Reading for History

I am a huge fan of essays. I like to use a variety of assessment in the teaching of history (newspaper articles, presentations, pamphlets, debates, ect.) but ultimately I believe that the humble essay is the ultimate arbiter of historical expression.

When it comes to my top set Year 9 class they do a great job. Their essays do all the things I want. They make an argument. They use evidence. Some of them even evaluate evidence and interpretations.

However, what they miss is more stylistic. They just don’t write like Historians. I know that it is a lot to ask from students at KS3 but it’s something I want to encourage.

But, how can this be developed? Well here I want to look at how I have recently tried using History articles to get students to understand how Historians write and get them to engage in some historiography.

Putting the reading in context

With my Year 9s we are currently doing an enquiry into ‘What was the most significant turning point in the Second World War?’ Initially we looked at the early stage of the war and Britain’s general lack of success. From this we then moved to our first ‘turning point’, the Battle of Britain.

In investigating the Battle of Britain I attempted to develop the class’ basic understanding of the Battle of Britain. We looked at different ideas around why Britain was able to ‘win’ and then whether this constituted a turning point.

Off the back of this I gave my students a journal article from History Today to read as homework. I asked them while reading this article to identify key arguments that it presented.

Identifying the core interpretations

On arriving to their lesson the following week the students brought their articles. Most of them had already done a good job reading these, bringing along highlighted and annotated articles. As is often the case some of my students had not read the article. Although following some passed experience with flipped learning I had anticipated this may be the case.

In order to draw out the key arguments of the article I asked each student to write on a post-it note the argument presented in the articles and stick these on the board. I gave the students a couple of minutes to talk about this first and read over their articles. This also gave those students who hadn’t done their homework time to catch up.


I then selected a few post-it notes and read these out. For each one I asked the class from some evidence used to support these arguments in the article. From this I hope to get students thinking about how the argument was being constructed.

At the end of this activity the class was able to identify the two main interpretations present in the article:

  1. The British were a lot stronger in the Battle of Britain than is often suggested.
  2. The ‘many’ civilians suffered significantly more than the ‘few’ of the RAF.

Reflecting on how Historians construct arguments

Anticipating these interpretations I placed the interpretation, that ‘the ‘many’ civilians suffered significantly more than the ‘few’ of the RAF’, on the board and got the students to discuss some questions related to this.


I deliberately designed these questions to be more like broad prompts for discussion than specific questions to be answered. As educated adults we find it very easy to hold free and open discussion with each other and construct our own scaffolds to do this. However, for our students it is often necessary for us to provide a scaffold. Nonetheless, to be true to the nature of scaffolding we need to ensure that scaffolding is being removed. Therefore here I wanted to just give the students some prompts for discussion.

This really created some debate from the class and allowed them the opportunity for some initial reflection on how Historians construct arguments.

The Main Activity

The main part of the lesson now involved the students reading the article again. However, I now wanted them to draw on some of their thinking and to structure their reading a little more.

For this I asked them to highlight their articles with three different coloured pens as Argument, Evidence and Evaluation.

Following this student feedback examples.


As you can see in the example above the students went through this reading very methodically. This was a big improvement on their initial notes in which they highlighted anything and everything.

Feedback Discussion

Finally building on the class’ feedback we had a discussion about the process. With this high ability group we were able to have some really interesting discussions about how Historians construct their arguments. We were also able to discuss how this article could be used in their own essays. The student’s suggestions ranged from using some of his evidence and statistics or evaluating the argument he proposes.

Next step…

I really enjoyed this lesson and was really impressed with the class. They worked very well on these tasks and seemed engaged by the ideas of interacting with the work of Historians. Although I have only used this with a top set group I believe that some of the same principle can be applied to all groups, although scaffolding being needed.

I would however say that the impact of setting the article as homework was limited, although it did give them a bit of time to reflect on it. However, after going through the process of reading the article with them I am hoping that in the next article I set them they will be able to put these principles into practice (I will let you know).

My next step is therefore going to be to give my students some more articles to read but remove the scaffold which I provided in this lesson. Ultimately this will build up to the students comparing two articles on D-Day.

My aim is that by reading these articles students will gain an insight into how Historians write, which will ultimately develop their own writing. Through a few other activities I also want to see my students using these articles and evaluating their arguments in their own essays.

Overall, then I think there is a lot we can do with getting more reading into the History classroom. In this there is some great opportunity for some cross-curricular cooperation with the English department. Following this lesson I paid a visit to one of my English colleagues to get an insight into how the English department gets students to engage with reading. Some great ideas have come from this and I have a few more ideas which I am sure will be part of some upcoming articles.

Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have some ideas.  


I have put these links together from various sources on the internet. These are designed to help Year 9 students answer the enquiry question ‘What was the most significant turning point in the Second World War?’

In answering this question students need to engage with the idea of ‘significance’ and ‘turning points’. They should also take a look at different interpretations presented in these articles and critically evaluate them to develop their own judgement.



Battle of Britain

Enigma and Bletchley park

Espionage and the Resistance movement

Pearl Harbour

War in the east


Try Google Classroom: A new tool for formative feedback

In education we love a fad! I’m the same! We can’t wait to try out the ‘next big thing’ and rush off and tell other teachers about it. This is perhaps even truer in the use of technology. Just take a look at the electronic white board that’s sitting in just about every classroom in the country being used as a projector.

With this in mind I’m determined to try and take a sceptical perspective on new ideas is education. However, here I want to really emphasise the potential of Google Classroom as a new tool in education that everyone should at least have a go at.

If you don’t know what Google Classroom is…

At its most basic level Google Classroom is a private webpage for your class, where you can share information and resources with your students. Sharing announcements, worksheets and videos. It is specifically designed for teachers and is very simple to use. A great tutorial can be found HERE.

However, if you want to get the full out of Google Classroom then it can be a fantastic environment for collaborative learning.

Formative Feedback?

What I really want to take a look at is how Google Classroom can enhance formative feedback.

Since the work of Black and Wiliam on Assessment for Learning, AfL has become the big buzz word in education. This has materialised in various ways. The latest incarnation of this seems to be the OFSTED push on marking.

I think that this emphasis on marking is a move in the right direction. However, realistically the traditional model of getting students to complete some work, providing feedback and then hoping they adopt that feedback  in their next piece of work, just isn’t up to scratch.

Even if DIRTy (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) feedback is given, at the end of the day this isn’t ideal as, it is coming after the students have completed their work.

So how does Google Classroom offer a solution?

What Google Classroom allows you to do is provide on-going feedback. Through creating a document which you share with students in your classroom individually you can provide feedback while they are completing this assignment. The benefit of this is that the feedback I am given is being immediately used by the students and I can see if this feedback is being implemented.

Recently I have done this with a Year 12 group. After setting up a Google Doc shared through Google Classroom students were set an exam question. As they completed this task I was able to enter their work and write comments in the same way comments can be written on word documents.

Through doing this I was able to give students personalised feedback on the content and structure of their essays. This led to their best essays by far this year and some great feedback from my students.

What else can Google Classroom do?

Rather than giving a comprehensive account of what Google Classroom can do I wanted to give you an insight into how I’ve been using it. Nonetheless, it can do a lot more.

For starters you’ve got the discussion board. There is obviously lots of ways this can be used. For my fellow History teachers the way I’m interested in using it is as a discussion board for readings students have completed to get them discuss their opinions.

Another interesting feature is that documents can be shared collaboratively. With this, students can all work on a document together. Again there are lots of ways to use this. One possible option here is to create a Wiki were students can work collaboratively to produce a summery on a topic.

A word of warning!

None of this has an impact immediately. It takes some time for this practice to become embedded so don’t give up. Set up your own Google Classroom and try out some different ideas.

Let me know what you come up with!

Further Reading:

Making the Holocaust personal [part 1] – Aims and Objectives

As I began to teach Hitler’s rise to power and the Second World War with my Year 9 classes, my student’s interest seemed to immediately be on the Holocaust. As I now embark on teaching the Holocaust to my students I wish to ensure that I am able to do justice to such profound events. Therefore over a series of posts I will record here the process I am undertaking in planning a delivering these lessons.

What are we teaching the Holocaust for?

In teaching, the one word which I believe is more important than any other is ‘why’. When we select a topic we must ask ‘why are we teaching this topic?’ When we chose the content to teach as part of that topic we must ask ‘why are we teaching this content?’ When we select an activity to deliver this content we must ask ‘why are we teaching with this activity?’

In teaching the Holocaust these questions are perhaps even more important. As such an emotive topic, carrying so many connotation it is important that we are motivated to teach the Holocaust for the right reasons.

Interestingly in the work done by the IOE into the current teaching of the Holocaust it was discovered that the aim of ‘learning the lessons of the Holocaust’ was more popular among History teachers than aims which focus on understanding the Holocaust as an historical event.

For me the focus on learning lessons from the Holocaust seems an abstract idea. Of course it is possible for us to draw parallels with the past and contemporary issue but if this is our only objective then we can be doing the study of history a disservice.

Therefore what I aim to do is to understand the Holocaust as an historical event. Giving my students an insight into the development of an historical situation and its impact. In the case of teaching the Holocaust I therefore aim to give my students an insight into how and why the Holocaust developed and what impact this had on the lives of Jews.

How do I hope to achieve these aims?

As well as thinking carefully about our motives in teaching topics I strongly believe in the use of second-order concepts. The use of second-order concepts has become widespread and I hope that an explanation for their need is not required here. What I do wish to outline here is my choice of change and continuity as the second-order concept through which I will organise students thinking.

Change and continuity goes to the heart of what I want to achieve in my teaching of the Holocaust. Through a focus on changes and continuities to Jewish life over the Holocaust I hope that my students will be able to gain an insight into the changing nature of the Holocaust and the diversity of experiences.

Keeping diversity in mind I feel it is essential to emphasise that the Holocaust was a personal event, experienced by individuals. An event which stands out powerfully in my own educational experiences was a talk by a Holocaust survivor. From this very personal account I became hugely engaged and was able to see how his experiences developed and impacted his life. Thus, I intend to use personal accounts from Holocaust survivors to investigate how individuals’ lives were affected. A particularly useful resource for gathering personal accounts, which I will be using in designing these lessons, is a book edited by Lyn Smith, Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust.

However, I also want to provide students with a clear narrative to build their understanding around. For this I will be using Schindler’s List. As history teachers I feel we have become very good at using films for teaching about the past. But there is often a danger that films can become a secondary source like a text book which students learn from without any interpretation. Instead what I want to do here is to study the film critically through comparison with primary accounts.

In order to ensure that this narrative and these personal accounts are given the relevance they deserve I also intend to place these events in their wider historical context. Looking specifically at the events of the war as it develops and different cases to understand what motivated individual’s actions, such as Jewish resistance and the case of Battalion 101.

Next steps…

Here I hope that I have given you an insight into my rational for the teaching of the Holocaust. My next step is to plan a series of lessons to achieve the aims I have set out here, which will form the basis for a coming post. I look forward to hearing any thoughts and insights that anyone can offer.

Hello world!

Welcome to Historioblography.

This is a website about history and history teaching, written by me Mr. Worker.

The idea behind this site has developed from the work I am currently undertaking as part of my MA in Education at The University of Nottingham. This work has endeavoured to build on academic research and on my own knowledge as a history teacher. Through this I am attempting to develop a model for the use of technology in history teaching.

Therefore with this aim in mind I hope to engage with the wider teaching community, sharing my ideas and reflecting on others’, as well as offering a platform for me to model historical methods for my students.

I hope that in reading my posts others can discover the value I have found in reading work developed by other historian writing. Thank you!