Decision-Making Activities

Making decisions in 1381: Will you pay the poll-tax?

Tax collectors are visiting every village.

There’s lots of talk of people not paying the Poll Tax.

Will you:

• pay the tax – that’s 12 pence for you and 12 pence for your wife

• hide – the tax collectors will never find people in the woodland near the village

• rebel – attack the tax collectors to show the King’s advisers how angry everyone is.

An extract from The Decisions of a Kentish villager in 1381

Introducing Decision-Making Activities

It’s all too easy for students to assume that the decisions made by people in the past were straightforward and predictable, not realising that they frequently had to choose between several possible courses of action and that choices were often far from easy to make. One teaching moment I remember with a real thrill was when a student turned to me and said:

“I have to make a decision but none of them are going to help me”

which led to a discussion about the fact that sometimes people had to settle for the least-worst option, not the obvious best option.

Helping students realise that the decisions taken by people in the past were often complex and difficult is one of the great advantages of decision-making activities. Students really do have to think and then you can unpack why students’ decisions may be different from those taken by people at the time, a process that helps diagnose students’ misunderstandings and misconceptions about the period and people they’re studying.

The example at the top of the page is a decision that often surprises students. They’re most likely to opt for the third choice, to attack the tax collectors, as this fits a common perception that the Middle Ages was a very violent time but when the first news of the arrival of the tax collectors broke very many people chose to hide i.e. they put off making a decision if they could, a very human thing to do. Understanding this is very important for building an understanding of the nature of the 1381 Revolt and how its nature changed over the course of events.

This 1381 activity is one of my favourite decision-making activities. In constructing it, Ian Luff and I were able to build in:

• the unfolding story and pattern of the revolt across the sequence of decisions

• opportunities to identify students’ misconceptions and misunderstandings

• some recent research to present a balanced picture of those involved which challenges most contemporary narratives by identifying the intelligence and organisation of many participants

• a strong sense that many of the decisions required thought and were by no means certain.

• a sense of respect for the people of the time because many of them had to grapple with difficult choices and thought carefully and intelligently about their choices.

Decision-Making Activities: The Full Article

In addition to the example from 1381 and the introduction (above) I've described this technique in more detail in a PDF, which also covers:

• How many decisions make a decision-making activity?

• Why use decision-making activities as introductions to topics?

• Open ended decision-making tasks

• Concluding thoughts on the value and impact of decision-making activities

Download the PDF HERE …


Some Examples of Decision-Making Activities on this Website

King John: the decision-making game HERE …


Decisions of a Kentish Villager, 1381 HERE …


How can you spend less time in purgatory? HERE …


Henry VII – the Survival Game HERE …


What’s on the agenda? HERE …


Dilemma-based learning: an example from the Holocaust HERE …

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This Technique

Download the Full Article

Example Activities