Romans attack Maiden Castle

Storytelling exemplar: The Romans attack Maiden Castle

For the first half of the autumn term Gwyneth Christie's Year 2 class was studying Homes, looking at how they had changed over time from the distant past to the present. Gwyneth reports:

It was fairly easy for us to look at old and new housing in Otley, where the school is situated. The road outside the school has a range of housing, from 18th century farmhouses to modern bungalows.

But how to introduce homes from the distant past? In a Nuffield Primary History course I attended, Jacqui Dean had brought in a pebble from Maiden Castle, the British hill fort in Dorset. It had been used as a slingshot in the battle for Maiden Castle between the invading Roman legions and the local British tribe. The pebble was used as a starting point for a story about two British children and their families during the Roman invasion. I decided to try this approach with my class.


I found all the resources I needed in school. In my stock cupboard there was a small pebble. In the library I found several books with information about the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD, including pictures, photos and accounts of the Roman attack on Maiden Castle.

The lesson

I showed the children the pebble and said I had found it at Maiden Castle. I described where and what Maiden Castle was, and said that the pebble was a mystery, as it came from the seashore and should not have been on the hill fort. The mystery of the pebble would be cleared up in the story I was about to tell them.

But first I passed the pebble round the class, asking each child to use their senses to describe it, and to think about what it might have been used for. The children used good descriptive words for the pebble and put forward a variety of ideas about its possible use (this was a good speaking, listening and vocabulary development exercise). Interestingly, the dominant idea was that it was a weapon.

The next stage was for the children to think about the small child who was to be in the story: a British child, not Roman. The children voted for the child to be a boy named Brian.

I then proceeded to tell the story of Brian and his family. I described their everyday life, gathering wood, fetching water, tending fields and cattle; and the hut in which they lived. There was no electricity or running water for Brian's family! I spoke about the rumours of a possible Roman attack, and how this frightened the Britons. I revealed how Brian's family had collected pebbles from the beach several miles away, using a cart to carry them in, and that the pebbles were used as slingshots in times of war. The story moved on to details of the Roman attack, the surrender of the British and the burial of their dead. I ended the story positively, describing how the Romans and Britons became friends.

To prove that my story was based on evidence, I showed the class the photographs in the books: Maiden Castle today, British skeletons buried outside the hill fort, pebbles, the ballista bolt in the spine of one of the British bodies. The children were enthralled by the story and asked many questions. They enjoyed looking at the sources, and were astounded by the photos of real human remains.


I asked the children to write the story in their own words. Their work varied in quality and length; however, overall their stories show some understanding of life in the distant past, of how people felt and why they acted in a certain way.

Reflection (two terms later)

The children still remember the story. I have raised my expectations of their questioning and referencing skills, and these have developed well, along with observational skills. Above all, the children show a greater empathy with people and events in the past. I have learned to use stories more often to make history come to life.

Children's work

Examples of children's writing (original spelling and punctuation retained):

Brian and his sister and his mum lived in a mud and straw house. one day they heard the romans coming and so he whnt to get sum stones and then they went to the castle, and then Brian and his sister put the right amount of stones in each pile and then the Romans came and then they got the sling shots out then they fireed the stones at the romans who shields made a roof and on Brian side were dying so they surrended so the romans taught them how to write. (by Philip)

A long long time ago tere was a boy called Brian and is familly was sad. One day the Romans came and they all went in the castle and they werer frightened. Brian dad and Brother was culd By the Romans and Brian dad and Brother was buryde and years later By sume people fand (found) therer Body under grad (ground). (by Joanna)


Teaching methods


More on Roman Britain
Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings
Celtic Britain: the land the Romans conquered
Caesar lands

Castles as homes
Castles as homes

Previous page     Next page