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“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” — Martin Luther King Jr

One Great Question

We spend an awful lot of time creating a curriculum and yet I hear teachers and leaders talking about what they wished was in it. Whilst the skills objectives may be somewhat limiting, the context is up to you. For various reasons, we can miss opportunities to add some very profound learning content, particularly when it may be more spiritual or social, because we can be wired to focus on the practicalities of what we think a curriculum should look like.

Some years ago, I was all set to deliver a year 3 lesson on World War II that consisted of cutting up a photocopy of the UK and labelling the cities that had been bombed. I began discharging my duties and whilst we set out cutting, I tried my best to add significance to a task that had minimal context or meaning.

As I listened to the children as they worked, it concerned me that there was little reference to the war as well as little interest. And so we stopped the lesson.

'I know that you've been there. You deliver something that you know is dry and as soon as you pass it over to the children, any significance is lost. This one became a cutting exercise and not a history lesson.'

We downed tools and searched for a photo of Hitler. We put it on the board and we began to discuss and investigate what he had done, and more importantly why. The questions flowed and the interest grew. My knowledge was tested, and where I did not have the answer, I needed to find one.

'Having some subject knowledge allows you to do this. Great teachers add strength to a simple lesson by creating a meaningful context. I knew enough about World War II to deviate and engage.'

As the lesson drew to a close, one pupil asked, 'What if Hitler's invasion had been successful?'

This was not in my lesson plan.

I looked across the different faces of my class. The class consisted of more than 15 nationalities, beautifully diverse. We thought for a moment, looking at each other, pondering the significance of this question and working out the answer. The penny began to drop and the learning felt tangible.

We finished the lesson with a map of Europe on the board, focusing on the English channel and the 21 miles between us and the German occupied, French coastline. As we left for home that day we may have all learned something about war, but we had also learned about gratitude, and the selflessness of others.


This lesson was incredible. It may have been a history objective, but the context allowed for some very significant personal development. It actually brought the class closer together as people and from this point moving forwards, our perspective on celebrating equality and diversity became the magical unwritten rule.

Stopping the lesson and deviate could be risky but as the teacher, this is the right call sometimes. It doesn't matter how much time you have spent on your planning or presentation if it does not do the job. We have to be brave and we have have the subject knowledge for confidence. I could see that whatever I did, it may well be more important than simply having the class 'doing'.

I learned that history was the context and tolerance, diversity and gratitude were some of the outcomes. It took minutes to tell the children which cities were bombed in the blitz, which is teaching at its least effective. With this diversion, we tapped into genuine curiosity, with the children needing to know more.
What they were learning would influence how they may view their world, which is very special.

When we plan, we should 'tag' like we do on Twitter. This would mean at the bottom of this plan we could see...
bravery tolerance pride gratitude

About the Author

David Rushby

Former Teaching Assistant.

Observations, learning walks, book studies and parent and pupil surveys for your ipad or tablet

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