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History - Has Jack returned?

Investigating a grisly murder immerses children in history

Investigating a grisly murder immerses children in history

There is nothing like the mention of blood, guts and murder to turn children's heads. And this lesson on Jack the Ripper - arguably London's most infamous murderer - will immerse pupils in a historical fantasy that requires a range of enquiry skills.

The build-up to the lesson focuses on Victorian London, looking at social conditions including housing, public health and immigration. Pupils should get a good grasp of the differences in living standards in the capital. They also need to know the racial make-up of areas such as Whitechapel and the effect this had on public opinion. Finally, knowledge of Victorian policing techniques will help them to appreciate the difficulties the Metropolitan police force endured in its relative infancy.

When the pupils enter the classroom, they should be captured by a sense of urgency. On the whiteboard are instructions to study the background information on their desks. The teacher reveals that a series of murders has taken place in the school and that they bear the hallmarks of Jack the Ripper. In pairs, pupils have 30-40 minutes to visit as many locations as they can and find out whether a copycat serial killer is on the loose.

Dotted around the school site are professional actors, drama students or willing volunteers who have been briefed to perform short role-plays about the murder. There should be sketches involving an eyewitness, the first person on the scene and a body that is being inspected by crime scene investigators. Pupils must use their questioning skills to tease out details about the murders. Information sheets with prompt questions will help.

After the pupils have visited all locations they return to the classroom, where there should be time for the class to reflect on the experience, share findings and note a homework task. This should involve answering the question posed at the beginning: has Jack returned? Using their notes, pupils should deliver a balanced argument and make a judgement.

The advantage of this type of activity is its flexibility. There is room to adapt and even extend the episodes to suit your curriculum and educational outcomes. You could use the task as the basis for an enrichment day. By involving subjects such as science for the murder scenes and English for writing a police report, this could become a cross-curricular scheme of learning.

Dan Hartley is head of history and RE at Chulmleigh Community College in Devon

What else?

Travel back to London's past with smcroberts' comprehensive lessons on the city's history.

For an active approach to the Ripper murders, try twerpuser's board game.

Jack would probably use Facebook rather than letters to communicate today - get pupils to create his profile with this template from jbenstead1.

For all links and resources visit


On the TES history forum, a teacher asks for recommendations of good Jack the Ripper DVDs for lessons on Victorian England.

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