HA Annual Conference: Laura Kibble’s reflections

Not all teachers can say that they went to school on the last Monday before half term with a spring in their step. I, however, did exactly that. It was the first day back after ‘The Big Day’… not the Royal Wedding nor not the FA Cup Final, but the Historical Association Conference 2018.

I left armed with resources, ideas, plenty of things to mull over and try out, and of course – the obligatory bag full of freebies. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to run through everything I took away from the weekend, but I’ve summarised three practical ideas that I can’t wait to try.


1. Constructing Historical narratives

Rationale: Narrative history seems to be making a comeback, after many years in the curriculum wilderness. One HA workshop I attended was on the challenges of getting students to write a narrative. When all of the content had been taught, students were given cards with key content to help them construct a narrative. The key was getting students to select the information they needed from the cards, decide which points needed more weight and flesh these out, and then arrange all of this to produce an analytical narrative.

Preparation: The only prep needed for this lesson is to make the cards! In the example we were shown, students were given cards with key causes of the war on them, such as imperialism and militarism. They were also given cards with further information, which they had to match to the correct cause.

Activity: It was entirely up to the students which causes they selected, how much detail they added to each cause, and in which order they arranged them. For example, one student had decided to start with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and then went on to explain why this caused tension in Europe by looking at longer-term causes.

To differentiate, you could give less able students fewer cards and give them cue cards to help them ‘flesh out’ points. You could encourage your more able students to make their own set of cards without your help. I thought this was a lovely way to get KS3 students to produce a plan, which they could then use to write a structured narrative. It would also be a great strategy to use with a KS4 class who is struggling with narrative exam questions.


2. Zone of significance

Rationale: History teachers sometimes struggle to get students to get to grips with significance. Our department has used the ‘5 Rs’ to get students to reflect on significance at KS3 (you can read more about this method in Christine Counsell’s article in Teaching History 114). This framework was a great starting point for us, but we have struggled to apply it to our new GCSE.

Preparation: Our new approach has been to look at significance not just with regard to short-term importance, but also with regard to how a historical person, idea, event or change has had longer-term impact and developed significance over time. The HA workshop on significance included great activities to enable students to progress in this particular discipline. The resource that I loved the most from this session was a ‘zone of significance’, which gets students to think about the impact of a key person, idea, change or event over time (see example below relating to the GCSE thematic study topic on power and the people).

Activity: To plan for a significance question on Magna Carta, I am going to get students to put reasons why this event was significant in the ‘target’. I’ve included some themes around the edge for students to focus on. Immediate impacts will go in the bullseye, and later developments will move chronologically towards the edge of the target. For example, the students could write that 1215 was the first time that anyone had tried to restrict the power of the monarch, and give examples of how Magna Carta did this in the ‘Challenge to Royal authority’ section, right in the bullseye. You could get students to complete this activity without the criteria around the edge (and categorise it later), to make it more challenging.




3. ‘How useful’ source question

Rationale: The easiest idea to implement (and the most effective so far) was an idea that I borrowed from a chief examiner. Students often struggle to get high marks in the utility question, as they aren’t always explicitly focused on what the question is asking them. They just look at the source, and talk about everything that they know on the topic, rather than examining how useful the source is in relation to the focus of the exam question.

Preparation: To train students to focus on the ‘tail’ of the question, you pick one source and come up with as many utility questions as you can about that particular source. It took me two minutes to pull together the resources, and it has produced some excellent results.  I used a Punch cartoon called ‘The Shrieking Sister’ to come up with these questions:

How useful is source A for a historian studying…

Group 1: …the tactics and methods used by the suffragettes?

Group 2: …the divisions within the women’s suffrage movement?

Group 3: …the difference in methods of the suffragists and suffragettes?

Group 4: …opinions of the suffragettes in the 1910s?

Group 5: …reasons why the women’s suffrage movement failed before the First World War?



Activity: Put students in groups and get them to plan an answer to one of the utility questions. When they are finished, send envoys from each group to have a look at other teams’ work. Students have to discuss why you gave them different questions, and what is different/similar about their answers.

This is a great opportunity to share answers with the class, and discuss why the different focus of the question produces different answers, even though they are using the same content.



Finally, the most rewarding thing about attending the HA conference is meeting so many other historians. Just being in a room with so many people who are passionate about our subject was infectious, and gave me a much needed boost to finish the half term on a high.

If you want to see more of what I was up to, check out the @OxfordEdHistory Twitter feed to see the live tweets from the event. If you would like further information or would like to share ideas and resources, please contact me on Twitter at @misslkibble!

Laura Kibble is a History teacher and Humanities Second in Faculty in a secondary school in Wolverhampton. She is part of the Oxford AQA GCSE Historyauthor team. Follow her on Twitter  for ideas and resources!

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