Teaching History

How to teach history

There is no single 'best' way to teach history. Research suggests that good history teachers know the content, use a variety of approaches, explicitly teach the skills of historical inquiry and analysis, tailor learning opportunities to suit their students' stage of development, and encourage deep understanding.
There is room for a range of teaching and learning activities in the history classroom: a story well-told by the teacher, a museum display (actual or digital), model-making, the construction of timelines, comprehension and source analysis activities, oral history interviews, site studies, simulated excavations, problem-solving exercises, role plays and debates. Activities like these can be tailored to suit students' stage of development.
Approaches to pedagogy can be teacher-centred or student generated, inquiry based or teacher directed, completed individually, in pairs, groups, or as a whole class, and involve digital resources to varying degrees. The important thing is that learning activities relate to each other, encourage historical thinking and lead to the learning goal in a coherent way.
A variety of resources should be used in the history classroom, including documents, photographs, artefacts and people (as guest speakers or interview subjects). Historical places make great resources: museums, monuments and heritage sites (actual or virtual), particularly in the local area. Film, historical fiction, works of art, history textbooks and history websites offer a wonderful range of resources. Resources can be provided by the teacher or students.
Putting it all together
To teach for historical understanding, teachers need to
become familiar with the historical content and concepts they need to teach
understand the skills and methods of historical inquiry
be clear about the learning goal (knowledge and understanding and skills)
plan a coherent learning sequence to enable students to achieve the learning goal

Sir George Somers


Chronology is the air history breathes. It enables pupils to place their learning within the bigger picture and better remember historical people, periods and events. Without chronology, children’s historical understanding will remain limited.  Read more

Teaching Primary History

Kate Smyth: history in the primary classroom (Video, 6:55)
Kate Smyth is a former primary school teacher and is currently Lecturer in Primary Method at Sydney University.

The Story of the Wreck of the Sea Venture - 1609

In 1609 he was made Admiral of the Virginia Company's Third Supply Relief Fleet, sailing from London and then Plymouth, bound for Virginia. The fleet of 9 ships, with Somers aboard the flagship Sea Venture, set sail from Plymouth with fresh supplies and additional colonists for the new British settlement at Jamestown. Also aboard were John Rolfe (who would become known as the husband of Pocahontas) and the governor-designate of the settlement, Sir Thomas Gates. On 25th July during a hurricane, the Sea Venture was separated from the main fleet and was wrecked off Discovery Bay, Bermuda. Somers and all aboard the Sea Venture were presumed dead by those who continued on to Virginia.
In fact, the ship was wrecked between two rocks or reefs and all 150 crew and colonists were saved. This marked the beginning of the colonisation of Bermuda, England's first Crown Colony. At the time Bermuda was known as 'Virgineola' in tribute to the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. But with King James I now on the throne, the islands were renamed the Somers Isles, still today Bermuda's official alternate name.
To continue their journey to Jamestown the castaways needed new ships, so Somers and Sir Thomas Gates between them oversaw the building of the Deliverance and the Patience from the wrecked Sea Venture and local timber. There was no lack of food on Bermuda, and the castaways were able to live well on fish, sea turtle eggs, fruit and wild hog (which had been landed and left behind on the islands by Spanish pirates). So during their ten months on the islands, the crew and passengers started the Bermuda colony, building a church and houses.
Ships Lyme Regis plaque (HUK)On 10th May 1610 the two small ships set sail with 142 people and some supplies on board. On arrival some fourteen days later, they found the Virginia Colony almost destroyed by famine and disease during what has become known as the "Starving Time". Very few of the supplies from the Supply Relief Fleet had arrived (the same hurricane which caught the Sea Venture had also badly affected the rest of the fleet), and only 60 of the original 214 settlers remained alive.
Sir George Somers wrote to Robert Cecil reporting his shipwreck on Bermuda while on a voyage to Virginia, and telling of a famine at Jamestown so severe that people were forced to eat snakes. He planned to take the colonists by ship to Bermuda "the most plentifull place that ever I came to for Fishe, Hogges and Fowle". However the plan to abandon Jamestown was shelved upon the arrival of the fourth relief fleet commanded by Lord Delaware in July 1610.
It was only through the arrival of the ships from Bermuda and the arrival of the fourth relief fleet that the colony at Jamestown was able to survive.
Sir George returned to Bermuda in the Patience to collect more food, but he became ill on the journey and died "of a surfeit in eating of a pig", on November 9th 1610 in Bermuda. His heart was buried in Bermuda but his body, pickled in a barrel, was landed on the Cobb at Lyme Regis in 1618. A volley of muskets and cannon saluted his last journey to the church at Whitchurch Canonicorum where his body is buried.
The story of what happened to the Sea Venture is known through the work of Sylvester Jourdan, also from Lyme Regis, who was on board the Sea Venture and survived to record what had happened in a small book he wrote in 1610 called A Discovery of the Barmudas which was printed in London.
One of the backers of the Virginia Company was the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, and it is possible that Jourdan’s book about the shipwreck on the mysterious island, ‘the land of devils and spirits’, was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest.
Lyme Regis is twinned with St George in Bermuda, however the town is named after St George, the patron saint of England, and not Sir George Somers, founder of the colony of Bermuda.

Black History
In the past, black history has often been marginalised and ignored by mainstream history. The study of this hidden past has developed into a large and at times controversial field in America, where it is known as black or African world studies.The area sparks much debate, as it tries to bring to wider attention, evidence and research which at times challenges the mainstream views of history.

Carter G. Woodson, often cited as the "Father of Black History."






Helping Children Make Sense of Their Time

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, recently suggested: “...if we want students to understand what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri or the Middle East, they need an unvarnished picture of our past and the skills to understand and interpret that picture. “College-level work”  I think that a great Primary and Secondary teacher should also try and address this issue.  

The application of historical thinking skills helps foster the new generation of civically minded individuals who can contribute to our evolving fabric of democracy here in Bermuda and the wider world.

 Chronology is the air history breathes. It enables pupils to place their learning within the bigger picture and better remember historical people, periods and events. Without chronology, children’s historical understanding will remain limited.  Read more

Teaching Primary History

Kate Smyth: history in the primary classroom (Video, 6:55)
Kate Smyth is a former primary school teacher and is currently Lecturer in Primary Method at Sydney University.

Mary Seacole

 “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed the sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”

Sir William Howard Russell, then war correspondent of the Times




Mary Seacole Weblinks

The Mary Seacole Centre

A Story from the  Crimean War

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole

Mary Seacole Musical in Jamaica

Campaign for a statue


Schoolchildren gather to welcome Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh to Bermuda, during their Commonwealth Tour, 24th November 1954.
November 24, 1953 Licence

Why Use Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

Bringing young people into close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal, documents and objects can give them a very real sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era.

1. Engage students

  • Primary sources help students relate in a personal way to events of the past and promote a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events.
  • Because primary sources are snippets of history, they encourage students to seek additional evidence through research.
  • First-person accounts of events helps make them more real, fostering active reading and response.

2. Develop critical thinking skills

  • Many curriculum objectives support teaching with primary sources, which require students to be both critical and analytical as they read and examine documents and objects.
  • Primary sources are often incomplete and have little context. Students must use prior knowledge and work with multiple primary sources to find patterns.
  • In analysing primary sources, students move from concrete observations and facts to questioning and making inferences about the materials.
  • Questions of creator bias, purpose, and point of view may challenge students’ assumptions, this is usually a healthy process that develops a more crititical approach to the suject.

3. Construct knowledge

  • Inquiry into primary sources encourages students to wrestle with contradictions and compare multiple sources that represent differing points of view, confronting the complexity of the past.
  • Students construct knowledge as they form reasoned conclusions, base their conclusions on evidence, and connect primary sources to the context in which they were created, synthesizing information from multiple sources.
  • Integrating what they glean from comparing primary sources with what they already know, and what they learn from research, allows students to construct content knowledge and deepen their understanding.