5 Creative Ways to Bring Secondary School History Lessons to Life

History is arguably one of the most captivating subjects you can teach at school, but all too often it is taught in ways that make students (and sometimes teachers!) switch off and lose interest. While textbooks will continue to be a core learning aid, there are numerous ways in which teachers can liven up secondary school history lessons to help students feel more engaged and excited about the subject.Here are 5 of the creative variety:

Video Clips

Video clips are very helpful in focusing your pupils, particularly since they are not given this opportunity in most other classes. Many history topics will have been covered infilm adaptations; for example, the persecution of Jews during World War 2 is depicted in the movie ‘The Pianist’. Dramatised movies that are suitable for history lessons generally show an accurate portrayal of past events and can evoke emotions, whether excitement or fear, triumph or loss, that help pupils to better understand and remember the subject. Video clips are especially useful for spatial learners.

Model Building

Making models is a fantastic way of helping students to understand certain topics, particularly those who benefit from physical learning styles. Different areas of history allow you to make different types of models, from miniature versions of buildings to physical depictions of whole periods of history. For instance, students learning about medieval times could build their own castle, incorporating different features such as moats, drawbridges, and battlements. Alternatively, the changes in religious beliefs during Tudor times can be represented using a model of a rollercoaster, giving a visual idea of what times were like. This allows pupils to express their creativity whilst still being taught historical facts. Another example could involve a competition to design a propaganda poster directed towards a certain audience; students must consider both the message and the context, and are required to analyse sources and transform the information into a visual piece that their peers will understand.


Re-enacting events which are relevant to the topic in hand can make students feel infinitely more involved. You could have pupils pretending to be soldiers or important figures from different battles (like the Battle of Hastings), which puts them at the heart of the action and will encourage them to learn about and assume their character role. You could even video the event for playback during the next class to encourage further discussion and commentary. By givingpupils an interactive way of finding out what happened and allowing them later to revel in their efforts, it inspires them to work together and take pride in the task at hand.Even the more challenging students will want to play their part. Quite often you may also find that students continue talking about the lesson even after they’ve left the classroom. However, be sure to set out clear instructions and goals for the lesson a few weeks in advance in order to ensure the experience is not simply treated as an excuse to get out into the playground.

Q and A

Question and answer sessions are an excellent way to test how students are progressing without actually making them sit an exam. After they have learned about a historical figure, you could organise a Q & A lesson where a student assumes the role of that person and is positioned in the ‘hot seat’ while the remainder of the class ask them questions. You could also turn it into a game whereby the hot seat is only safe for as long as the student sat in it gets the questions right, at which point it is given to the next person who answers the failed question correctly. Recommended people include William the Conqueror, Henry the Eighth and Rosa Parks. By participating in this activity, pupils are encouraged to conduct independent learning to ensure that they are able to hold onto the hot seat for longer than their classmates. Examination questions regarding why an event happened may be tackled more easily after this type of lesson, as students will hopefully have gained a fresh perspective into the lives of the historical figures in question.

Game Shows

Similarly, arranging alesson in the style of a game show, such as ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’, tests your students’ knowledge and can also reveal the hidden enthusiasm of children who may prefer situations where they can openly display their understanding. Make sure to involve everyone by dividing the class into ‘panels’, whether in half or in groups, so that each group works together to do better than the others. The incentive of small prizes can provide excellent motivation and lead to pupils revising more thoroughly and regularly. Holding these quizzes often gives students a rewarding reason to pay more attention in class, and makes lessons more enjoyable.

Although it is not always possible to practical to turn every history lesson into a great battle, an art session, or a game show, it is entirely possible to plan 3 or 4 of these sessions into the academic year. Particularly in the ever modernising world, it can be difficult to keep the attention of secondary school students who are so used to dividing their attention between multitudes of activities at any one time. However, by making secondary school history lessons more exciting you can easily increase student participation andpeer to peer interaction in a fun, yet controlled environment. What’s more, you’ll undoubtedly find that your secondary school teaching job becomes more rewarding when you see the results of your hard work and inventive lesson planning. 

This article was written by teaching assistant and education blogger Maude. She spends her spare time finding ways to get pupils engaged! 

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