History & Geography Curriculum Decisions (Part 3)

In the previous two parts of this series of posts, I described how I found myself thinking about the best way to develop as many prototypes as possible. Is it by placing linked topics together in the same term, or is there a different way of planning that would expose children to lots of examples over time? In this third and final part, I’m going to explore some possibilities I’ve been wondering about. If you’ve tried something similar, or have a different way of organising your curriculum, please get in touch as I’d be really interested to hear about it.

A good start would be to roll out the strategies I suggested for class teachers in my previous post, across the school:

  • Ten minute pre-reading activities

Identify approximately five key concepts for each year group across the school and where they appear in the topics planned for that year. Select picture books/poems/short stories that will provide children with prototypes to add to their schema for each key word.

Advantages of co-ordinating these decisions as a whole school/key stage/phase (depending on size of school) are:

  • You can make sure that concepts become progressively more challenging and that they aren’t repeated (unless through a deliberate choice to revisit).
  • A methodical approach to selecting picture books to be shared means that everyone will be aware which books are being used in each year group and why. Deliberate choices can be made that will help prepare children for their learning in future year groups. For example, reading picture books about families fleeing from war, such as The Journey, when learning about migration, can help prepare them for learning about evacuation during WWII the following year.*
  • Pre-reading texts being deliberately chosen collaboratively by teachers means that they are able to use their knowledge to refer children to previous texts that are relevant to their current topics.
  • Copies of picture books that were read as a class in previous years could be made available in classrooms in later year groups. Re-reading the same texts when they are older could help children develop a deeper understanding.
  • Cross-curricular links

Using the same set of key concepts I describe above, identify all the points at which each one would arise during the year. Which topic is each concept most significant to? Consider this when sequencing units across the year – rather than placing all those with similar themes together in the same term, could they be spread across the year so that children are exposed to them on multiple occasions throughout the year?

Advantages of co-ordinating these decisions as a whole school/key stage/phase (depending on size of school) are:

  • If teachers are aware of the concepts that are explored in other year groups, they will be able to take advantage of opportunities to highlight examples to their classes in preparation for subsequent year groups, or to revisit and check understanding from previous ones.
  • Progression between year groups, as well as within year groups, can be planned for, making vertical, horizontal and diagonal links explicit (as Clare Sealy describes here https://primarytimery.com/2017/10/28/the-3d-curriculum-that-promotes-remembering/ ).
  • When teachers discuss what is being taught across the school as a team, small details about the content and how it is delivered will be shared that would not otherwise be obvious from the school’s planning. Having an in-depth knowledge of the topics that are taught across the school, how they link together, and the reasons for these decisions, means that teachers are more able to build on their class’s prior knowledge and really deepen their learning.
  • Links to class texts

When you select class texts, keep an eye out for links to any concepts that appear elsewhere in the curriculum, either in the same year group or in others. Identify opportunities for pre-teaching, so that children are able to use their knowledge from across the curriculum to develop a deeper understanding of the text. As above, I’m not suggesting teaching texts at the same time as units from across the curriculum, just spending a little time highlighting the link to the children at the relevant point.**

  • A curriculum links display

In part 2, I advocated teachers displaying key vocabulary from across the curriculum, and recording examples that children meet throughout the year. Regularly discussing children’s understanding of vocabulary and recording the examples they generate is a good way of building on their prior knowledge.

On a whole school level, there are lots of ways that displays could be used to highlight vertical and diagonal links to children. One example is the timelines that schools place either in the playground or in a corridor, that include all of the history topics taught in the school. Another could be displays highlighting what a particular thread looks like in each year group throughout the school. This could be created by subject leaders, with input from class teachers to provide examples of children’s work as they teach the concept. Alternatively, if your school runs themed days or weeks, these could be used to produce work based on the same concept, which can be used to create the display.

For example, farming is a recurring theme in our curriculum. At harvest time, a display could be created to celebrate farming, including photos of Early Years visiting the city farm, Year 1 work about farmers harvesting crops, pictures of items that are farmed in the rainforest, Year 3 work about changes in farming from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, and examples of how crops are different in the Mediterranean due to the difference in climate.

  • Regular short input

As I mentioned in part 2, some objectives are better suited to being taught little and often than spending one or two lessons learning about them in more depth. Subject leaders could identify which objectives this applies to in their subject (such as locational knowledge in geography and chronology in history) and introduce these to teachers as part of their CPD. Creating a consistent set of resources to be used across the school would support teachers and children in achieving these objectives.

For example, we have agreed maps that we will use for retrieval practice in each key stage, and there is a cumulative list of countries that appear in each year group’s curriculum. I have also turned this into a powerpoint that can be used as a 5 minute activity to support children in differentiating between continents and countries (which many children seem to struggle with) – all the countries they have come across so far are mixed with the names of the seven continents and children shout either continent or country (or do actions/hold up a whiteboard depending on the class) for each slide.

This final point is not something I have experience of doing myself, but I have thought about it a lot and think it would be worth considering. Building on the final bullet point above, leaders could make decisions about how the curriculum is sequenced on a whole school/whole key stage level. Which objectives would be better addressed through more frequent short exposures, and which ones require more in depth, longer blocks of teaching? Could some objectives be addressed using a combination of the two – several examples in different year groups, with a short block of focused teaching either to introduce a concept, or to draw together the different examples?

Here are some examples of how certain geography and history objectives could be sequenced across KS2. Please note that these are just examples of how the curriculum could be sequenced, and are not the definitive way it must be taught.

  • Human geography – the distribution of natural resources including food, minerals and water

Select a country to use as an example in each of Years 3, 4 and 5 (preferably in different continents/climate zones). Children learn about human and physical features of each country, including their natural resources and the impact they have eg. roughly 25% of Italians live in the Po River valley, which produces 35% of national agricultural output and is key to the Italian economy. In Year 6, plan a short sequence of lessons where the previous examples are compared and contrasted with a final one and with the UK.

  • Physical geography – climate zones and biomes

After a brief introduction to the concept of climate zones in Year 3 (building on knowledge of the Equator, hot and cold areas of the world from KS1), and an overview of the different biomes and their features, these could be divided up to study in more depth in subsequent year groups. Each time a new biome was taught there would be an opportunity for retrieving knowledge of climate zones and biomes from Year 3. There would be lots of opportunities for briefly referring to this knowledge, for example by selecting picture books and class texts set in deserts, polar regions or rainforests.

  • History – the achievements of the earliest civilizations; an overview of where and when the first civilizations appeared

Children should learn about Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, and one of Ancient Egypt, Sumer, China or the Indus Valley in addition to this overview study. If the overview followed one or two of these depth studies, children would already have some examples of ancient civilisations which they could relate to their new learning. If the overview was then followed by short reading activities about civilisations children had not studied in depth, as well as the remaining depth studies, they should have a really thorough knowledge they could use to make links between these periods of history. (I intend to write in more depth about this topic soon.)

*I’m not advocating every book teachers read to their classes being dictated, but suggesting that pre-selecting a certain proportion can provide a more coherent experience for children, with opportunities to expand children’s vocabulary being capitalized on.

**Yes, this is almost exactly the same paragraph I used in part 2 because I couldn’t see any need to change it, but didn’t want to leave it out either. See part 2 for an example of how this strategy could be used.

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