Top 10 Points for Outstanding Primary History Teaching

Teachers have had some time to embrace the big challenges following the introduction of the 2014 History National Curriculum. While there is still some work to do in schools, there is a great deal to celebrate. Here are just a few of the features I’ve seen on my school visits which I feel contribute to an effective learning experience for pupils and support you in developing your history teaching from good to outstanding. While some of these features are distinct to the subject, others are evidence of good practice in any subject area.
My top 10 is in no particular order and is not exhaustive, but is designed to give you a flavour of some of the impressive things I’ve seen.

  • Teachers seeing the value of visits and visitors in history topics to enrich pupils’ lives. Ensuring these experiences are integrated into topics is vital to maximize learning with pre and post experience learning. In one school I visited in a socially deprived area it wasn’t just the pupils that benefited from visits but parents too. By including them on visits teachers found they were more likely to take their own children on visits to places of interest and had a better idea of what to do to get the most out of the visit.

  • Teachers devising a curriculum relevant to the pupils taught and where pupils come from a diverse range of backgrounds to reflect and celebrate these in what is taught. In one school with a large number of pupils from Eastern Europe some of the significant people selected came from that area. In a Key stage 2 topic on inventions they included the Polish inventor Casimir Zeglen.

  • History displays both in and outside the classroom that are either supporting or celebrating learning. Timelines should accompany these displays. Ideally they are child height, created by the pupils and referred to throughout a topic. One school visited had a whole school timeline in the corridor with all the time periods studied in the school added and events of relevance to the school and local area displayed.  

  • Schools enriching the history taught through working with the local community. I found one school had made links to a local care home via a pen pal project. This greatly supported the teaching of local history topics and those looking at changes in the more recent past.

  • The realization among teachers that outstanding history teaching is not dependent on a big budget and plentiful resources. For example just one object or visual can provide pupils with a powerful learning experience. I saw an old key used to symbolize the changing ownership of a historic house and pupils devising questions following close observation and then researching to find answers.

  • Using a broad variety of teaching approaches across topics and within lessons to ensure all pupils are catered for and engaged. One key stage 1 lesson observed focusing on the Wright brothers included role-play, sequencing activities, and pupils devising questions and researching responses.

  • Providing pupils with feedback that focuses on the history objectives. Pupils are then given sufficient time to respond. Teachers are really clear what they are looking for in terms of quality work related to that area of knowledge or development of skills or concepts. One subject leader had selected assessment focus areas for each of the topics studied to ensure depth and to make for manageable tracking systems for teachers.

  • Teachers being creative about ways to ensure history is not neglected and progress lost at those times when it is not formally taught. Approaches seen included across school theme days, pop-up experiences for pupils and history themed assemblies. One school looked for opportunities for pupils to engage in history-linked competitions including story writing and reviewing historical fiction.

  • Not underestimating pupils being able to work as historians and having a strong understanding of what is history? With pupils being given some power to decide which topics they will research and the approaches they will use. In one classroom I found pupils of all abilities interrogating a number of pieces of evidence to reach conclusions and being able to justify their reasoning, when studying who should succeed Edward the Confessor.

  • Teachers utilising homework to enhance pupils learning in the subject and to motivate them to research further. One school let the pupils select homework projects from a take-away menu. These options had a strong cross-curricular emphasis and allowed the pupils to choose the way in which they would communicate their knowledge. Particularly popular were projects where pupils could utilise the knowledge they had gained to produce models for example of Viking longships.

Feeling inspired? Take a look at my other blog posts for more information about some of these areas and many other topics.
Bev Forrest
Bev is a former primary teacher and is now a teacher trainer. She is a Historical Association Quality Mark assessor, a member of the HA Primary History Editorial Board and a member of the HA Primary Committee.


History, History and Geography, Teaching

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