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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  • 'Picture This'. A simple technique to teach complex concepts.

    Article

    ‘Picture This' A simple technique through which to teach relatively complex historical concepts When Peter Clements was introduced to the creative strategy that he describes in this article, his immediate reaction was to dismiss it as childish and trivial. Yet, upon closer examination, he realised that ‘Picture This' offered far...

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  • A modest proposal for change in Canadian history education

    Article

    Peter Seixas recounts the development of a history education reform project in Canada. Like all good histories, it is a complex story and a matter of unanticipated consequences and ironic narrative twists. Seixas' history is, like all good histories, of intrinsic interest in itself. There are also many points of...

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Developing conceptual understanding through talk mapping

    Article

    As history teachers, we talk about concepts all the time. We know that pupils need to understand them in order to make sense of the past. Precisely what we mean when we talk about concepts is less clear, however. Research into how history teachers talk about their practice suggests that,...

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Helping students put shape on the past; systematic use of analogies to accelerate understanding

    Article

    One of the challenges facing pupils in the history classroom is conceptual understanding. Pupils also find it difficult to recognise themes or patterns across different parts of time and space. Ian Myson has recognised the importance of analogy as a way to facilitate pupils’ understanding. He is quick to recognise,...

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Polychronicon 141: Adolf Eichmann

    Article

    Almost 60 years ago Adolf Eichmann went on trial for crimes committed against the Jews while he was in the service of the Nazi regime. His capture by the Israeli secret service and his abduction from Argentina triggered a number of journalistic books that portrayed him as a pathological monster...

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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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  • Ranking and classifying: teaching political concepts to post-16 students

    Article

    Sometimes it is precisely in the interest of building better historical knowledge that facts and detail need temporarily to be abandoned. Gary Howells aims to secure discernible foundation understandings in his students by getting them to engage quickly with those aspects of political concepts that they can grasp. He is...

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