Building a Roman road (Using topic books for research)

Using topic books for research: lesson examplar with Roman road construction

This activity was done with Year 1 children, but can be adapted for any age group. We were roughly halfway through a ten-week topic on the Romans, with the emphasis on enactive learning for these young children.

The Head had given us permission to build a section of Roman road in the school grounds. We planned to make about 1.5 metres of lovely hard Roman surface at the start of an existing earth and bark path. We picked out from our collection of Roman topic books ten that had sections on Roman road-building. The aim was for the children to use historical research skills for a real purpose - to discover how the Romans built their roads so that we could build our own. The photograph shows the completed road.

We gathered the class together on the carpet and gave out one Roman topic book per three children. We told them how Roman soldiers had built roads across Britain that had lasted for hundreds of years. Now we were going to build our own piece of Roman road, using the same methods and materials as the Romans.

We asked: Can you find out, by looking in your books, how the Romans built their roads, so that we can learn how to build ours? Literacy and historical investigation were both well-served as the children consulted contents pages and indexes - some needed help from the teacher or classroom assistant.

When the children had all found and studied their roads pages, we asked them to give us instructions about how to build a Roman road. We would draw a diagram on the flip chart according to what they told us. So, how did the Romans begin? What did they do first? The children told us, step by step, what to draw, using their topic books for reference. After twenty minutes, we had a cross-section of Roman road drawn on the flip chart, its form entirely dictated by the children.

Building the road
We told the children that we would build our road the following Monday and sent them home with letters asking if they could each bring a medium-sized stone (10-15 cm in diameter) to school that day.

The following week, with contributions of muscle, tools, sand and cement from a kindly parent, and spare stone slabs from my garden, we built our bit of Roman road. Kindly parent cleared the site for the road, digging down to a depth of 30 cm, then left for work. We set up the flip chart with its diagram at the site, to refer to at each stage of construction. In the classroom, the class did their normal timetable, taking turns in groups of four to come outside for fifteen minutes and join me in road construction. The relay teams worked through the morning. They made a smooth sand foundation; laid their stones from home on this; mixed sand, gravel and cement; trowelled this around and above the stones; laid the flat slabs atop the gravel; and finally filled sand and cement in-between the slabs - the result was a lovely hard, smooth surface.

Careful consultation and safety considerations needed if you think of trying this activity!

by Jacqui Dean


See the teaching approach notes on Reading books

See also the KS1 enactive lessons on Roman baths and Roman market

Background information for teachers
Romans: a brief history

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