How useful are living museums in telling us about what Victorian Britain was really like?

Learning objectives

  • To analyse an advertisement for a living museum.
  • To create an interpretation for extracts of Victorian film.
  • To reflect on the usefulness of living museums as interpretations of Victorian Britain.


Possible teaching objectives

  • Begin with a recap of the children's games played in the last session. In a sense playing the Victorian games was like creating a living museum. But what do we mean by a ‘living museum? As a class come up with a definition of a living museum and write this up on the board. What do they think is the purpose of a living museum?
  • Transfer the black and white version of the layers of inference diagram in the resources column onto your white whiteboard and display to the class. In the middle of the diagram a black and white version of an advertisement for a living museum has been placed. At this stage, invite pupils to comment on when they think the image dates from (some may speculate it is Victorian because it is in black and white). After taking suggestions, exchange the black and white version of the inference diagram for the colour version of the same diagram listed in the resources column. Reveal that the image comes from a modern living museum. 
  • Give out paper versions of the colour layers of inference diagram to pairs. Model how to fill this in on the whiteboard version (pairs note what they directly observe in the picture itself in the layer immediately surrounding the image under the heading "What can you see?". They then make further notes in the outer layers under the headings "What does this suggest to you?" and "Are there any other questions you could ask?"). Through the pairs work interrupt the process at appropriate intervals to lead discussion.


  • Once complete discuss with the class how useful a living museum might be in telling us what Victorian England was like.
  • Show pupils the first four minutes of the first episode of ‘A People's Century' which edits together film extracts of life in the early twentieth century in Europe with a suitable commentary. The class watch this once through and then follow this up by going through a transcript of the programme clip listed in the resources column. Finally they watch it again but with no sound.
  • In pairs the pupils are given a blank for the transcript listed in the resources column. This has key details of the images being presented on one side and lines to include their script on the other. It is important that you go through some key factual information that they should include. Also stress the need to match the words and images.
  • Once this task is completed, invite a few pairs to read their commentary to the class, accompanied by the programme extract with the sound turned down. Stress that pupils are creating an interpretation of the Victorian period through their commentaries; like living museums the commentaries make choices about that to say about the period.

Can't see the video? Download it here


  • The final task is a piece of extended writing answering the question "How useful are living museums in telling us about what Victorian England was really like?" Pupils may use the writing frame listed in the resources column as a form of scaffold support. It will be helpful to share success criteria with the class before completion of the writing.
  • During the process of writing, the teacher should encourage peer and self assessment.
  • After the completion of the extended writing, hand out the envelopes containing the pupils' original views of life in Victorian England. Head a discussion on any changes in points of view and why these might have occurred.


Learning outcomes

  • Complete a layers of inference diagram to build up their understanding of the purpose of a living museum.
  • Make use of speaking and listening skills to present an interpretation based around a presented film.
  • Produce a piece of extended writing reflecting their understanding.
  • Compare their views on Victorian England at the end of the sequence of learning with those expressed at the start.



  • Layers of inference diagram with black and white image.
    Resource 2 (attached below)
  • Layers of inference diagram with colour image.
    Resource 3 (attached below)
  • Transcript from
    "People's Century".
    Resource 4 (attached below)
  • Blank transcript
    Resource 5 (attached below)
  • Writing frame for
    extended writing
  • Envelopes from
    session one.

Attached files:

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