Reading books

Please note: this guide was written before the 2014 National Curriculum and some of the advice may no longer be relevant.

Reading books is very different from reading documents. Books are more diffuse, and carry many different forms of information and evidence. Good books provide rich sources of knowledge about any given historical period. To help children use books well, we suggest the following approaches.

Book navigation exercises

These are invaluable for giving children an overview of the topic and a 'map' of the historical territory.

  • Children do index-searching in pairs. Who are the key people? Key events?
  • Has everyone got the same list? Discussion about relative importance.
  • Look at contents, at the picture on the front cover: What or who does the book's author pick out as significant?
  • Flick through: skim and scan, looking at the signposts in the books to form mental pictures. Then make three statements, and pose three questions. From these build up a class picture of key features, and hold a class quiz.
  • Organise the information in the book into overlapping sets.
  • Write down one or two words/sentences about each significant person or event to start a timeline. This is best done later in the topic, and is good for the more able.

Simple data capture

For instance, children could draw a chart showing features of daily life (shopping, home life, schools, transport, occupations). The children can help to decide the categories. They then research in their topic books and fill in the chart.

Questions and hypotheses

Children are great copiers, so we need ways to prevent being presented with chunks of text copied verbatim from topic books. Here are two effective approaches.

  • Pose questions which prevent children from copying from the text, such as 'Was Montezuma great?' or 'Were the Romans a good thing for Britain?'
  • Formulate hypotheses for the children to test by evaluating information in their topic books, such as 'All evacuees had a horrible time away from home during the war'.

Causes and consequences

Children could make a Causes list and a Consequences/Results list of, for instance, the Saxon invasions of Britain, and try to explain how they are linked.

Historical stories and novels

Let us not forget historical stories and novels. The best open a door into another world and give children insight into past lives. They help children develop a sense of period, extending their knowledge of the world and its people. You can deepen the children's learning in both literacy and history with a well-chosen class reading book, such as Nina Bawden's Carrie's War, simultaneously with the teaching of 'Britain since 1930'.

Short lesson exemplars


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