Literacy and Oracy in History

Published: 29th November 2022

Argument is at the heart of history. The historically literate student can argue. Historical speaking and writing is about presenting an evidence-based argument, even when producing a narrative. History students need to bring together knowledge of different kinds to form an argument. They need to know how to defend and adapt their arguments when presented with new evidence. They need to be confident reading for argument too. That is, to recognise, explore the construction of, and engage with the argument of others. It therefore follows that literacy and oracy cannot be bolted onto our history teaching via whole school initiatives. They need to be at the core of our planning and teaching of history.

Our key messages:

  • Literacy and oracy are at the heart of history.
  • Teaching and learning literacy and oracy is challenging but achievable.
  • Teachers will be learning as they teach and there are no quick fixes.
  • Few of the generic literacy strategies in schools nurture historical literacy.
  • Lots of work has been done on historical literacy and so there is lots of support.
  • Historical literacy and oracy is achievable for all students, regardless of prior attainment.

On these pages there are links to short films and articles to help you to ensure literacy and oracy are at the heart of your lessons. Each one could be used as part of departmental CPD. Discussion questions are provided to help with this. 

Please note: most of the resources on these pages are available to HA secondary members only, but a small selection have been flagged as open access.

The centrality of extended writing

Extended writing forms a key part of assessment at GCSE. Few other subjects require all students to write at length. To be successful students do not need endless exam question practice, nor do they benefit from well-meaning attempts at quick fixes. Success depends on long-term work. This What’s the Wisdom On… Extended Writing in TH 184 is an article with an accompanying filmed webinar. They both summarise the research and practice of decades. Each of the 12 principles addressed would usefully make a focus for departmental CPD. Colleagues could read the suggested articles and discuss how to enact the ideas in their own planning and teaching. Working with these principles will develop a culture of historical argument.

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  • Resources with discussion suggestions
  • And more...