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How Do You Make History ‘Fun?

When Glenn was asked how he makes history fun, he was taken aback. He assumed everyone loved it as much as he did. After thinking, he shares the ways he fell in love with it and how he engages his pupils.

During a CPD session, I was asked how you make history ‘fun’. It took me a second to think about it as I’d never thought of HOW to make it fun, I always just assumed that, because I loved it, the children would too!

I then started thinking and wracking my brain around it and my answer was, ‘Well, that depends on who you’re asking! What I might think is fun might be your idea of hell. What you find fun might be my idea of abject tedium.”

My thoughts then gathered and I started to speak sense. Fun comes in a variety of ways. It might be from your personality, your passion and enthusiasm, from the tasks you set or from the resources that you use. Dancing and jumping around the classroom while explaining an incredibly concise version of Roman history in its entirety won’t come naturally to everyone, and that’s OK! We all have our own teaching styles and ways of doing things. Some of us prefer a more straight-laced approach, keeping everything calm and focused, while others sing, dance, dress up and jump on tables. 

Whichever version you are, or even somewhere in the middle, you can make history fun through a number of means:

  1. Be passionate – If you become excited about ANYTHING in a classroom full of young children, most of them will INSTANTLY join in your enthusiasm, and sometimes, it just needs a little tweaking of the language that you use. Instead of delivering a set of instructions explaining the task, build up the tension, even if you’re not all that excited about the content:

“Right…this is what we’re going to do…we’re going to travel…BACK IN TIME! You…are going to be…history detectives!” That alone will start to get some of your children thinking about the possibilities. Creating a ‘crime-scene’ requires little more than some crime-scene tape on the door or wall. ‘Investigating the past’ is infinitely more exciting than ‘reading the text’, and the only difference being the words. Tell them the history that you love. But don’t just tell them that you love it, that you…LOVE…it. Tell them WHY you love it. Tell them what got you into it. Tell them how THEY can get into it. By conveying that passion, you can make even the most dreary-looking task seem worthwhile, because, perhaps, THEY will become as passionate about it as you were!

  1. Resources – The content you’re teaching might be difficult, it might be dry, it might even be last thing on a Friday afternoon. You’ve managed to labour your way through the information that they need to know for the lesson, some of them have given up and written the lesson off already. Then, you bust out the most AWE-INSPIRING resource that they’ve ever seen! It’s not just a textbook, but a textbook with Augmented Reality that brings history to life! It’s not just a picture, it’s a 3D model that is fully interactive. It’s not just a close-text procedure, it’s a trail around the classroom looking for clues. It’s not just a PowerPoint, it’s a game that becomes an experience. Lessons don’t always have to be all-singing and all-dancing, but just using some more interesting resources can help bring that element of fun that excites the children and keeps them hooked. Using a variety of resources keeps things fresh and creates an air of, ‘Ooo, its history, I wonder what we’ll be using today?”
  1. Tasks – The tasks we set can make or break a lesson, whether it’s English, Maths, DT or History. Finding or creating something that allows the children to hit the objective set out in the lesson can be hard, and sometimes even harder still to find something beyond answering questions from a comprehension-style text. Mixing up the style of tasks is crucial though so that the children don’t begin to feel the existential dread of filling in ANOTHER page of a work booklet or sheet. Sometimes these kinds of tasks are exactly what is needed to hit the objective, but if it becomes monotonous and predictable, you’ll have a battle on your hands keeping them interested! Give them some freedom in how to approach something. Let them BECOME a figure from history and embody the role of an Emperor, slave or trader. Mix in practical activities like archaeological digs, finding evidence or handling artefacts. Use role-playing or debating to encourage critical-thinking. Use technology to engage them and bring history to life. Let them record themselves in a particular style that THEY want – so long as the objectives are met, the format of the task shouldn’t matter! History in primary schools should be an experience, not just a series of written activities!
  2. Finally, engulf them with history – If a child ever says to me, “I don’t like history, it’s boring!” then I turn to them and tell them that they just haven’t found the history that excites them yet! Using random fact books, carefully selected clips from the Horrible Histories series, posters, displays, costumes, On-This-Day activities and themed days/weeks all help children find SOMETHING from history that they can latch onto. Filling a few minutes with history-based games or facts keeps it at the forefront and engages, excites and equips them with knowledge, intrigue and understanding. Sometimes it’s not even the content that they latch onto, sometimes it’s just a task, a resource or your enthusiasm. It only takes a single spark to light a fire. If you have a handful of sparks, one of them is sure to ignite!

Trying to develop ALL of these areas can be tough, but by doing so, you are sure to start bringing in those elements of fun that the children crave. And by doing so, you will help to shape more inquisitive, articulate and passionate historians for the future.

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The author

Glenn Carter is a history leader at Ingleby Mill Primary School in Stockton-on-Tees in the North East of England and a history specialist who delivers his own CPD through his page History Rocks - Creative Primary History. He is also a member of the Historical Association’s Primary Committee and has worked with several well-known educational companies to bring history to the forefront of the curriculum. Glenn has been commended with the Teacher of Excellence award and regularly promotes creativity and technology within history. He often posts resources, provides support and has become a respected member in a number of social media teaching groups.

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