Medium-term planning

Please note: this guide was written before the 2014 National Curriculum and some of the advice may no longer be relevant.
For more up-to-date guidance see:

Individual history units

Examples of topics within a history study given by the Department for Education are simply that - examples. They are not statutory, and you are free to decide which aspects of a period to cover with your class. Even where a specific event is mentioned, for example the Second World War, you are free to teach it as you wish - you choose the details, the issues, the perspective, the teaching methods.

A sense of period

We plan our history teaching carefully so that our pupils can develop a sense of period - deep knowledge about a distinctive period of history - and also acquire understanding of the relationship between the different periods of history studied.

Many primary schools timetable the teaching of history and other foundation subjects in half-term blocks. Between five and seven afternoons may be planned to teach a history unit. Others give history an afternoon slot for a term. Whatever the pattern in your school, there are crucial questions to consider when planning your unit:

1. What is my overarching purpose in teaching this unit, i.e. what key question will drive the learning?
For example, in our teaching of a 5-week Viking unit, the overarching key question was: Who were the Vikings? In a 10-week Greek unit, it was: Why do we learn about the Ancient Greeks - what was special about them?


2. In the light of my overarching key question, which aspects of the period shall I select to focus on?
Every historical period is crammed with important and interesting features, events and people. You cannot examine them all. With only, say, five afternoons at your disposal, you will need to select five aspects of the period to investigate in depth with the children. These will form the fat beads of your topic's historical necklace.

If you are planning for, say, Britain and the wider world in Tudor times, look at the period as a whole and ask yourself: What should children know and understand about the Tudors by the end of this unit? What do I want them to know, understand and be able to do by the end of the unit? What is important?

Henry VIII's six wives, although memorable and interesting, are not as important as the reasons for his first divorce, and its consequences, particularly the dissolution of the monasteries and the transformation of England into a Protestant country by the end of the century.

Choose a key question for each lesson; this will give the lessons direction and focus. Here is an example Outline plan using key questions: Vikings example of such planning, for a 5-week Viking unit we taught to a mixed Year 5/6 class. Each lesson took a whole afternoon. The introductory activity (the starter, Lesson 1a) and Lessons 3, 4 and 5 appear in the Lessons section of this website. See Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings


3. What specifically do I want the children to know, understand and be able to do by the end of this unit?

In other words:
What knowledge do I want them to acquire?
What conceptual understandings do I want them to reach?
What historical skills do I want them to develop?
What attitudes and values do I want to encourage?


4. How shall I teach the unit? What teaching methods will challenge and excite the children, and result in learning?
Here you decide on the approaches, activities and resources you will use.

Key approaches are:

  • Enquiry: detective work; questioning, investigating, discussing possibilities
  • Oral history, eye-witness accounts, memories
  • Story: the narrative of history
  • Observation: of artefacts and pictures
  • Drama and role-play to foster imagination and empathy

See Teaching methods

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