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Eyes on the past

Seeing History: Visual Learning Strategies and Resources for KS3 By Tom Haward Network Educational Press, pound;19.95

It's not often my Year 8 low-ability history class settle to an activity last lesson on a wet Wednesday. However, the starter task that provoked these responses seemed to be just the ticket: "Are you behind that manky-looking goat?"

"No, not too far though!"

"Are you holding the baby?"

"Well sort of..."

Along with a wide range of other starter, plenary and extended activities this hide-and-seek game comes from Tom Haward's Seeing History: Visual Learning Strategies and Resources for KS3. The book is the result of research undertaken with the University of Brighton and Sussex schools to study the effectiveness of visual learning in key stage 3 history.

It is accompanied by a CD-Rom - good news for teachers who have access to an interactive whiteboard. It begins with a justification of the author's research and an acknowledgement that while visual learning doesn't automatically make high achieving and motivated learners, it is excellent for knowledge and understanding.

The second section has lots of visual starters and plenaries. For the Hide and Seek activity, students were put into pairs and were given a copy of a contemporary illustration of 19th-century street life. After a quick explanation of the rules, students swiftly engaged in the activity, asking their partner questions about their hiding place. My Year 8 historians loved this so much I adapted my lesson plan to maximise use of the picture sheets and the students' eagerness to learn.

I also tried out one of the Missing Object activities as a starter: students worked collaboratively to identify the missing icon as a series of sheets was passed under their noses. A Year 9 history group enjoyed the Odd One Out starter task, which lent itself well to the interactive whiteboard.

There are numerous sets of four words and students had to identify the odd one. For example, from potato, bananas, onion and tomato the students (after a bit of prompting) selected onion as the only indigenous plant to Great Britain and the others as originally imported from the Americas.

Despite this being a text for KS3 I tried a plenary with my tired GCSE group at the end of term. They had to write down key words called-out to a Target Practice sheet - designed as a dart board - selecting the category Hit or Miss for each.

Section three has extended visual activities which provide detailed plans and resources for supporting, for example, depth study on the Atlantic Slave Trade. There are excellent suggestions on how students can use icons when preparing to write historical fiction and some well-pitched help sheets, but this section only covers a few topics from each of the KS3 history units.

A group of more able Year 7 students liked a kinaesthetic visual activity where they were instructed to match up seven hexagon cards so that key words and icons were corresponding with the points of the other hexagon cards. Another kinaesthetic task was a Wheel of Revolution, in which students complete paper copies of two wheels, fixing them together with a paper fastener. The open wedge on the top wheel reveals information about a revolution from the wheel underneath, for example Industrial Russian American, that students have compiled using the accompanying fact sheets.

Icons and pictures enable many learners to access, understand and retain knowledge and this resource shows how. Despite the unnecessary literature review in section one and a narrow range of KS3 topics, it is a worthy addition to a department's bank of resources, particularly if you are looking for ready-made starters and plenaries to use with whiteboards.

Mariella Wilson is assistant headteacher at Feltham Community College, Middlesex

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