Embedding Writing Skills in History


Stick those pictures in! Sequence those dates! Let’s role-play the daily life of people in Ancient Egypt! These are all great activities but the emphasis on this type of approach could be the reason why we are faced with a look of horror on children’s faces when you ask them for… actual writing. This reluctance can be off-putting but persevere and before you know it it’ll be part of your normal classroom working. Remember, history is perfect as a way of facilitating high-quality writing with a bit of careful consideration. In addition, some subject coordinators are reporting that Ofsted is now looking for the quality of maths and English work in foundation subject books. Here are some ideas to consider to really embed writing skills in your history lessons without shifting the focus entirely and turning them into English lessons.
A sensible place to start with is planning. If we look at the Voyagers unit called ‘What was new about the New Stone Age?’, there are ready-to-use plans with extensive resources that can be used as written or quickly adapted to suit your class’s needs to provide the historical learning. The overview pages provide a list of potential cross-curricular links in subjects including maths and English. Alternatively, you can embed skills learned in recent English lessons by carefully reminding the class about their learning and discussing which skills can be applied to the history lesson.
Each of the Voyagers units makes clear reference to a child’s chronological understanding, which is a key and often under-taught objective in the curriculum (see previous piece re timelines). Chronology work lends itself to a number of key objectives in the English curriculum. In Key Stage 1, the practical timelines can be used to allow children to verbally rehearse sentences before writing them onto post-its and adding to practical history work such as class timelines. In Key Stage 2, children can follow the timeline ideas suggested in each of the Voyagers units to develop their understanding of time while improving their use of correctly punctuated fronted adverbials and subordinating conjunctions. The Year 5 unit which is titled ‘Why should we thank the Greeks?’ is particularly effective for this because ancient Greek history can be classified into different periods and that is a superb opportunity to use time adverbs in a real, exact context. A completed piece of writing on this could be as simple as a series of sentences using basic time adverbs of first, next and then or a paragraph that fully explains some of the key events or details about each historical period.

The developing use of sources in history is a useful way of demonstrating to your class why complex sentences are useful outside English lessons. Each time a child encounters sources of any kind – visual, written or artefact – they can develop their use of subordinating conjunctions to demonstrate their understanding of the history and cohesive devices to link ideas together and form a clear picture. For example, each Voyagers unit contains an incredible array of resources that can be used to enhance this valuable writing opportunity. The key essence of this is high expectations of what the children should look to include in their independent writing and encouraging them positively to see each lesson as an opportunity to demonstrate the real depth of their skill-set.
Developing the children’s ability to enquire effectively also provides exciting opportunities to inspire a love of learning and develop opportunities to formulate ideas – from introducing how to write questions with correct punctuation in Key Stage 1, to completely child-led developed enquiries about an aspect of history that inspires and motivates them as an end-of-year project in Year 6. It’s important to start with a stimulus that offers lots of possibilities – spark that natural curiosity! It’s at this point where modal verbs to indicate the degree of possibility really become useful. It could be a soldier because… It’s definitely not an astronaut because… Children will use this language in everyday life and by using it in lessons this will only encourage them to improve their application of important writing skills. The resource list on each Voyagers unit means groups of children can question and speculate.
As you can see, the application of grammatical skills to include high-quality history writing in lessons is easier than it first appears. Some additional thought about which writing skills fit the context whilst planning ensures that sources really stimulate discussion and curiosity and overall make those links from subject to subject. The super results are worth it.  

Stuart Tiffany is a Year 6 class teacher and history subject leader at Farsley Farfield School in Leeds.

Bev Forrest is an Associate Principal Lecturer at Leeds Trinity University. She is a member of the Historical Association Primary Committee and of the editorial board for Primary History.

Voyagers_LogoWeb.JPGVoyagers History and Geography provides everything you need to take children on a voyage of discovery with imaginative, hands-on history and geography lessons for the new curriculum.


english, English and Writing, history, History and Geography, voyagers, writing, Writing Skills

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