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5 ways to boost the magic of your history trip

History trips can be the stuff of lasting memories - and lasting subject knowledge. Natalia Rana explores how to make the most of them

magic castle school trip

Visiting historical sites is one of the reasons I first fell in love with history. 

I vividly remember a trip to Hampton Court in Year 6.

I arrived with a clear idea of what it was like to be at Henry VIII’s court, thanks to a class project we’d completed beforehand, and my imagination ran wild all day. Had Henry VIII also once leaned on this wall? Had anyone ever quarrelled in the corner over there?

As an adult, I still have that sense of awe about historical sites. But I’ve realised that, as a student, this was down to the pre-trip preparation of my teachers. They showed me how the magic of a historical visit can be easily extended beyond one day.

We use trips to solidify our students’ understanding of the local history around them; a key part of the curriculum and also part of the enchantment of the subject. 

Studying local history is another way we can allow students to connect with people from the past and their environment. But it’s important to get these local visits right and use them to stretch and deepen learning in the classroom.

Here are five tips for extending the magic of your history trip:

Build a sequence of lessons

Spend class time preparing for the visit. If you’re visiting Battle Abbey, for example, teach the story of the Battle of Hastings in lessons prior to this visit. 

Get students to plot the key sites on a map. They can then use this on the day to navigate the key areas of the Battle of Hastings at each stage, reflecting on the thoughts, emotions and actions that occurred in that area. 

This preparation not only brings to life and connects their learning but enables them to generate questions and learn more about the events. 

When returning from the trip, plan a follow up or reflection. At Battle Abbey, I told my students that their task in the following lesson/s was to create a written guide of Battle Abbey for teachers to use in future. 

Create creative homework tasks

Creative homework activities are another great way of extending a school trip. I like to hold creative writing homework competitions based on the sites we visit. 

For example, after a recent trip to Farnham Castle, I asked students to write the first chapter of a typical teenage historical novel based on living at the castle in a chosen time period. 

This can be as scandalous as the students want, but it must be historically accurate. This requires them to revisit their research of the castle through the ages to build a realistic character. This task can easily be scaffolded with sentence starters or example chapters from the school library.

Try hot seating

Give each student a person or group relevant to the historical site you are visiting to research in advance and build upon during the visit. 

Following the trip, set up a speed-dating task where students interact with other relevant characters. There will always be those students that sigh at the words role play, but they can be supported with pre-prepared questions.

A visit to Pevensey Castle, for example, could include asking characters how different the castle looks now or what their favourite memory was from their time there. Challenge students to link their answers to events studied in lessons or on the trip.

Alternatively, you could set this up as a hot seating task where students grill one character at a time. You may even choose to represent a character yourself and be grilled by your pupils. These tasks allow the students to experience that escape again and imagine an experience that is very different from their own.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Many venues now provide great resources to enhance students’ knowledge ahead of a visit. Some also provide notes for teachers who may not have visited the site before, including key aspects of the site to look out for and how to tailor teaching and learning around these focal points.

We often build in time to collate and look through these resources as a department beforehand in order to align them with our teaching before, during and after any trips.

Tailor trips to schemes of work

It’s important that the sites you choose to visit are the right sites for your students. Recently, my department sat down with our schemes of work in front of us and plotted historical sites based on when they became relevant. 

Some sites were relevant to multiple units. For example, Waverley Abbey in Farnham was a monastery closed under Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. We cover this topic in Year 7 and again in Year 10. This means we can use the visit to complement learning in both year groups. 

For the next phase of our planning, we looked at location. Waverley Abbey is very close to Farnham Castle, so combining a trip to both sites in one day allows enrichment of knowledge across multiple topics.

Additionally, as the Year 7 and Year 10 curriculum looks at the English Civil War – during which Farnham Castle was stormed by Parliamentary forces – we will be able to refer back to the pictures and memories of that trip years later. 

The key here is picking sites that are relevant to a range of topics pupils will study across year groups to truly embed and contextualise their understanding of local history. 

Finally, remember the value of school trips for creating memories, as well as extending learning. One day, when they are watching The Crown on Netflix, they might just think: “I’ve been there!”

Natalia Rana is history teacher and head of Year 9 at St Peter’s Catholic School in Guildford

Find out more about the learning opportunities available at English Heritage sites 

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