power and Democracy section explains in more detail, you may decide that Charles I and the Civil War is the only depth study linked to an outline study of the development of the monarchy. Henry VIII may therefore figure more largely in the story of Everyday Life because of the impact of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Elizabeth would make an excellent end of year study in significance – why have so many films been made about her? Does this mean she was the most significant person in British history between 1500 and 1900?

And there are clearly other examples. Many Y9 courses currently start hostilities in 1914 and work their way steadily through battle after battle up to the Cold War, Vietnam and beyond – often at the expense of other twentieth century stories such as Everyday Life. There is a great need to find alternative routes through this material.

One final, intimidating point – if you are never going to refer back to an event or person again why has it been included in the first place? Everyone is stretched for time so every event you cover has to be a contributing part of one of these thematic stories – what does each event contribute to the story? When will you refer pupils back to it to make a contrast with a later event – and if you’re never likely to refer back, in Y8 and Y9, to an event you do in Y7, maybe it’s not worth its place?

3. Making it memorable – the value of active learning

This website is full of arguments for the use of active learning techniques, from the need to meet the various learning styles of pupils to helping A level students read more effectively. At KS3 one argument is of central importance and that's making activities memorable.

To take one example – you will probably spend some time on 1066, looking at why William, Harold and Harald were fighting and what the effects of the Conquest were. By doing so you are establishing some ideas about the reasons for and effects of wars which you can return to when looking at wars later in history – can pupils suggest why there were so many wars in the 20 th century, using what they learned about 1066 as a starter? What similarities and differences can they identify in the effects of medieval and 20 th century wars? These are the kinds of questions that help to create a sense of story across time – but they only have a chance of working if the earlier activities are memorable. For example, imagine yourself, halfway through Y8, asking “Do you remember that source exercise on 1066 – the one on page 43 with Sources A, B and C?” [My apologies for this old joke to all those who have heard me say this before]. There’s not much chance of a positive answer – but what about ‘Do you remember when I cut the teddy bear’s ear off – what was that about? What did you learn then?” Of course even the dreaded ear-removing activity doesn’t guarantee memory but it gives it a much stronger chance because of pupils’ emotional involvement in the activity. One of my favourite quotations is:

“Remember the way the brain works. The more emotion you put into something, the more enhanced the memory.”

And, to develop that thought, the more enhanced the memory, the more you can re-use previous learning and build on it. That quotation is from Darren Clarke and Karl Morris, “Golf – the Mind Factor” – it’s done nothing for my golf but helped buttress my conviction that activities that involve pupils emotionally are really important. And ‘emotionally’ doesn’t mean tears running down their cheeks – it could be surprise, laughter, enjoyment, a sense of achievement – whatever it takes to help pupils care about what happened in the past. All too often we think of History as a subject where objectivity is king – well, it may be when it comes time to write up an answer but objectivity can be often the death knell of the learning process that leads up to that end point (as true of A level and undergraduate work as of KS3). We need to have involvement to stimulate learning, then switch mode to objectivity to create your product, whether essay or short film.

4. Linking concepts and processes to enquiries and content coverage

There seem to be two aspects to this. The first is using concepts to drive enquiries, which requires thinking carefully about the exact enquiry question and how it will draw out the kinds of conceptual understanding you’re aiming at developing. Here are some sample enquiry questions that link into a conceptual focus. It would have been easy to come up with any number of alternative enquiries but these were chosen to bring out the key conceptual elements.


Thematic story

Main conceptual focus

Main enquiry question

The Romans

Empires/Movement and Settlement

Diversity; Interpretations

Did people love or hate living in the Roman Empire?

The Norman Conquest



Who was telling the truth about 1066?

King John and royal power

Power and democracy


Why did the barons rebel against King John?

Medieval village life

Everyday life

Change and continuity

Was life really all muck and misery in the Middle Ages?

Black Death and 1381

Everyday life – why it changed


Rats or rebels – which was more significant?

Later on in KS3 it may well be important to move on from this single-strand conceptual approach to showing how you can use a number of concepts together to answer historical questions. This move from single to multiple-concept enquiries seems to be as much a form of progression as developing more complex forms of understanding of e.g. evidence.

The second aspect of this, which is much harder to keep going, is a sense of the general process of doing History. This is easy enough to introduce in Y7 through mystery detective activities (e.g. The Skeletons in the Fields in What is History? Year 7 or The Mystery of the Skeletons in SHP History Year 7) which take pupils through the process – finding a source, asking questions, using a handful of sources as evidence to create a hypothesis, using more sources to test the hypothesis and develop a fuller answer. That, in essence, is what happens in History but it’s easy to lose it, despite it being enormously helpful to students of any age to have a structure like this to fall back on when they’re getting lost in a topic. So, if it’s important for pupils to understand and re-use this process – where does it fit into the course and how often is it used? Is it a regular presence – or just an occasional visitor?

5. What’s the product? What will pupils take away that they can be proud of?

One major aim at KS3 is to create a coherent course with clear outcomes for pupils in terms of knowledge as well as understanding of the historical process. This means trying to combat the problem of fragmentation (where a series of depth studies, good in themselves, fail to build into something bigger). Coherence in turn raises the question of reinforcement because a truly coherent course makes regular use of earlier work both valuable and necessary. But who seriously expects to refer back to Y7 exercise books or files when in Y8 or 9 – work that’s now forgotten, lost or recycled? ICT is changing this dramatically and is the key element in both making returning to past work possible and in creating end-products that give pupils a sense of achievement.

For example, in future your IT files could contain single slide summaries of ‘the story so far to 1500’ completed in Y7, ready to return to, show and up-date in Y8 and Y9. Better, those summaries could be in the form of Moviemaker or Powerpoint stories, partly created by pupils and carried forward by them across KS3. Such Moviemaker stories are the ideal summaries for pupils to take away from their KS3 History – ‘these are the stories I’ve created and can tell’, products much more interesting and rewarding to show to parents than a flip through an increasingly tatty exercise book, copiously covered in red ink.

To develop this a little further, the aim is to create a complete story using ICT which pupils feel they have played a significant part in producing. This can be built up in various ways, creating greater demands across KS3. For example, to help create the sense of a developing story

  • At beginning of story coverage (e.g. in Y7) show pupils a series of connected images from e.g. the story of monarchy – what do you think this story is about? Can you use these images to try to tell the story? What questions do you want to ask from this?
  • At the beginning of a new phase of story (e.g. beginning of Y8) show pupils the story so far without voiceover – can you remember and re-tell what the story was from the pictures alone?
  • Show pupils the Y7 story (e.g. the story to 1500 that teacher has created or that pupils created in Y7) as introduction to the Y8 story but add alternative images suggesting different options for what happened next – how do you think the story will develop?

Pupils’ involvement can be at a number of different levels e.g.

  • You provide voiceover and ask pupils to choose accompanying pictures from a given set – simply matching pictures to parts of voiceover
  • You provide a given set of pictures (still or movie) and ask pupils to write voiceover/story captions to accompany pictures
  • You provide voiceover and ask pupils to choose pictures from within a given set of illustrations, selecting some, discarding others
  • Offer pupils free range to tell their story by writing voiceover and choosing illustrations

6. Helping pupils visualize the take-away

If an important objective is for pupils to be able to tell several of these thematic stories by the end of KS3, then they need to be clear on the nature of this objective from the outset.

Click on the image to see the full jigsawOne way to do this is to use the analogy of a jigsaw which tells a thematic story in miniature. This example could be used early in Y7 to help pupils grasp the idea – it’s not one of the major stories but one element of the story of everyday life – the story of fun across time!

Pupils have to sort the pieces into order, then identify changes and continuities, turning points, periods of rapid change, think about why there were changes and continuities and finally ‘talk and tell’ the story. You could also model the issue of interpretations by omitting the 1650s piece to begin with, letting pupils construct their story then bring in the 1650s piece and discuss how the story changes. Used at the beginning of KS3 and repeated (using this or other examples) later on it will help pupils understand what they are being asked to do.

For another example of a jigsaw outline story (on migration) see SHP History Y7 pages 24-25

7. What are pupils bringing from KS2?

The issue of analysing and using pupils’ prior understandings about concepts and processes has often been raised in relation to the transition from primary to secondary. The same important but difficult issues arise in relation to knowledge and understanding of content – are pupils bring any worthwhile knowledge that can be built on at KS3? It’s often easier to assume that they’re not - it saves disappointment, not to mention time trying to find out what they know. But it’s likely that pupils do have assumptions that tie in to some at least of the thematic stories at KS3. Do they think that Henry VIII and Victoria did the same kinds of things as monarchs? Could both of them just do exactly what they wanted or did ordinary people had any say in, for example, going to war during those reigns? What do they think the pattern of change and continuity is in how comfortable people’s lives were – a line of steady improvement? Assumptions need to be brought out into the open if they are to be successfully challenged – and this can be done quite quickly and easily at the beginning of an enquiry by setting a quick multiple choice quiz – what do pupils think the answers are to the main questions about this theme? Why have they chosen those answers? Such quick activities help pupils to see where the enquiry is going and what they will be learning about – and help diagnose what they already think.

8. Auditing your scheme of work for individuals and events

One of the toughest parts of course construction is deciding who and what to include and to omit. You can simply create a series of interesting enquiries but this leaves the risk of omitting someone really significant. One way to check is to run your eyes down the index of a children’s ‘History of Britain’ book to identify any omissions you’d like to make good. A good example is the thematic story of everyday life, in which individuals such as Pasteur, Faraday, Bazalgette and Berners-Lee have played vital parts – should they merit a mention in your KS3 scheme?

Of course, that’s easier said than done - how do you fit them in? One way is to use individuals to introduce a period – provide a little biographical information about 10 or 12 key people and ask – what kinds of activity is each person involved in? What does tell us about life in that’s similar/different from (earlier period studied)? This can be made quite active with pairs of pupils acting out the biographical information for their individual.

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