Making the past present and bringing the distant near




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TELLING TALES: “MAKING THE PAST PRESENT AND BRINGING THE DISTANT NEAR” 1
As a teacher covering some area of primary history such as Florence Nightingale or Victorian Britain have you ever heard the dreaded words from a child “So what?” This can actually be a front for "I’m bored with this task" or more importantly saying "What has this got to do with me?" The pupil might not see the point of studying this history and a teacher of primary history needs to support their class in several ways by

  • helping pupils make a real connection with past people

  • identifying with the feelings and dilemmas of these people

  • recognizing that while past people faced similar problems to ours today, they also lived in often very different worlds.

Storytelling in primary history can help play a major role in getting pupils over the "So what?" hurdle, for every period includes rich and interesting stories that fire the imagination, intrigue and fascinate as well as imparting important information in a way that is more easily understood. So what do we mean by story? In the study of history, stories are often assumed to mean accounts or narratives; this broad definition has shaped the literature of past ages from the greek writer Homer who told the story of the Trojan War via, important religious texts through to the Anglo-Saxon poetry of Beowulf. However these stories would not always be recognised as historical writing today because they were written as myths, legends and or for religious purposes. Rather these stories are historical evidence which can be analysed and compared with other source material from their time.

Telling the story of history itself has been done by historians from the ancient Greek Herodotus onwards with the aim of “inquiring" into the truth and distinguishing between fact and faction. This kind of historical writing in the present encompasses a range of non-fiction genres such as primary history textbooks, biographies and documentaries. But modern historical storytelling also crosses the fiction / non- fiction divide where writers and filmmakers invent stories or embellish past events imaginatively (just like ancient storytellers) but

for the purposes of entertainment and/or profit. (The latest depiction of Henry VIII by Jonathan Rhys Myers in the BBC series “The Tudors,” arguably owes more to imagination than historical fact). So storytelling in primary history can include material written from a particular time or interpretations of events written long afterwards reflecting on past events though both non-fiction and fictional writing.


How the teacher uses an historical story will depend on what they plan that pupils shall get out of it. A traditional geek myth like Jason and the Argonauts might be used as evidence of what ancient Greek people believed about the gods, even though its legendary heroes might never have existed. A modern video interpreting the life of Jamaican nurse, Mary Seacole might be viewed in sections with pupils’ afterwards sequencing dates and pictures into a chronological order of her life. A class reading Nina Bawden’s novel about Evacuees, “Carries War" might compare details from the fiction with real source material such as diaries from the 1940's. Older Children might write and rehearse a story set in the past for younger pupils, deciding on appropriate wording and what to include or leave out. In this way, the activity mimics the type of choices a modem writer faces at adult level when producing an historical story for a particular audience. In these examples, storytelling is woven as a brightly coloured thread into existing planning for primary history.
Images that may be used; Beowulf and the dragon, Trojan horse, Mary Secole.
TELLING TALES IN HISTORY AT KS1
How can we tell our own Story?
The teacher models storytelling for her class by telling the story of her own life up to the same age as the age of her pupils. She punctuates the telling by showing evidence that illustrate important events or phases, for example photographs of a christening or equivalent naming ceremony, a tag from hospital, a first rattle etc. Pupils should be encouraged to handle these artefacts carefully and comment on them. With support from their teacher and equivalent "artefacts" from home, pupils prepare an equivalent "show and tell" for their peers about their own life so far. These might be filmed by the teacher or fellow pupils using digiblue cameras.
How can we tell the story of the three little pigs?
The teacher vividly tells the traditional story of the three little pigs, probably using illustrations in support from a particular book version. In pairs or groups with support if necessary, pupils organise copies of the illustrations into an order that follows the events of the story. The teacher tells the story again, but pauses at crucial points and invites individuals to pose in the position of the characters. A discussion follows where pupils are invited to suggest what different characters might be saying or thinking. Lastly the teacher retells the story for a third time but from the point of view of the villain, the Big Bad Wolf. Afterwards pupils discuss how the two versions of the story are the same, how they differ and crucially why they might differ. Although the story is entirely fictional, the activity should get pupils thinking about the fact that the same events can be described in different ways.
How do we know that happened when Queen Elisabeth I was crowned?
Display the Coronation Portrait of Queen Elisabeth I from the National Portrait Gallery. It shows the young Tudor queen with long auburn hair surmounted by

a crown, dressed in her coronation robes of 1559 with orb and sceptre and seated on a throne. Ask pupils in pairs to draw or write words on copies of the portrait, pointing out details within it and speculating on whom the painting might be of and what might be happening in the picture. After discussion, explain what the portrait depicts and that it was painted in Elizabeth’s lifetime, although not in 1559. Next tell the story of Elizabeth’s Coronation, using various props and individuals to dramatise events and add colourful detail, such as the ripping up of the processional carpet outside Westminster Abbey by the crowd for souvenirs. Lastly, show a clip from the feature film, Elizabeth (1998) which depicts Cate Blanchett being crowned as Elizabeth I. For each source in turn, (the portrait, the story and the film clip) invite pupils to position themselves on a number line between I and 5 (I for “completely true” though to 5 for “all made up") as to how accurate they think each source might be. Discussions can be prompted by the teacher with questions such as "Was the painter really at the coronation? Why do we think the film was made?” etc


Images that may be used; Elizabeth I, Cate Blanchett,Wolf.

TELLING TALES IN HISTORY AT KS2
Finding different versions of historical stories in various forms to use with pupils is relatively easy. After all, every teacher sits down with a class

at some stage to read a story to them. Creating an original story to tell based in a historical period can seem much more challenging but if done well can be very effective for both teacher and class. The late John Fines was a master storyteller in primary history. He argued that there were three phases to creating a story.



  1. Deciding on what it is for. (This includes placing the storytelling within an historical enquiry or sequence of learning. The story should contribute to pupils being able to answer the main enquiry question set for the learning).




  1. Working on the Shape of the Story. This means deciding on the nature of the problem that the leading character or characters need to resolve and how they might do this.



  1. The building up of rich, living detail. From the outline of the story, decide how full descriptions of the situation the characters will face can be added e.g. scenery, rooms, furniture, pictures, sounds, colour, sensations, smells, tastes, animals. Develop the personalities and ideas of the character involved. Think about ways in which your character might behave in role and their body language.

To be effective, the story has to live through the way it is told. This means moving around the room to create an environment, giving different voices to characters with varied accents, shouting commands, making screams agonising and whispering as death approaches. The following teacher generated story set in the time of Henry VIII exemplifies the process of creating a story.



The Story of King’s Feather
(Pose a problem plus use a simple prop that you can hide to create tension)
Hide a feather behind your back. Ask the children to guess what you have hidden. Show the children the feather. Explain that this is a special feather, and that it came from a royal bird, and that you’ll tell them the story of the boy who owns it.
(Set the scene – Tudor England at the time of Henry VIII.)
Thomas a young lad, son of a blacksmith, often helps his father at the forge. He handles the horses, taking care of them, especially any nervous animals.
(Describe the houses, village set up, type of villagers’ clothes.)
Although he enjoys helping his father, he doesn’t wish to become a blacksmith. Thomas longs to see other places outside the village, and listens with interests to tales told by travellers as their horses are shod. He would love to go to court and become a falconer.
He loves to wander on his own, watching wild life in the forest, whenever he has free time. One day he sees a group of riders. One of the men draws his attention. He is very imposing – richly dressed
(Describe the characters – Henry VIII and their ‘props’, the clothes of men and ladies (hunting dress)
(Set the scene – describe the situation)
The courtiers are hunting with falcons. The boy is enchanted watching the birds fly off. He hides and after watching for some time, realises by their conversation that, the man he had admired, was none other than his King – Henry VIII.
As the riders move on, he reluctantly leaves and returns to the village. On the grass he finds a feather dropped by one of the falcons. He treasures this. Now his days are filled with dreams. He longs to be able to handle the falcons in the way he admired his King doing. However, time goes by, and the reality is his work at his father’s forge.
(The solution to the problem)
One day Thomas has some time for himself. He wanders into the forest, searching for wood to make himself a bow. Suddenly he is startled. As he comes into a clearing, he sees a horse rearing up and its rider in danger of being thrown. Regardless of his own safety, he grabs the horse’s bridle, calming the horse as it struggles. Eventually he has the horse under control. To his amazement, Thomas realises the rider is the same man that he had watched handle the falcon – his King! His horse had been startled and had bolted.
The King is joined by his followers, who had been riding, trying to catch up with their Sovereign. They admire the boy’s courage and skill, and the king offers him a gift as a reward. Thomas asks if his gift might be the chance to train the hawks with the King’s falconer. His wish is granted and he goes to work at the court.
His dreams have come true.
Images that may be used; a feather, Henry VIII, Falcon.

Useful resources for storytelling
A classic book for use with younger pupils is Granpa by John Burmingham (Red Fox ISBN 10:0099 434083). It charts the relationship between an aging grandparent and his grandchild. The beautiful illustrations distinguish clearly between the present, the activities that Granpa did as a child such as sledging or singing around the piano and the imaginative dreams of his granddaughter. The book ends sadly with Granpa’s death, symbolised by an empty chair. It remains an excellent resource for helping children to distinguish between then, now and the imagination.
Recordings of the late John Fines-a master storyteller.
John Fines who died in 2000 was recorded telling five stories to pupils in a small coastal rural primary school in West Sussex.
Title Description
Down the Mine Children working

in a coal mine

-the story of Lottie

In the Indian Army Life in the Indian

Army Army the Afghan War

Domestic Servant Mrs Beeton and

household management
The Chimney sweep A Victorian child

chimney sweep



The Coast Guard The lives of coastguard children in 1871
These recordings can be played and downloaded from the University of Exeter's History Resource page at http:// centres.exeter.ac.uk/historyresource/resources/johnfines.htm.
In addition there is also a video clip of John Fines telling the story of Lottie on YouTube. Put Nuffield Primary History storytelling into the search function on YouTube.
Further reading for teachers on the use of storytelling in primary history can be found in these books.
Narrative Matters: Teaching and Learning History through story by Grant Bage. Falmer Press (1999)
Teaching Primary History by the late John Fines and John Nichol. Heinemann (1997)
History 3-11: A guide for Teachers by Hilary Cooper. Routledge (2007)
The Historical Association has recently published online training resources for initial teacher training. These are also useful for any teacher seeking to develop their professional learning. The first unit “Primary HITT Unit 1” consists of a module on story telling. It is available at www.history.org.uk. Put story telling into the search function under the initial heading “primary” from the sites’ homepage.
The Historical Association has also published online resources to support its 2007 report into Teaching Emotive and Controversial History 3-19. From the associations website (www.history.org.uk) click on “Primary”, then”Primary guides” which links to “Teach online resources”. In the resource itself click on 2.2. Examples of practise: Rose Blanche. This sets out a full scheme of work for Key Stage 2 using a beautiful and controversial story text on the Holocaust called Rose Blanche. (Rose Blanche, Red Fex ISBN 97800994 3950 9). A fictional german girl (blonde haired and blue eyed – deliberately “Aryan”) defies nazi racial laws by secretly taking food to jewish prisoners in a local concentration camp.
From the same teach online resources click on 2.3. Examples of practice, Grace O’Malley. As before, this sets out a full scheme of work for key stage 2 using the story book The Pirate meets the Queen by Matt Faulkner (Philomel Books ISBN 0-399-24038-1). The text is based on an incident in the life of the infamous or (depending on your point of view) notorious, female pirate, Grace O’Malley (1530-1603). The colourful illustrations depict her early life in Ireland and present an account of her meeting with the formidable Tudor Queen Elizabeth 1st in London.
New resources for Teaching Black British History at Key Stages 1 and 2. The Northamptonshire Black History Association has recently published five educational packs dealing with Black British history. One of these “Walter Tull: Sport, War and Challenging Adversity” includes an illustrated story book for key Stage one history on the life of the black footballer who was also an officer during the First World War. Some schools are using his life history to meet current requirements to teach about famous people at KS1. The teaching pack is £20.00 with story books priced at £5.00 each. Follow links at www.northants-black-history.org.uk
The Historical Association is the voice for history and counts primary teachers among its members. A section of its website (www.history.org.uk) is dedicated to the support of teaching primary history. These include useful resources and links. The Association also publishes a termly journal, Primary History which contains articles from teachers and other professionals involved in developing the subject through the primary phase.
Images that may be used; Grace O’Malley meets Elizabeth, Walter Tull, Child down mine.



1 Thomas Babington MaCauly 1828 “Smollett’s constitutional History”.



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