Teaching Prehistory in Primary School

Little Skirtful of Stones Ilkley Moor

Little Skirtful of Stones Ilkley Moor

Introduction

From 2014 schools in England are being required to teach prehistory at KS2: What follows grew out of my presentation to the 2014 History Association Conference where I was asked to talk about Prehistory in the KS2 classroom. The list was originally put together so that participants could follow up some of the suggestions which I made during the talk but it may also prove useful to other teachers looking for suitable resources for their own pupils.

The list will be updated from time to time as I came across other websites which offer a range of resources for prehistory at KS2. I am also available to work on curriculum development with your school. If you would like to discuss this further please contact me here.

 British Museum

As you’d expect there’s lots of useful information here but the site can be a bit daunting if you’re not really sure what you are looking for. It’s better if you can put a specific term like Lindow Man or Star Carr into their search engine. Perhaps of most use to teachers are the high-quality photographs downloadable via their Schools Image Bank.

Canterbury Archaeological Trust

This has long been one of my favourite sites for educational material. Unfortunately there’s not much here for prehistory yet but teachers might be interested in their Why History is a load of Rubbish exercises to get pupils thinking about how archaeology works. They could also use their Building a house images to make a timeline of houses which would supplement the work on houses done at KS1.

 Creswell Crags

This site has comprehensive information about Ice Age Britain, Neanderthals and Mesolithic humans. It also has a very comprehensive Teacher Pack. The focus of this material for use during school visits but much of it could be easily adapted to fit a similar period site elsewhere in Britain. My Learning  also  has an interactive Cave Hunter game based on material found at Creswell Crags.

English Heritage Stonehenge

The English Heritage website has lots of material for teachers but it is so huge that you can sometimes have trouble in finding what you want. The link here is for their teaching material on Stonehenge.

I have to admit that I feel somewhat ambivalent about the site. It is iconic. It is one of the few prehistoric sites that the general public can recognize at a glance and the story of moving the bluestones form Wales offers some fascinating insights into both prehistoric technology and social organization. On the other hand it is fenced off and there is no general access to the site for the public. So for me teaching about Stonehenge is fine, necessary even, but visiting it is another matter. If the work I did on prehistoric religious monuments was to lead up to a visit to one of Wiltshire’s major prehistoric sites, I’d take my class to Avebury. You can make all of the teaching points which you can about Stonehenge and your children would have the ‘wow factor’ of looking up from the base of a monumentally large stone many time taller than themselves.

Perhaps I’m worrying about nothing. I would value the opinions of teachers who have taken children to either site.

 Geograph

The aim of this website (supported by the Ordnance Survey) is to have a photograph in every O. S. grid square. Often there are dozens. Its usefulness comes from being able to search the images by place mane or post code or O. S. grid reference so it might help find an example of a prehistoric site near you.

 Heritage Gateway

One of the things I’m keen on is teaching the prehistory of your own region and this site may help you with this. It has been set up to search through a variety of English Heritage’s databases and the Historic Environment Records of the English counties – a ‘one-stop shop’ in effect. However, the information is mostly expressed in a dry technical manner and teachers will need to re-interpret it for use with their pupils.

 Thinking History

One of the problems of teaching history is to get over the sense of chronology to pupils. This may cause difficulties with children at the lower end of KS2. Teaching the timespan required by the new National Curriculum requires an understanding of the terms BC and AD (or BCE and CE if you prefer). Yet the concept of minus number is not usually taught before Year 4. Some thought may need to be given about melding your history and maths work.

 Making sense of BC and AD is just one the timeline activities on the Thinking History website. There are also lots of other exercises on more general archaeology topics which could come in useful for the teaching of prehistory.

 Wessex Archaeology

This site is another with lots of useful information. The article on the Amesbury Archer, for example, is very useful. The is also a range of resources for teachers. This includes the Teacher’s Kit which Wessex Archaeology produced for English Heritage on the Avebury monuments. However, the thing which I have found most useful is the range of high-quality photographs downloadable from their Gallery.

And, if all this is not enough…

Elsewhere on this site you can find my Ice Age Icebreaker Activity.

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