teaching history

Here are 5 top tips for teaching History:

  1. Don’t be afraid to explain what history education is all about! History as a subject exists on two separate planes. For most people history is about past peoples and events, a passing on of traditions from one generation to the next, the notion of sitting at the feet of our grandparents and being connected to those long gone.   However, History education exists on another plane. It is a discipline, a mode of thinking which, “…is neither a natural process nor something that springs automatically from psychological development . . . it actually goes against the grain of how we ordinarily think.” (Wineburg, 1999). It engages with the complexities of the past.  History education lies in this second plane.  It aims to develop students’ historical thinking.


  1. Be clear about what substantive knowledge looks like (it’s not just about content or information!).
  • Clear, coherent narratives concerning people, institutions, places or events.
  • Small-scale human stories that make larger-scale historical stories, events or changes meaningful and memorable, and conversely, macro-stories conveyed through generalisations and categorisations.
  • Chronological frameworks e.g. of historical periods, rulers in sequence etc.
  • General ‘sense of period’ that helps students avoid anachronism.
  • Specific ‘sense of period’ that facilitates the assimilation of smaller narratives or case studies.
  • Knowledge acquired of historical periods, events or individuals that provides context for the study of a different period, event or individual
  • Appropriate period resonances attached to substantive concepts such as ‘Parliament’, ‘Church’, ‘federalism’, ‘loyalty’ or ‘taxation’.


  1. Know what progression looks like in each of the key historical processes.
  • Causal reasoning (explaining why it happens and its impact, i.e. cause & effect).
  • Evidential thinking (being able to understand, infer from, cross reference, analyse, critically evaluate, and deploy the evidence historians use).
  • Change & continuity (identify and explain how and why change/continuity occurs over time).
  • Diversity (people in the past are not all the same),
  • Interpretation (identify, explain and analyse the reasons why historian’ views about things constantly change).
  • Significance (what do we think is historically important, how do we decide).


  1. Ensure lessons cohere and build learning cumulatively by framing learning objectives as Enquiry Questions. Does your question:
  • Capture the interest and imagination of your pupils?
  • Place an aspect of historical thinking, a concept or process at the forefront of pupils’ minds?
  • Result in a tangible, lively, substantial, enjoyable ‘outcome activity’ through which the students can genuinely answer the enquiry question?

 Don’t re-invent the wheel!

There is a huge and supportive community of history education professionals out there, be a part of developing your subject.  Join in with the Historical Association, Schools History Project, become an examiner!

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