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Planning principles for teaching Depth and Period Studies

The Use of ‘Period’ and ‘Depth’ in the title above may imply that this article is solely about GCSE but it is just as applicable to A level courses which focus on the history of one place at one time in history, whether it’s a period of twenty years or a hundred.

This discussion follows the others in this Raising Attainment section of the site in focussing on how to help students learn effectively from three perspectives:

1. developing their own explicit understanding of how to learn effectively

2. how understanding how to learn contributes to achieving higher exam grades

3. how this understanding contributes to their long-term development as students of history from KS3 to GCSE to A level and, perhaps, at degree level.

Therefore we need to encourage students to reflect on the process of learning if they are to realise their potential as learners and realise their abilities. This means explicitly asking and answering the fundamental questions ‘How will we investigate this topic/answer this enquiry question?’ and, later, ‘How did we get here?’ As Geoff Barton has written ‘Great teaching is often a matter of taking the implicit and making it explicit to our pupils’

This also requires being honest about learning being difficult, identifying likely difficulties so that students are aware of them and creating the challenge of understanding difficult ideas. Students need to understand that:

- Some difficulties during learning help to make the learning stronger and better remembered. When learning is easy, it is often superficial and soon forgotten.

- You learn better when you wrestle with new problems before being shown the solution.

- Setbacks are often what provide the essential information needed to adjust strategies to achieve mastery.

- Side-stepping difficulty leads to poorer exam results and long-term achievement.

Explicit identification of difficulties they have overcome increases students’ confidence - and the most effective learning develops when students are confident that they understand how to learn.

Right, now for the planning principles!


A PDF version of this article and accompanying resources can be downloaded:

Key Points

In summary, the eight key points are:

1. Build courses around overall enquiry questions HERE …

2. Don’t be afraid to build in work on concepts other than AOs specified for the course HERE …

3. Use individuals’ stories as hooks and to put them at the heart of the enquiry HERE …

4. Identify and teach for students’ misconceptions about the period HERE …

5. Boost students’ confidence by identifying and building on their existing knowledge HERE …

6. Create activities to help students identify and remember Who’s Who HERE …

7. Keep activities involving and lively to enhance memory and understanding HERE …

8. Help students see the overview in depth studies as well as themes HERE …

And finally …

… despite all the references above to educators we haven’t been quoting theory at you in the hope that it is useful. The arguments we’ve referred to support discoveries we had already made ourselves in classroom teaching. It’s always fun to reach a conclusion yourself and then find that someone has given it a grand name in a book!


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

Depth and Period Studies


  1. Build around enquiry

  2. Work on concepts other than specified AOs

  3. Use individuals’ stories

  4. Identify and teach for students’ misconceptions

  5. Boost students’ confidence by …

  6. Help students identify Who's Who

  7. Lively activities enhance memory

  8. Help students see the overview


Full Article

Resource File A

Resource File B



Raising Attainment

Introduction: Starting Points

Visible Learning: Key Principles

Themes at GCSE

Depth and Period Studies

Feedback, Marking & Improve Learning

Independent Learning
at A Level