Germs have feelings too!
A Lifeline

This activity has been developed by Tony Fox, who teaches on Teesside, from ideas on lifelines (also called living graphs) in Peter Fisher’s book ‘Thinking through History’.

One of the difficulties in SHP Development Studies is that students find it problematic to develop an understanding of the chronology of the topic, as they tend to compartmentalise information. Students struggle to sequence periods and key developments correctly. Lifelines make this process a little easier. In a lifeline, students are presented with a narrative, which they plot on a graph. As one axis of the graph is time, this helps to develop their chronological knowledge and understanding. The activity can either be used as a revision task or built up in stages as students work through their Development Study. As ever, it helps if pupils are familiar with the nature of the activity because familiarity increases their confidence but this can be used, even if it’s the first lifeline or living graph they have created.


A WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.


This activity is designed to reinforce students’ understanding of:

• the sequence of periods

• the pattern of changes and continuities among these key developments

• the important developments in Medicine.

Setting Up

You need:

a) String and Blue-Tack

b) 3x A5 paper or cards with happy/normal/sad faces printed

c) 5x A5 paper or cards with dates 3000 BC to 2000 AD

d) 14x A5 paper or cards with a statement printed boldly [ see below ]

e) Plenty of space

The Activity

1. Introduce the Big Question: How would a Germ feel?

2. Using string or wool, plot the X and Y axis of the graph, the Blue-Tack should be use to secure the string, to avoid tripping, to the floor (or ground, I have done this outside on a hot spring day!).

3. The happy/normal/sad cards are placed on the vertical axis, the date cards on the horizontal axis, once again secured by Blue-Tack.

4. As the class is standing around the graph, pupils take a statement card, stand in the graph, or place the event card on the floor, corresponding to the date of the statement and the feelings of the Germ. Pupils should be asked to justify their decision.

5. Pupils should be encouraged to debate the placement of the statement cards, making the placement a whole class activity. Encourage disagreement, as this will allow for future work on this activity.

6. The plenary should be conducted around the graph, as pupils can use the graph as examples to support their arguments.


Debriefing takes place within the physical activity but it’s worth thinking about recreating the activity in other forms.

One problem with this activity is that the results cannot be recorded adequately, although I have used a digital camera to photograph the completed graph, but this was more for an open evening display rather than for assessment.

I have found that this stimulating activity works very well, especially with a year 10 class coming to the end of the development study, it motivates pupils in their revision, as they have had a rather unusual lesson, in fact, the word ‘game’ was used often. Despite this, I feel that pupils benefited from this type of revision, as they could hear and discuss other pupils’ thoughts and ideas on the developments they had studied, in fact some aspects became a critique of the developments in medicine. You will see from the statement cards that a large number of areas can be ambiguous, for example, the Roman Empire covers a large area of territory and time, thus when specifically should we consider how a germ feels. We also found that a discussion of specific germs could be relevant, for example, how would Penicillin feel about being discovered?

Statement Cards

1. Prehistoric England

2. The Roman Empire

3. Medieval York

4. London in 1665

5. 1799, Edward Jenner develops vaccination

6. Sunderland in 1831

7. 1861, Louis Pasteur publishes his Germ theory

8. Robert Koch identifies specific bacteria causing specific diseases

9. Lister uses Carbolic acid in Surgery (1890’s)

10. The Trenches on the Western Front 1914-18

11. Fleming ‘discovers’ Penicillin

12. Sulphonamide drugs are developed-magic bullets

13. 1942, Penicillin is mass-produced

14. 1980/1990’s some germs become resistant to some antibiotics


1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of students’ chronological knowledge in the Development Study and how useful was this activity in improving their knowledge?

2. What other strategies could you use to improve chronological knowledge?

3. Where else in GCSE or elsewhere would living graphs improve students’ understanding?

4. What is the best way to record the work that students have undertaken?

This Page




Setting Up

The Activity


Statement Cards