Via @Historytiglet: Using ‘stories’ to develop students’ engagement and affective skills in history lessons

Both Bannerman (2011, p.82) and Jaggar (2013, p. 1) noted that encouraging students to debate ethical topics and learning about aspects of many people’s lives improves students affective skills developing their abilities to empathise with others whilst also improving their levels of engagement, critical analysis and flexibility of thinking.

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Equality and diversity is embedded on my syllabus as at A2 I teach the development of Civil Rights in the USA for women, African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants and the poor. While at AS I teach economic, social and political change in Britain and Germany in 1918-1963.

It is still however necessary to ensure that teaching is not just ‘academic’ and learning activities encourage students to develop ‘affective’ consideration of the needs of others. This can be done through a range of different methods but telling students ‘stories’ about the people they are studying or the impact of these events helps to make the History they are studying seem more real and accessible.

The true horrors of the Holocaust can be lost in academic studies of sources and historians debates about structuralist and internationalist explanations of the Holocaust. We still study and debate historical controversy and I expect students to produce well written analytical assessment of sources. However, watching films of real events, such as Schlinder’s List or the White Rose, help to make these events seem more real. Encouraging students to consider how they may have acted under the same circumstances helps them to not only engage with the subject material but also helps to develop their affective skills and debating skills. Considering whether they would have had the courage, at the same age as the students in the White Rose group, to publicise material criticising the regime when they knew they could be killed if their secret was uncovered is an interesting debate.

When studying British Political History using pictures and stories from my own research helps make what was a dull topic (and I like political History) more interesting and again seem more real. The endless list of Housing Act (Addison 1919, Chamberlain 1923, Wheatley 1924, 1930 Housing Act) can seem pointless until students are shown pictures of slum houses and I describe the conditions my Grandmother girlhood home. The ‘stories’ and information about what it actually entailed to grow up in the interwar Depression in Lincoln helps to give students an additional context from which to assess Government attempts to tackle the Great Depression or the importance of the introduction of the NHS. One cannot truly understand the importance of the NHS until one has studied what health conditions were like for the poor beforehand. (See

Linking these topics to modern day events can also help to stimulate student engagement with both the historical material and modern political issues. This is especially applicable with the Civil Rights in America. For example, American has is 1st African-American President but as the recent shootings in America have shown it is still an issue. Linking the two can help both make the historical debate seem relevant and give the students a context in which to understand news stories.

However, what I really hope to achieve is to teach students to think for themselves, to engage with the evidence and debate and come to their own conclusions. The stories help to fuel their interest, develop their affective skills and stimulate study and debate.

Reference List

Bannermann, C., (2011) Embedding Equality and Diversity into Everyday Practice Post 16 Education Toolkit, Equality and Diversity UK, available on [accessed 23/04/15].

Jagger, S., (2013) Affective learning and the classroom debate, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 50:1, 38-50

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