History Teaching & Learning Ideas

Timelines, games and Poundland!

The network of History teachers on Twitter is fantastic! I have been very grateful for other teachers sharing their ideas, resources and suggestions for teaching History. I also enjoy sharing my own resources for other teachers to adapt and use with their students. For teachers who use Twitter, you will probably be familiar with the hashtag #PedagooFriday, where teachers share their highlight of the week. Here are some of the resources/ideas that I have previously shared but now I am not limited to 140 characters!

Positive/Negative Timelines

Timelines are commonly used by History teachers because they are an excellent and effective method to help students gain a historical overview, remember key dates, events and individuals and see how progress, developments and changes have occurred over time. A positive/negative timeline also works well. I let students decide on which part of the timeline they would plot the event: positive or negative. Students also then have to justify their explanation – some events being rather easy to justify whilst others being more complex or controversial.

I have used this activity with KS3, KS4 and KS5. For example, in Year 9 we have a unit that focuses on key events of the 20th Century. Students create a timeline of that century. Above the line events are labelled as positive and below the timeline as negative (or vice versa). Students then have to plot the events in correct chronological order then decide to place on the positive or negative side. This was very interesting when I paired students together and they didn’t always agree if an event was positive or not. This encouraged a healthy debate! For example, Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister was a key event we looked at during the 20th Century. One student was adamant that this was positive because she was the first ever (and only) female Prime Minister, therefore a significant achievement for women. However, the partner student strongly disagreed and gave several reasons why they believed Margaret Thatcher belonged on the negative line!

For the GCSE specification my students sit, there is an exam question which asks if German people benefitted at all from Nazi rule from 1933-39. Clearly the hostile treatment of the Jews would come under the negative side but students recognised that employment increased and many so-called Aryans did benefit from that. They were surprised to see some people did benefit despite their initial reaction to assume not. This also helped them structure their exam answer as it did when this task was done with A-level students. At A-level students were looking at Tudor Poverty and Vagrancy. They created a timeline as a class, using a roll of wall paper. All the acts of legislation passed from Henry VII- Elizabeth I were placed on the timeline under the correct date. Then students had to discuss and decide whether the act helped the poor or provided relief – making it positive – or was it more punitive and harsh and therefore negative. This is a good revision activity to help revise key dates, events and encourage students to think critically and promote debate.


As teachers we try our best to engage learners and get the balance right. We are focusing on the learning but also trying to promote a love of learning and our subject. I use a variety of games to help recall and consolidate understanding of key words and terminology used in History. It was actually one of my GCSE students who commented that students in KS3 get to do all the fun stuff and it wasn’t fair so I listened and responded to their feedback! There have been a lot of changes to GCSE specifications (and more to come) and with so much content and exam technique to get through it can seem like there’s no time for games! However, it is important still to engage learners at GCSE and ensure they enjoy the course and I firmly believe revision games can be really effective at aiding learning. Here are some examples I use. I recently tweeted a key word board game, simple and quick to make, which can be used as a short starter, plenary or revision activity. The board consists of different squares with each square having a key word connected to the topic.

This game can be used for any topic or year group. Students roll the dice, they have counters (this can be any small object or scrap paper) and if they land on a yellow square (any colour can be used obviously!) they have to use that key word correctly in a sentence, showing students can put the word into context. If students land on a red square they have to give a definition of that word, to show they understand the meaning or come up with a key fact connected to that word. Another idea would be to give students a blank template of the board game and let them write on the key words connected to the topic!

Another game students enjoy is ‘two truths and a lie’. I call it ‘Would I lie to you’ based on the TV show. I give the students three statements, two correct and one being false. Then they have to solve which is the incorrect answer – that is a lie. This is also a good homework task to get students to carry out research then come up with two facts they have found and create one of their own lies for other pupils to solve. Here is an example based on WW1 in the trenches that one of my students came up with, one of the statements being a lie! 1. Soldiers put newspapers inside their clothing and rubbed whale fat on them to help keep them warm. 2. Scottish soldiers wore ladies tights underneath their kilts to keep them warm and so they wouldn’t have bare legs. 3. Soldiers were known for cuddling together and wearing the same jacket to help keep the heat in. A memorable way to remember interesting historical facts.

There are lots of different versions of bingo that can be played. Walkabout bingo is a favourite with my classes and this game encourages students to interact with each other and use their subject knowledge. To play this game there needs to be a worksheet with a series of boxes. In each box there will be a question written, focusing on the topic or lesson. In the same box a space to write the answer and underneath, still in the same box, it will say ‘name’. The aim of the game is to have all the boxes filled with correct answers but students must get their answers from other members of the class. They cannot answer the question on their sheet themselves: they can only answer for other people. Also, they can only ask someone a question once – hence the name in the box. So a student will go up to someone in their class, ask them the question, write down their answer and write down the name of the person who told them the answer then find someone else to answer their next question. This game can be adapted for any subject. I would suggest doing it at the end of a lesson as it can get a little noisy with students walking around the class and they do get quite excited and competitive! Great fun to revise and consolidate subject knowledge.

Learning grids

Learning grids work by rolling two dice, or one dice twice, and then the students use the two numbers – one for horizontal and one vertical – to reach a box. With this game there were 36 boxes all connected to WW1. Students had to roll the dice twice; so, for example, 2 across and 3 down, then find that box. They then had to explain the connection between that key word to WW1. Then they would do the same again, roll two numbers to land on another box but then with that word they had to link it to the previous word. For example, if the first box they landed on was Kaiser Wilhelm, a student would say he was the leader of Germany in 1914 when war broke out. Then after rolling the dice twice and having a new key word they would link that word back to the Kaiser, if they can, as some links are simple but others more of a challenge. So if the second was ‘militarism’ then that links to Kaiser Wilhelm because he was involved in an arms race that eventually led to WW1. It can be complicated to explain to students but I modelled the game and did two examples for them and then they quickly grasped it and made some excellent connections and links between factors.


Last year on Twitter I came across the hashtag #PoundlandPedagogy and here are some Poundland inspired ideas that I have used in my History lessons. Using a roll of plain white wallpaper purchased from a pound shop my Year 7 class created their own Bayeux Tapestry to retell the events of the Battle of Hastings. Using paper plates my classes created a historical diet plate, showing what a typical medieval peasant would eat and drink. Paper hand templates work well in History: I use these to help students answer the 5 w’s; Who? What? Where? When? Why? I purchased Danger tape in the pound shop around Halloween time, but this can be bought cheaply online and I put this tape on display outside my classroom when I was teaching the Black Death unit. The tape got students curious before the lesson even began and I found other students from different year groups were intrigued and asking questions! I used the danger tape once again when my students were studying the assassination of Franz Ferdinand as well as fake blood to set the scene of a murder (my students did point out that it was totally inaccurate because he was shot in Sarajevo not Wales, but it was a good starting point for the lesson and discussion!).

Hula hoop Venn diagrams are a fun twist on Venn diagrams, and allow students to create Venn diagrams working in groups. Venn diagrams work very well in History, comparing and contrasting historical individuals or to draw comparisons between then and now. Another bargain I found was an Etch a Sketch post it note pad. I used this for a short activity where students had to create an etch a sketch drawing, linked to what they had been learning about in the lesson. Students also had to write a caption too, illustrating what they had found out/ learnt. As you can see below a washing line timeline is another idea that worked well. There are so many ways to be creative!

The article originally appeared in the February edition of UKEdMagazine,which is freely available on Issuu

Kate Jones is Head of Department and subject teacher of History and Religious Education. To see more of her ideas you can follow her on Twitter @87history.

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1 Comment

  1. You made a great point about how history timelines are great to focus on when teaching kids about past events. Reading and focusing on the different outcomes of historic events could make sure they know how impactful people’s decisions are and apply it to their daily life. I’ll keep introducing my kids to these kinds of education and development simulations for sure.

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