Category Archives: History

Peer and self assessment

I have seen students self and peer assessing with no guidance, structure or success criteria. In my opinion it doesn’t work. If the students knew what to do well and how to improve they would have done it in their own work in the first instance.

Comparatively, I have seen some fantastic peer and self-assessment with the students creating their own criteria and really setting the task, so who better to evaluate progress than them. In some instances using a more able student to offer guidance has been a nice touch to peer assessment.

My department have settled on the examples included. This simple criteria that can focus them in on a narrow aspect of their writing and then make them have to think about their performance overall, has had great success in the department. Although, I would say it doesn’t work as well with lower ability groups as they tend to go for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. One of my colleagues’ @historyteach91 developed a tick box for LA but it doesn’t allow for the same focused thinking and improvement – something for us to work on.

The idea was first presented to me, by an educational consultant I was working with when I first took over the department, as a way for students to assess any piece of writing in its planning stage. We use it for assessing plans but also for a stop and think tool when the students are writing and not thinking about it. As my Mum used to say: they open their mouths and let their bellies rumble!

The impact can range from neater handwriting as they are more focused when they start writing again, better paragraph structure (see my WEL structure), more accurate and relevant detail and analysis.

The students have done this often enough and been given feedback on their feedback so they know what is expected. Some students have even given their sheet back and asked for more meaningful comments!

Let me know if you would like any other examples and if you think it could be improved please get in touch, I’d love to develop it further.

Lindsay Bruce

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Visual Hexagons

I am an unashamed admirer of hexagons in the classroom. Hexagon activities (which can be found on my blog – promote deeper and independent thinking on any topic as well as focus on different elements when answering a specific, exam focused question. They encourage students to make links between different elements of a topic and forces them to e plain and employ higher order skills.

With such an activity, some students can find hexagons a challenge – especially Key Stage 3 and less able students. This is because the very skills hexagons encourage are higher order ones that students can struggle with. As a result, I have been thinking about modifiying hexagon activities to make them more accessible to all students without diluting the outcome of sharpening students’ higher order skills set. Coupled with this I have experimenting with a variety of visual resources, such as creating comic strips and word clouds – some of which you may have seen elsewhere on the blog.

Putting these two together, I have experimented with usual visual hexagons. I create them using the Moldiv app, as recommended by Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist). I give my students a fixed hexagon pattern like the one below with images relating to a central question or topic in each hexagon. Usually, I give students an A5 size copy of the hexagon pattern so they can stick it in their exercise book and write next to it.

Firstly, students must identify the images and how they relate to the central question. The image can represent not only a specific person or event but also a larger point that may summarise an area or bigger aspect which link to the set question. This can be part of a starter exercise in a lesson. Once students are clear about each image, students can then complete the main task which is to explain each link between the images where the sides of the hexagons touch. To add competition and engagement, this can be completed in pairs under a time limit. Once the time runs out, there can be a class discussion where each pair share their links and students can fill in any links they have missed or write improved ones from others.

This task can be extended by asking the class extension questions to promote thinking, such as –

What other images can fit in the middle of the hexagon pattern?

What other images could be used in the pattern?

If you had to replace one image from the hexagon pattern, which one would you remove?

Once students have completed the visual hexagon task a few times, you want to place greater challenge, freedom and independence by giving students blank hexagon patterns for them to fill in on a given question or topic. Alternatively, visual hexagon tasks can also be used for –

Revision activities – reviewing a topic and preparing students for an exam in an active and engaging way.

Plenary – summarising learning in a lesson and encouraging students to demonstrate their progress utilising higher order explanation skills.

Planning an essay – visual hexagons can be used to prepare students for a specific exam question. 

These visual hexagon activities create engagement in lessons and can provide students with a visual learning aid which gives the hooks to prompt memory as well as attractive summary of a topic or question within a students’ notes. Many visual hexagon resources can be found at, where if you type in visual hexagon in the search engine you will be present to links to the resources. Although these resources are history subject based, they can act as a guide on what other subjects can produce.

Find below an excellent example of a student’s work on a visual hexagon exercise, explaining the links and exhibiting higher order thinking to an outstanding level.

Reciprocal Reading in History

As Head of History I often find that when presented with text heavy sources our students are unwilling to spend the time reading them. This then impacts on their understanding and results in answers that lack detail.  For me to read aloud to the class meant that far too many students just sat back and switched off, having individual students read aloud resulted in much of the same.  I began to look for ways to encourage them to read while gain a deeper understanding of complex text. I also wanted them to take ownership of their own learning. It was for this reason that I decided to implement the reciprocal reading strategy. What is reciprocal reading?

  • Reciprocal teaching refers to an instructional activity in which students become the teacher in small group reading sessions.
  • Teachers model, then help students learn to guide group discussions using four strategies: summarising, question generating, clarifying, and predicting.

Once students have learned the strategies, they take turns assuming the role of teacher in leading a dialogue about what has been read.

Why use reciprocal reading?

  • It encourages students to think about their own thought process during reading.
  • It helps students learn to be actively involved and monitor their comprehension as they read.
  • It teaches students to ask questions during reading and helps make the text more comprehensible.

Roles of Students

Students are placed into groups of four or five and allocated roles. The roles are:

A predictor. Predicting involves previewing the text to anticipate what may happen next. Readers can use the information from the text and their prior knowledge to make logical predictions before and during reading. Prediction can also be linked to text type.

A clarifier. Although students can be taught to identify difficult words and work through them, it is much more difficult for some to recognise unclear sentences, passages, chapters or ideas. Clarifying helps students to monitor their own understanding and identify any problems in comprehending portions of text.

A questioner. Good readers ask questions throughout the reading process but formulating questions is a difficult and complex task. In reciprocal reading students learn to generate questions about a text’s main ideas, important details and about textual inferences.

A summariser. To summarise effectively students must recall and arrange in order only the important events in a text. Summarising helps readers to construct an overall understanding of a text, story, chapter or paragraph.

There can also be a group leader if required. The group leader will be responsible for ensuring that everyone participates and that the text is fully understood. Each member of the group is given a laminated role card. The cards contain prompts for the students to think about during their reading of the text.

reciprocal reading roles Use of reciprocal reading in History.

Students are presented with information relating to the reign of Mary I. Taking it in turns each student reads aloud one paragraph at a time. At the end of every paragraph, everyone completes their role. Included in this information are the two sources that students will be expected to make inferences from in an assessed piece of writing. The sources are:

Source 2 - The execution of Latimer and Ridley, two Protestant bishops who refused to become Catholics.

Source 2 – The execution of Latimer and Ridley, two Protestant bishops who refused to become Catholics.


Source 3 – From John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”, about the burning of Latimer and Ridley.

“So they came to the stake. Dr Ridley, entering the place first, looked towards Heaven. Then, seeing Mr Latimer, with a cheerful look he ran and embraced him, saying, “Be of good heart, brother, for God will either ease the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to endure it”.He then went to the stake and, kneeling down, prayed with great fervour, while Mr Latimer following, kneeled down and prayed also. Dr Ridley gave presents of small things to men standing near, many of whom were weeping strongly. Happy was he who could get the smallest rag to remember this good man by. Then the blacksmith took a chain of iron and placed it about both their waists and then knocked in the staple.Dr Ridley’s brother brought him a bag of gunpowder and tied it about his neck. His brother did the same to Mr Latimer.They then brought a lighted faggot and laid it at Dr Ridley’s feet. Upon which Mr Latimer said “Be of good comfort, Mr Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out”.


Student Activity

  • Summarise the main points of Source 3 in no more than 100 words.
  •  Do you think that Source 2 shows the same event as that described in Source 3? Explain your answer in detail.
  •  Answer this question using inferences:

 What can you infer from the sources about Queen Mary’s attitude towards the Catholic religion? 

Benefits of reciprocal reading

Learners can gain an improved understanding of complex text in content areas. This leads to:

  •  Greater knowledge of the topic.
  •  Improved skills.
  •  More positive attitudes when extracting, organising, and recording information.
  •  More self-confidence and motivation to read.
  •  Improved leadership skills.
  •  Increased co-operation and greater initiative.

My lessons have shown that when Reciprocal Reading is implemented, learners make substantial gains in understanding what they read. This then impacts on the progress that they make.

Using Hexagon Learning for categorisation, linkage and prioritisation

Hexagon Learning Case Study: The Rise of Stalin

The ability to select, prioritise, categorise and link evidence is a valuable skill that students learn in History. It is also highly transferable to other subjects.

Using hexagons is a particularly simple and effective way of developing these skills, as the following case study seeks to demonstrate.

Historical Context

How Stalin was able to emerge as leader of the USSR against apparently overwhelming odds is one of the most intriguing questions which we study at IB Level. In the years that following the Bolshevik Revolution, due to a series of blunders and miscalculations, Stalin had lost the support of the party leadership: so much so that on his deathbed, Lenin dictated a formal ‘Testament’ describing Stalin as a liability who needed to be removed from his post. He was also hated by Lenin’s closest ally, Leon Trotsky, who was widely expected to step into the leadership position after Lenin’s death. Yet just five years later Stalin was undisputed leader of the USSR and Trotsky was in exile.

The story of how Stalin transformed his fortunes so dramatically is a great story revolving around Stalin’s treachery, cunning and downright charm. But the danger of this is that the essays that are then written become mere narrative, storybook accounts which do little more than provide a step-by-step account of the main events between 1924-1929.

The Hexagon Approach

After a study of the events culminating in Stalin emerging as leader of the party, I made a list of factors which could be used to explain why Stalin became dictator of the USSR. I then put these into my Hexagons Generator to create two single-page documents containing a total of 40 hexagons.

Stage 1: Selection and Categorisation

The class was divided into pairs for the activity. Each pair of students was given a copy of the first sheet of hexagons, which they cut up and started to organise on their desks into categories of their choice. This process, involving the categorisation of 25 hexagons, took about 20 minutes. Students were encouraged to come up with no more than five categories overall. They could also choose to leave some of the hexagons to one side if they were considered less important than the others.

We then spent five minutes comparing the different categories that students had identified. Each pair of students took turns to suggest one idea for a category heading until all the ideas had been shared.

Following this, I gave each students a blank sheet of hexagons. The challenge was to identify other factors which could help to explain Stalin’s rise to power and write these directly into the hexagons. After five minutes, each pair of students took it in turns to suggest an idea. If this was a valid (and fresh) idea, then the other students copied it into their pair’s version of the sheet, and the students who shared the idea were each given a sweet (we had a bag of these left over as a result of our ‘Rise of Stalin through sweet-eating’ lesson which had preceded this lesson!). This process was repeated until the students had run out of ideas.

Each pair of students then cut up this new sheet of factors and used them to develop their existing diagrams. In some instances this involved merely adding fresh evidence into existing categories. Sometimes though it involved adding new categories, or amending earlier categories.

Finally, each pair of students was given the second sheet of hexagons and the process of categorisation continued.

Stage 2: Linkage and Prioritisation

By this stage, the students had decided upon the main factors to explain Stalin’s rise to power, organised into key categories. Each of these categories could form the basis of a paragraph in an essay. However, it was still necessary to decide two things.

Firstly, students would need to decide in which order to deal with the points in each paragraph. It would not be enough to simply introduce the category title, then randomly write about each piece of evidence from the hexagons in that group. This is where the hexagons are particularly useful. The six sides mean that factors can be placed alongside each other in various combinations to highlight connections between batches of factors within categories. After students rearranged their factors in this way, they stuck them down onto sugar paper with a glue stick. They could then write the title of each category over each batch of hexagons, and annotate around each group of hexagons to explain why they were arranged in that particulary way.

Secondly, students had to decide how to connect their main categories together to create an overall thread of argument. They did this by drawing arrows between the factors and explaining their connections over them. For example:

“Economic problems in the country > created > Divisions in the party > exploited by > Stalin’s Cunning”

Stage 3: Essay preparation

The final part of the process was to use the completed diagrams as an essay plan. I photographed each of the diagrams and shared them with the students. Their task was to use the diagrams as the basis of their essay on “Why did Stalin become leader of the USSR?”. Each paragraph was to focus on separate categories of hexagons, and the points made in each paragraph should have some logical order and ‘flow’. Moreover, the order of the paragraphs should be dictated by the arrows linking the categories, with the opening sentence of each paragraph after the first one being based on the explanation over each arrow.

Reflections and Conclusions

The ‘Hexagon Approach’ worked very well. It steered students away from a narrative approach and into an analytical frame of mind. It helped them frame categories of analyis, build up their command of the material step-by-step. It provided them with the opporunity to easily change their initial assumptions, connect factors together both within and between categories, and give them a very effective basis of an accomplished written piece.

It is also a very simple approach that can be transferred to other topics and other curriculum subjects. All that is needed is an initial list of factors – contributed either by the teacher or the students – which can then be written into a blank hexagons template or turned into hexagons automatically using my Hexagons Generator. Thereafter, all that is needed is a pair of scissors, some sugar paper and a glue stick. And, ideally, a bag of sweets!


The Wonders of Window pens!

After six months of my first teaching post in my very own classroom, I had spent hours of time and bundles of energy into transforming my classroom into a positive, bright and energising space for my pupils to learn. This job was never a chore, it was instead a rewarding and visible aspect of my teaching, but I hit a barrier… I ran out of wall display space!

The solution came from browsing twitter and in particular the inspiring #pedagoofriday where I discovered the wonder of window pens! Although seemingly more often seen in the primary sector, these cheap pens were easily adapted to secondary.

Consequently I learnt that these window pens were not only a new display area but they could also be used as an engaging and exciting classroom tool to not only enhance learning but also encourage positive behaviour. Since then I have used the pens in a variety of ways, introducing new topics, mind mapping, revision and most recently I have introduced ‘Source of the Week’ where as a class we analyse a source and annotate on individual versions, the hardest working class member is then rewarded by being allowed to annotate the source on the window.

Understandably I bet a few people reading this are unsure of the benefits of this simple stationary but the benefit to my classroom paired with witnessing the excitement on the pupils face helps to fade any doubt of the wonder of the window pens!

Destroy Homework!

As one of my brightest Y11s said just the other day, ‘History is so hard. There’s so much to think about.’

We all like to think that our subject is hard, I suppose. But what can make or break any future deeper learning is conceptual understanding. In the history classroom these concepts are often in flux and development across time, usually translated in various ways by stakeholders from different communities, classes and countries.

For example, when Y9 at Braunton Academy studied a brief overview of the key ideas, actions and events of the suffrage movement of the early C20 I wanted them to have a conceptual understanding of the government’s ‘Temporary Discharge Bill’. This bill effectively gave the police and local authorities license to arrest and re-arrest suffragettes. Why? The WSPU’s members would more often than not go on hunger-strike when arrested. Quite horrible force-feeding then took place which the group used to its advantage with many a derogatory poster. The government allowed the re-arrest of suffragettes to in part ensure that the women did not die in their hands.

Now, I used to follow the mantra that empathy is the Queen of the History Classroom, and that I am its King. That sounds great, doesn’t it? But having taught the holocaust however many times I’ve come to the conclusion that I rarely want an emotional response to a shocking subject because this can drown out actual facts. If students want to be shocked by something they can use Google – my job is to present facts to be analysed and applied.

But how, then, to demonstrate conceptual understanding of something that might be shocking, or strange?

A few months ago I came across the always-excellent Rachel Jones’s (@rlj1981) post on DESTROY homework. You can read more about it on her blog, but the two central tenets were to encourage a demonstration of conceptual understanding and to get students to actually do some homework in the first place!

So, having created a few examples myself as well as a video using the fab ShowMe app, I asked Y9 to destroy the WSPU’s anti-government poster regarding the Temporary Discharge Bill, popularly known as the Cat & Mouse Act. We did not analyse the poster in class, nor did I explain the act to them. They had two weeks to fret, create and destroy.

A selection of destroyed homework on the Cat and Mouse Act

A selection of destroyed homework on the Cat and Mouse Act

The results were far more than I’d hoped. Some had taken the poster and rearranged it into a completely new conceptual take on the process of force feeding, whist others created 3D models of suffragettes, made out of the poster to highlight the green, white and purple of the movement, running around plates with government knives chasing them. Two students created mobiles; two covered their posters in food; one simply placed a huge voting X in blood-red over the top. Three students who weren’t in when set asked if they could still do the homework. Only five out of sixty handed nothing in on the deadline – in my school that’s a miracle.

Having then decided to present the idea at #TMNorthDevon I set about creating another opportunity. I wanted to try a younger year group to show how it could work and so asked my only Y8 class – very bright but very reluctant to work at home without the threat of my glare – to destroy a choice of three images about C19 anaesthetic-free surgery. This time, considering how poor their homework record has been over the year, we did go through the main developments of ether and chloroform. I showed them the Y9 examples (now plastering the walls) and asked them to destroy just one of the three using their new knowledge. This time the purpose for me was probably more to raise the hand-in rate than to encourage a conceptual understanding.

The responses were again fantastic. One student had made an actual chloroform inhaler, a la John Snow, with the development of anaesthetics written around the canister. Another placed a 3D gravestone at the head of a dissected body, with the heart sticking out and declaring that it had sped up too fast, as James Simpson’s early use of chloroform often did to the young, fit and fearful. Many chose to represent the image of the operating theatre in flames, as ether was particularly flammable and thus particularly dangerous in a gas-lit environment. This time the hand-in rate was 100%.

So far I’ve marked these using SOLO. For example, if the concept has been completely misunderstood then they’re at prestructural, though I haven’t seen this yet. If the student has demonstrated links between various aspects of their study then they’re at relational. I’d reserve the extended abstract for those who make links to the historical context, or other necessary developments (such as Simpson’s use of the media, or Snow’s use of technology) across time.

‘Destroy homework’ isn’t a panacea for poor completion rates. Neither will it stop those hardened to years of frantic scribbling on a planner note page on the bus from continuing to do so. But find the right concept and I bet they’ll fly with it. Maybe they won’t even notice that they’ve done some work!