Some Ideas about Teaching



Developing Better Written Exercises at Key Stage 3


I have for a long time argued that every lesson ought to have three elements – firstly, an ‘opener’ which sets its objectives in the pupils’ own experience, secondly, some kind of pupil-activity (an investigation or discussion) and finally, some form of written/ exercise work. The ‘written work’ is often inadequately-considered, and this article is about how to make your ‘written/ exercise’ tasks as interesting and profitable as possible. We teach a beleaguered subject, and it is vital that teachers ‘ring the changes’ from lesson to lesson. Serving up an endless diet of copying, cloze exercises and ‘questions’ is a recipe for disaster, not only at ‘options’ time, but for the pupils’ academic success.



The Objective of Written Work

The first question History teachers have to ask themselves is: ‘Is it necessary to set any written work at all’. Less able pupils find written expression difficult – less able boys, particularly so – and this can lead to bad behaviour as they get bored, or fail to see the point in doing work in which they can only fail, or try to disguise/ compensate for the fact that they cannot do it.

            The ultimate question is WHY are you setting the work – what is the OBJECTIVE of this particular element of the lesson? Here are some possibilities:


a.         Record

            Is the objective of the written work simply to record the facts and ideas learned during the lesson? Less able pupils often have such poor handwriting that they cannot revise from their written notes even if they finish them. If the only objective of the ‘written work’ is to record the lesson material, would it not be better to give them a typed, duplicated revision sheet, talk them through it, and get them to learn it for next lesson?


b.         Reinforcement

            Is the objective of the written work to reinforce/ internalise the facts or skills studied during the lesson? If so, a written exercise is ONE valid method – provided it is properly directed towards doing so. The teacher should evaluate the writing task to check that it is reinforcing the skill learned. It is almost certain that a cloze exercise will be inadequate to this task; indeed, it may be unnecessary to set any written work at all – for reinforcement of simple facts, for instance, might a test, or quiz, or even old-fashioned class chanting be more effective?


c.         Writing skills

            If the objective of the written element of the lesson is to teach the pupils certain writing skills, either historical (for instance, writing a causation essay) or transferable (such as writing in the past tense), then the teacher should properly set a written exercise. Again, a cloze exercise or questions will be inadequate to this task; the exercise ought to be devised specifically to meet a skill identified in the lesson plan. The teacher should try to devise an interesting written exercise.


d.         To keep the pupils quiet

            This is not as cynical as it seems. Less able pupils, particularly, often show little interest in discussion or listening to the teacher. And no matter how exciting the lesson, after a time of activity/ discussion, their attention begins to flag, and they become harder to control/ keep on task. It is absolutely valid, at this point in the lesson, to set them a productive written task. But, again – if this is the only reason they are writing – should you not make the task interesting?


Thus it is that, in many cases teachers can properly decide not to set any written work AT ALL, but can devise a different activity which will better accomplish the planned objective of this section of the lesson. And in those situations where some form of written work is essential, teachers will usually want to set written exercises which are more appropriate, better directed and more interesting than cloze exercises or questions.



Alternatives to written work

Below, please find ideas for ‘written work’ which involve little or no writing.

            The idea you use will depend on the class, the lesson plan and, most of all, on the particular objective behind the ‘written work’ (e.g. to learn certain facts). Don’t forget to ‘ring the changes’ from lesson to lesson’ – even the most exciting activity done lesson after lesson will eventually bore the pupils.


1.       Quizzes/ Games

             Most classes love a quiz, even if all you do is divide the class into ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ and ask each team questions in turn. A quiz can help pupils learn facts, and familiarise them with information and ideas. But why not try to vary the kind of quiz?

            Why not try:

a.         Different teams – tie into school rivalries by dividing them into girls v. boys, or tutor groups.

b.         Different names – give the teams fun names such as ‘Gloria’s Gladiators’ and ‘Terry’s Twits’, but remember to act professionally and sensitively.

c.         Different rounds – you can:

•     introduce ‘University Challenge’-type ‘starter for ten’ rounds.

•     introduce ‘spotlight’ rounds, where one individual, chosen at random, has to answer a number of questions.

•     let one team ask another team a question; award points not only for the answer, but for the quality of the question.

•     let teams identify which group – even which individual – they want to answer the/their question.

•     give a series of clues, of decreasing difficulty, awarding 3 points if the team gets the answer at the first clue, but only 2 or 1 points if they have to ask for a second or third clue.

•     use the textbook to introduce ‘picture questions’ or ‘see & remember’ rounds.

•     introduce a ‘Jeopardy’ round, where you give the answer, and the team has to tell you the question.

•     introduce special ‘forfeit’ rounds, where, if the pupil gets the answer wrong, s/he has to do a forfeit (for instance, reciting ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in front of the class, or going out to the playground and shouting ‘I love History’ as loudly as possible). BE CAREFUL, in this round, to select your pupils and your forfeits wisely and professionally.


All the above require no preparation, just a quick mind in the lesson. With a little preparation, however, you could introduce:

d.         Video clips – to have ‘see and remember’ or ‘what comes next’ rounds.

e.         Flashcards – to be used with special needs pupils. Ask pupils to read the word, or show it to the class, then hide it and ask them to spell it.

f.          ‘They Think It’s All Over’ – a round where one member of the team works through a series of cards, on which are written names/ facts/ dates etc. Without mentioning the word itself, the pupil gives clues to the team, who try to guess the word on the card.

g.         Card Sort Games can be very exciting. Devise an assorted series of (say, 20) cards related to a certain topic – for example, Carole Brown produced an excellent set of cards on Medicine in her Medicine Through Time Activity File 1. Then you can ask the pupils to select/ arrange them into different sets in different ways – by date, all those relating to Public Health, an example of progression etc. The first team to finish, or the team with the best selection, wins the points.


Teachers should watch television quizzes, to steal ideas to use in class (there are innumerable game shows on satellite TV). Some which have provided ideas for quizzes/games include:

h.         ‘Fifteen-to-One’ – the pupils stand on their chairs as long as they answer correctly any question addressed to them. As however, they get questions wrong, they first have to get down to stand by their chairs, and then to sit down (i.e. to go out of the quiz). The last pupil standing is the winner.

i.          ‘Wheel of Fortune’ – a ‘Hangman’-type game, where pupils/ teams earn the right to choose a letter only if they answer a question correctly.

j.          ‘Family Fortunes’ – contestants think of [six] things to do with a certain subject (for instance, ‘The Armada’). You have already done this with another class, to get a list of words, and the numbers of those who thought of it (e.g. Drake – 15; ships – 10; storm – 4, etc.). The contestants score for their suggestions as many points as people who thought of it in the other class).

k.         ‘Give us a Clue’, ‘Call my Bluff’ and ‘Just a Minute’ are excellent games to play with more able (and, especially, extrovert) pupils. ‘TFI Friday’ carried an item called the ‘One-minute blitz’, where contestants ranted about a topic for a minute (reduce to 30 seconds for younger pupils), and then a vote was taken on the best.

l.          ‘Blockbusters’, although it needs a lot of preparation, is a popular game.


Other game/ quiz ideas include:

m.        ‘I went to market’ – if the pupils have learned a LIST of facts during the lesson (e.g., all the things one would find in a medieval street), an adapted game of ‘I went to market’ can be an effective way of reinforcing the facts. The first pupil says: ‘I went to a medieval street and I bought [a pie]’; the second has to say: ‘I went to a medieval street and I bought [a pie and some rushes],’ and so on, until the last pupil has some 30 things to remember.

n.         ‘Cinemas’ – adapt the popular children’s party game, by offering four alternative answers. Pupils choose the answer they think is correct by going to an appropriate corner of the room. When they find out which ‘corner’ was the correct answer, those pupils who chose wrongly sit down. The game continues until only one pupil remains standing – the winner. Award a prize; and watch out for cheats sneaking back into the game!

o.         ‘Letters’ – devise a quiz where all the answers are single words which use a common stock of (say 15) letters. Split the class into two teams and give each member of each team one of the letters written on a small piece of card. When you ask the question, not only must the team find the answer, but they have to re-arrange themselves in a line to ‘spell’ (and hold up) the word, using the letters on the cards.

p.         A ‘Ladder’ – push the desks together to make a single line/ ‘snake’ of pupils. Ask each pupil a question in turn, from the first to the last. If a pupil answers incorrectly, ask the question of the next pupil in the line, and so on until a pupil gets it right. That pupil then jumps up the ladder to the place of the pupil who first answered the question wrongly; all those who got it wrong then move one place down the ladder. At the end of every round, all the pupils politely applaud the first in the ladder, and taunt the last: ‘[Name] YOU ARE BOTTOM’.

q.         Class Chants – where the content of the lesson was a list/ table of facts (e.g. of dates and events), write them on the board. The pupils read the list out loud a few times. Rub out one piece of information. The class reads out loud the list, remembering the missing item. Rub out another item, and so on. Sometimes the whole class rehearses the list, sometimes individuals. Continue until the entire list is rubbed off the board, but the pupils are still able to remember it.

r.          Board games can reinforce factual information and historical ‘colour’ – especially if the subject matter involves a journey (e.g. a pilgrimage) or a competition/ conflict (e.g. competing firms in the Industrial Revolution). But they take a long time to devise, involve a lot of fiddly resources (dice, counters etc.), and can allow a badly-behaved class to create havoc!


2.       Drama/ Role Play

Why not finish the lesson by letting the pupils act out its message? Most classes love drama work, and many historical subjects lend themselves to it (e.g. the scene in a graphic description of the Irish Famine). Some historical subjects (e.g. the sequence of events in a battle) need dramatic role play for the pupils to understand them fully. Drama develops self-presentation and self-awareness, which helps pupils’ academic presentation as well as their social skills.

            Where more able pupils can learn by the hearing of the ear only, teachers of less able pupils need to address all the senses to secure understanding. Movement about the classroom reinforces understanding both of structures (e.g. represent the Feudal System by making ‘the king’ stand on a table, a few ‘barons’ sit on it, some ‘knights’ sit on chairs, and the majority – the ‘villeins’ – sit on the floor) and of sequence (e.g. explain religious changes in Tudor England by having the class move from one side of the room to the other as different monarchs come to the throne).


Key ideas include2:

a.         Tell-a-story – the class sit in a circle. Speaking one after the other, they tell a story. Each pupil can say as little or as much as they wish (some will simply say ‘and’), but the story must make sense, and it has to start with the first pupil and finish with the last – it is a class production. Tell the pupils that, if someone misses out something, it may be necessary for someone to say ‘but before that . . .’.

b.         Group-Prepared Scenes – the teacher divides the class into groups to portray an event or situation, either with a teacher-prepared script, or extemporising (e.g. a group of Germans discussing what they think about the Treaty of Versailles).

c.         Freeze-frame – working in groups, pupils take up a pose to represent an event (e.g. the death of Becket). The rest of the class guess/ comment. This is especially useful, because the teacher can ask the actors what they are thinking/ feeling, and the exercise can thus be used to reinforce standpointing/ empathy skills.

d.         Argument – two pupils in role (e.g. a Cavalier and a Roundhead) get together and argue about events and principles.

e.         Advisers – divide the pupils into teams and give them descriptions of historical situations facing a government/ individual. The groups discuss the situation and decide what advice they are going to give. This can be turned into a game if the teacher ‘scores’ the advise, giving, of course, the highest marks to those teams which got nearest to what actually happened.

f.          Royal Commission – if the pupils have been investigating an historical problem, the teacher can give them roles, and then ask them questions as though they were giving evidence (this is especially easy if, for instance, a class has been using Royal Commission reports to investigate factory conditions).

g.         Courtroom Drama – this idea is used to investigate Medieval Public Health in my Options in History series 3. The lesson is set up as a courtroom, and pupils play the roles of opposing lawyers and witnesses; a ‘jury’ delivers its verdict – were medieval towns dirty or not? It takes a lot of preparation, but it is a useful way of introducing the pros and cons of an historical debate to pupils.

h.         Debate – this also allows a class to consider an historical debate. Give the two proposers homework time to prepare a case. In the lesson, give all the pupils specific roles (e.g. a sailor, a slave trader), and hold a class debate (e.g. ‘Should the Slave Trade be abolished?’). Pupils (in role) contribute to the debate. At the end, pupils shed their role, and choose which side had the best of the argument.

                        An alternative form is the balloon debate; contestants try to persuade the class they shouldn’t be thrown from the balloon; only the winner survives.


Again, TV can provide teachers with different ideas – notably the TV show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ uses many different drama games. I often ask pupils to do things ‘in the style of . . .’, and another useful game adaptable to the History classroom is the one where people arrive at ‘a party’ as different characters, whom the ‘host’ has to guess.


3.        Easy Exercises

Although they involve little or no writing, the following tasks require the pupils to think about what they are doing:

a.         ‘Colouring in’ sounds an academically unacceptable task. In fact, if pupils are encouraged to make comments as they work, a colouring exercise can often raise interesting questions. Even with older pupils, where the home background does not encourage productive conversation, a colouring task can lead to conversation which teaches them how to discuss and argue.

b.         Drawing is a very gentle, pleasant way to record certain kinds of information, especially symbols and possessions. The work can be extended by asking the pupils to write labels and captions to explain their drawings. When you are studying topics such as ‘The Knight’, it is easy to buy ‘cut-out’ pictures that the pupils colour, then make into a model.

c.         Posters/ banners/ adverts (e.g., a banner protesting a grievance in the Peasants’ Revolt/ a poster persuading people to oppose the slave trade).

d.         Maps can be useful, especially if the pupils write labels and captions.

e.         Tally charts – though pupils find it boring to spend a long time recording, certain kinds of sources (population censi, for instance) lend themselves to tally work, which later provides the basis for discussion/ hypothesis.

f.          Graphs are not just for population, industrial output and numerical information, but can be used to show changing fortunes, for example, of an individual’s life or a war. But beware – less able pupils find graphs VERY hard to do.

g.         Time-charts/ timelines/ timetables are useful for recording certain types of sequential information (e.g. the main events in a war). Again, less able pupils can find this difficult, so you might want to supply a template grid, or do away with the axis and let the pupils present the information as a flow-diagram.

h.         Spidergrams require a lot of thought, but almost no writing.

i.          Tick boxes – where pupils are examining an historical debate, provide them with a worksheet which presents them with a series of propositions, which they are required merely to tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Their replies point them towards a conclusion, which they can either try to write down, or give verbally.

j.          Headlines – in the TV programme ‘The Sundays’ the panel members suggest/ justify under a series of categories (Domestic, Foreign, Sports, ‘Rag Bag’ etc.) possible lead stories for an imaginary newspaper. The audience comments, then votes on the best suggestion, to create a ‘front page’ of main headlines. This idea suits an end-of-topic lesson summarising/ providing an overview (e.g. The First World War – pupils, having been given time to prepare their ideas, suggest stories for a 1918 newspaper under the categories ‘biggest battle’, ‘saddest story’, ‘most horrific fact’ etc.). Reward the pupils whose suggestions are voted best.

                        Where the topic is a story over time, this idea can be adapted by asking pupils to suggest headlines for different days/ dates; more able pupils can then do a written homework task to write the newspaper ‘articles’ (see below).




Writing Exercises

Alarmingly, in the classroom, History written work too often comprises copying, cloze exercises or ‘questions’. Although these may have their place in lessons, they are very limited in their usefulness.

a.         Copying

b.         Dictation

c.         Cloze exercises


These should be used only:

•     to establish the principle, from time to time, that, sometimes, academic work involves routine, extended work.

•     when you want the class to work quietly while you get on with another task (e.g., diagnostic marking with individual pupils).

•     when you are trying to ‘crack the whip’ with a class which is a bit naughty.

•     when you are absent from the classroom and have to leave routine work for a cover/ supply teacher.

•     with dyslexic or dyspraxic pupils, with whom you are trying to establish basics such as letter-to-letter correspondence, visual/copying accuracy or form-of-grapheme, handwriting and presentational skills.


Otherwise, with all but Special needs classes, teachers ought to regard copying and cloze exercises as a failure; there are alternative written tasks which are much more profitable for pupils.

d.         Questions

•     ‘describe’ questions simply require finding a factual answer from a text. This form of written exercise is little better than a cloze exercise.

       You can make such ‘questions’ more demanding by giving the pupils the answers, and asking them to think of the question (you will be surprised how hard they find this); or by asking the pupils to devise questions on a topic, which they then give to their friend to answer.

•     ‘explain’ questions ask the pupils to explain an idea or opinion. These should be introduced within a structured, planned approach to extended writing (see below).

       History is a literary subject. Written sources are of necessity its chief resource, and it is essential that pupils learn to express their opinions in writing. But let’s try to make the written part of the lesson more useful and more fun!


1.       Simple Written Exercises

Some of the following ideas are so easy that they are barely harder than copying, but they all require the pupils to think about what they are doing:

a.         Heads and tails – write a set of sentences, but split them in half. Pupils copy out the sentences, matching ‘heads’ to ‘tails’. To make it easier still, join the two parts of each sentence with ‘bits of string’, so that pupils can check their decisions.

b.         Sequences – write a set of points, which the pupils have to sort out when they copy them – perhaps by order of date, or into order of importance, or into ‘points for and against’, or ‘facts’ and ‘opinions’ etc. With the least able pupils, let them cut up the worksheet and stick the points into their exercise books in the required order.

c.         Multiple choice questions provide the least able pupils with a chance of success. For more able pupils, these can be adapted into the kind of magazine games so popular with pupils. The game addresses a topic like: ‘Are you a good Roman soldier?’ then gives a series of relevant questions, each with three possible answers; the pupils choose one, which gets a score, depending on how historically valid it is.

d.         Think Bubbles – where pupils are studying motivation or empathy, a valid exercise is to give them photocopies of famous pictures with added ‘think bubbles’, asking them to write what each person in the picture was thinking.

e.         Tables and lists of facts/ words/ points/ dates/ events – many topics lend themselves to recording information in table or list form (e.g. what soldiers would see on the Western Front + sources of information). Teachers can help less able pupils by providing a list of ideas from which pupils select answers (e.g. the feelings of Thomas à Becket), or by part-completing a table with certain items of information.


2.      Word Games

All teachers ought to buy children’s quiz books/ activity books to get interesting ideas for exercises. Examples of exercises that the pupils enjoy include:

a.         Wordsearches – there is little point in the simple wordsearch which lists words for pupils merely to find (except for dyslexic pupils where you are trying to do some letter-level reinforcement), but wordsearches have greater academic validity if you:

•     don’t give the pupils the words, but give them clues (thus the wordsearch becomes like a set of simple questions – but much more fun).

•     let the pupils find the words without providing any clues, then get them to invent questions which will guide others to the words.

•     provide a list of words and a blank grid; let the pupils create a wordsearch, inventing their own clues, for a friend to do.

b.         Acrostics are a variation of wordsearches. You will find a number of different kinds of acrostic in children’s quiz-books, but the basic forms are:

•     by answering clues, pupils find a number of words going ‘across’ to reveal a solution-word going ‘down’.

•     pupils answer clues. Each letter of the answers is given a number, so they can, by matching letters to numbers, gradually find the solution to a mystery sentence or word.

c.         Crosswords – although these are difficult to devise for yourself. A simpler idea is to provide the clues, and give pupils words with missing letters to help them find the answer (e.g. ‘A building to defend you’: C_S__E).

d.         Anagrams – but be careful; these can confuse less able pupils, and pupils who cannot spell get very frustrated.


3.       Language Exercises

History is a literary subject, and History teachers ought to play their part in teaching pupils how to write correctly; many schools already have a ‘language across the curriculum’ strategy. So, although you set an exercise which addresses the subject ‘The reign of Queen Mary’, you are also developing an age-relevant grammatical skill. You will need to assess your pupils’ writing abilities, and to set tasks which progress appropriate skills.

            Note that the skills listed below are developing skills, which will need revisiting at deeper levels throughout Key Stage 3. Find out what exercises are being used by the English department. Rewrite/ adapt these to fit in with the appropriate part of your syllabus, so your written History exercises reinforce grammar work being done in English. It would be wise to invite an English teacher into the department to explain how and when the skills listed below are taught in your school. There is no need to try to think up interesting grammar exercises – there are some excellent ‘Specials’ produced by Folens which will give you ideas you can adapt.


Skills which you should be able to teach through History might include:

a.         comprehension – basic understanding of words, phrases, ideas etc. in context – but avoid long boring lists of direct questions; spice up the exercises with different kinds of tasks.

b.         Punctuation – the correct use of:

•     capitals (at the start of a sentence; for the first letter of a quote; for names, titles and ranks; in poetry.

•     full stops (at the end of a sentence; in abbreviations; to indicate omissions).

•     commas (to separate clauses; between adjectives; in large numbers) and, for older pupils, where it would be better to use semi-colons and parentheses.

•     question marks and exclamation marks.

•     quotation marks (to indicate direct speech; for sarcasm).

•     apostrophes (the possessive apostrophe; to indicate missing letters in a word such as it’s).

•     hyphens (to connect linked words such as well-known when used adjectivally; to qualify common adjectives with a suffix such as re-; in lists of words such as ‘one-, two- and threefold’; and to split a word at the end of a line).

c.         spelling rules (for instance: ‘i before e except after c’/ drop the ‘e, add ‘i-n-g’/ ‘y’ becomes ‘i’ in words such as ‘tries’ etc.), and the spelling (and meaning) of subject-specific words (such as rebellion, soldiers, biased, etc.).

d.         construction of plurals – y–ies; is–es; s–ses (except for French words such as corps); ix–ices; us–i; a–ae; um–a; on–a; o–i; eau–eaux; specific instances such as spoonsful and menservants.

e.         grammatical forms – for instance, appropriate use of:

•     collective nouns (government, clergy, family, public, bourgeoisie, Cabinet) followed by a singular verb.

•     comparative and superlative.

•     qualifying adjectives such as ‘some’, ‘many’ etc.

•     time-words such as ‘first’, ‘after’, ‘then’ etc.

•     link words such as ‘although’, ‘while’ etc.

•     Should have, could have, would have (not ‘. . . of’).

•     ‘he’ or ‘him’, ‘she’ or ‘her’, ‘they’ or ‘them’/ ‘may’ or ‘might’/ ‘shall’ or ‘will’?

•     relevant Latin abbreviations such as ditto, ibid, sic, etc., etc.

•     bibliographies, references and provenances.

f.          using correctly words which are often confused – e.g. off/of; too/to; there/their; affect/effect; infer/imply; opinion/prejudice; Scots/Scottish/Scotch.

g.         word-order exercises – muddled sentences, including punctuation.

h.         change of form – e.g. from present to past tense, from active to passive etc.

i.          précis – asking the pupils to condense a passage into 10, 25 or 100 words (or, successively, 10, 25 AND 100 words).

j.          paraphrasing and note-taking – both these are skills which, again, you will have to match to your pupils’ abilities and developing skills. Liaise with the English department. Start with short, simple passages in Year Seven, and introduce more difficult passages as they grow older. Ultimately, pupils have to learn how to take their own notes.


4.       Extended Writing

It is unrealistic to expect pupils to write essays without teaching them how. History teachers must develop a planned strategy which encourages and coaches pupils towards this. (Teachers should to read Christine Counsell’s excellent HA pamphlet on Analytical and Discursive Writing. 4)

a.         Structured Sentences

            The first step with Year Seven pupils will be to supply them with a basic sentence structure, into which they drop ideas and points. Thus, in a lesson which has studied different opinions about Harold Godwinson, you will provide the structure: ‘N. said Harold was . . . . .  because . . . . . ; O. said Harold was . . . . .  because . . . . . ; P said . . .’ etc. 5

b.         Writing in paragraphs

            As less able pupils often find it hard to sustain a narrative through a series of points, they will initially need help with this.

            You can write a story/ essay as a class project:

•     either each pupil/ group of pupils takes a point each and writes about it so that, when the points are read in the correct sequence, the class as a whole has built up an extended narrative.

•     or write the paragraphs one at a time, discussing each in turn with the pupils, and then getting them to add it to their growing narrative.

•     supply lists of key words/ ideas to be included in each paragraph.

c.         Narrative Structure

            As pupils grow older, the level of support needed will reduce, but you can continue to tell pupils what each paragraph will deal with. One way to develop this with younger/ less able pupils is to link the narrative to a sequence of pictures (for example, a sequence showing First World War soldiers joining up and doing their initial training). When the pupils are writing essays, they can write about each picture in turn, which provides the ongoing storyline to their narrative.

d.         Different kinds of written output

            Extended writing does not need always to be in essay form.

•     Ask more able pupils to write from different points of view, or to be overtly biased – thus one pupil writes about the Armada from the Spanish point of view, while a friend writes from the English point of view.

•     or ask the pupils to write for different media, for instance:

a children’s story.

an entry for an encyclopaedia.

a newspaper report.

a radio script.

a TV news report.

a series of letters.

a diary.

remembering back.

‘official’ reports.

‘job descriptions’.

a poem.

            Such work is often badly done, with pupils doing little to adapt to the style of the suggested medium – asked to write a newspaper account, for instance, they simply divide the page into two columns and write a narrative no different to any other they have produced. Before you ask the pupils to write for a different medium, you need to teach them HOW to write in that medium. You will want to liaise closely with your school’s English department over this, but remember that the key issues are purpose, audience and style.

e.         Questions

            ‘Explain’ questions should properly be answered by paragraph answers;. Show the pupils how to construct a paragraph of Point – Evidence – Explanation, and how to relate their explanation to the question asked. This is quite an advanced skill, and is a preparation for essay assignments at GCSE.





Written exercises are the neglected element of lesson planning, yet they should be planned as carefully as the other elements.


That planning should encompass:

a.         Objective

            What skill is the written exercise trying to teach the pupils? Is the task appropriate to this objective?

b.         Progression

            Is the written exercise appropriate to the age and ability of the pupils? Is it part of a progression of such tasks, planned over Key Stages 3 and 4, designed to improve the pupils writing abilities?

c.         Interest

            Will the task excite the pupils? Is it different to what they did last lesson?


I hope that the suggestions in this article will help you as you consider these aims.




1              Carole Brown, Medicine Through Time Activity File (Holmes McDougall, 1988) ISBN 0 7157 2553 8, pages 42–47.

2              A useful list of drama techniques appeared in Teaching History 83 (April 1996).

3              John D Clare, The Middle Ages 1066–1500, Programme of Study (Historical Association, 1997) ISBN 0 17 435162 3, pages 122–137.

4              Christine Counsell, Analytical and Discursive Writing (Historical Association, 1997) ISBN 085278 4031.

5              For a deeper treatment of this, and suggestions for different kinds of structures, see M Lewis and D Wray, Writing Frames (EXEL, 1997) ISBN 0 704 91064 0.





To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (1997/2006), 'Developing Better Written Exercises at KS3',  at Greenfield History Site (