Substantive concepts

Substantive concepts are those concerned with the subject matter of history – the substance about which students are learning. Some materials in this section focus on the teaching of highly specific contextualised terms and others explore more general strategies for building and reinforcing knowledge of recurring concepts over time. Read more

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  • What Have Historians Been Arguing About... the long-term impact of the Black Death on English towns

    Article

    In the summer of 1348, the Chronicle of the Grey Friars at Lynn described how sailors had arrived in Melcombe (now Weymouth) bringing from Gascony ‘the seeds of the terrible pestilence’. The Black Death spread rapidly throughout England, killing approximately half the population. While the cause of the disease, the...

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  • Reading? What reading?

    Article

    Discussions with sixth-form students about reading led Carolyn Massey and Paul Wiggin to start a sixth-formreading group. They describe here the series of themed sessions that they planned, and the student discussion and reflections that resulted. Listening to their students discuss their reading led Massey and  Wiggin to reflect on what is meant by ‘reading around’ the subject, and its role in students’ intellectual...

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  • New, Novice or Nervous? 167: Confidence with substantive knowledge

    Article

    This page is for those new to the published writings of history teachers. Each problem you wrestle with, other teachers have wrestled with too...   History is a complex enterprise. In order to produce sophisticated arguments, pupils need firm foundations. One foundation is knowledge of the argumentative structures that historians...

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  • Move Me On 167: Frames of reference

    Article

    This feature is designed to build critical, informed debate about the character of teacher training, teacher education and professional development. This issue’s problem: Eleanor Franks doesn’t really understand her students’ frames of reference and the difficulties that many of them have in making sense of the particular historical phenomena she is teaching them about. Eleanor Franks,...

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  • Thinking makes it so: cognitive psychology and history teaching

    Article

    What, exactly, is learned knowledge - and why does it matter in history teaching? Michael Fordham seeks to use the general tenets of cognitive psychology to inform the debate about how history teachers might get the best from their students, in particular in considering the role of memory. Fordham surveys the latest research concerning memory while also arguing that remembering does matter in history...

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  • Of the many significant things that have ever happened, what should we teach?

    Article

    There are three basic strands to our lessons. How should we teach? What skills should we enable our students to build? What content should we use to deliver those skills? In this article Tony McConnell, who has been re-designing the curriculum in his school in response to a changed examination regimen, considers the issue of subject...

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  • Cunning Plan 166: developing an enquiry on the First Crusade

    Article

    "What shall I say next? We were all indeed huddled together like sheep in a fold, trembling and frightened, surrounded on all sides by enemies so that we could not turn in any direction. It was clear to us that this had happened because of our sins. A great clamour rose to the sky, not...

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  • New, Novice or Nervous? 161: Teaching substantive concepts

    Article

    It’s worrying when pupils reach Year 9 or 10 unable to properly interpret or find fluency in major abstract nouns that crop up again and again in history. They should have bumped into ‘empire’, ‘republic’, ‘federation’, ‘peasantry’, ‘commons’ and ‘communism’, many times by Year 10, so why are many students...

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  • Finding the place of substantive knowledge in history

    Article

    ‘What exactly is parliament?' finding the place of substantive knowledge in history The relationship between knowledge and literacy is a central concern for all teachers. In his teaching, Palek noted that his students were struggling to understand complex substantive concepts such as ‘parliament' and decided to explore the relationship between students'...

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  • Cunning Plan 158: teaching about the history of the UK Parliament

    Article

    2015 is something of a year of anniversaries. It is 50 years since Churchill's death, 200 years since Waterloo, 300 since the Jacobite ‘Fifteen', 600 since Agincourt, 800 since Magna Carta. Clearly every year brings around its own crop of anniversaries; this year just seems to have quite a few...

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  • Triumphs Show 158: interactive learning walls and substantive vocabulary

    Article

    Year 10 use an interactive learning wall to cement their understanding of substantive vocabulary It is the first term of their GCSE course and Year 10 are already starting to flag a little. They are enjoying studying the Russian Revolution, but are struggling to remember all the new words they...

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  • Building and assessing historical knowledge on three scales

    Article

    The knowledge that ‘flavours' a claim: towards building and assessing historical knowledge on three scales While marking some Year 11 essays, Kate Hammond found her interest caught by significant differences between one kind of strong analysis and another. Some scored high marks but were less convincing. The achievement in these...

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  • Move Me On 157: Getting knowledge across

    Article

    This issue's problem: Rose Valognes feels she hasn't got enough ways of getting knowledge across to the students before they can do something with it. After a positive start to her training year, Rose Valognes seems to have got stuck in a rut in her thinking, with her lessons falling...

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  • Developing students' thinking about change and continuity

    Article

    The more things change, the more they stay the same: developing students' thinking about change and continuity Finding ways to characterise the nature of change and continuity is an important part of the historian's task, yet students find it particularly challenging to do. Building on her previous work on change, Rachel...

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  • Knowledge and the Draft NC

    Article

    Silk purse from a sow's ear? Why knowledge matters and why the draft History NC will not improve it Katie Hall and Christine Counsell attempt to construct a Key Stage 3 scheme of work out of the draft National Curriculum for history that was released for consultation in England in...

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  • Transforming historical understanding through scripted drama

    Article

    ‘The best way for students to remember history is to experience it!' Transforming historical understanding through scripted dramaAn article on scripted drama might seem an unlikely choice for an edition devoted to getting students talking. Surely the point about a script is that the words used are chosen and prescribed...

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  • How my interest in what I don't teach has informed my teaching and enriched my students' learning

    Article

    Warrior queens, regal trade unionists and warring nurses: how my interest in what I don't teach has informed my teaching and  enriched my students' learning Flora Wilson argues here for the importance of maintaining a fascination with history as an academic subject for experienced, practising history teachers. Just as medical...

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  • Polychronicon 146: Interpreting the history of 'big history'

    Article

    In recent decades, a novel approach to history has emerged, called ‘big history', which provides an overview of all of human history, embedded within biological, geological and astronomical history covering the grandest sweep of time and space, from the beginning of the universe to life on Earth here and now....

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  • Developing sixth-form students' thinking about historical interpretation

    Article

    Twist and shout? Developing sixth-form students' thinking about historical interpretation

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  • The Holocaust in history and history in the curriculum

    Article

    Universal meaning or historical understanding? The Holocaust in history and history in the curriculum In this powerfully argued article Paul Salmons focuses directly on the distinctive contribution that a historical approach to the study of the Holocaust makes to young people's education. Not only does he question the adequacy of...

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