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How to bring the battle of Waterloo to life in your classroom

18 June 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. As the bicentenary approaches, how can teachers make learning about a 200-year-old battle exciting?

Richard Kerridge, faculty leader for humanities at Mildenhall College Academy in Suffolk, believes that great history teaching should always start with a great story.

“The battle is on a knife edge for most of the day and the actions of the generals really did affect the outcome,” Kerridge explains. “That outcome has shaped the way that Europe looks and runs today. So, you have the two basic elements of good history teaching: a cracking story with major significance.”

When rewriting their existing schemes of work for key stage 3, Kerridge’s team decided to create a unit about the French Revolution and Battle of Waterloo. They tied this to the new national curriculum requirement that students study the ideas, political power, industry and empire of Britain between 1745 and 1901.

“We knew the anniversary of the battle was coming and we wanted to be in a position where our students would be able to hold their heads up and say: 'Yes, I know about Waterloo.' But we also wanted to make the unit really engaging,” Kerridge says.

To bring their scheme of work to life, the team organised a trip to Waterloo, where students watched a historical re-enactment of a cavalry charge at the Butte du Lion.

“At one point, the cavalry were charging right at us,” says Kerridge. “It was quite frightening to have a dozen horses bearing down on you – luckily they turned away at the last moment. We also made 50 wooden muskets so that we could re-enact our own infantry drills. One of our students kept time with a drum as another blew his bugle.”

Following the success of the trip, the school has decided to return to Waterloo next month and has also chosen to take part in a project run by Waterloo 200, in which they will research a local soldier who fought in the battle and create a virtual museum exhibit about him.

“I would definitely encourage other history teachers to get involved, particularly during the anniversary year,” Kerridge says. “My advice is to make it fun and to get your more enthusiastic students involved in organising where you can. That will stop you losing momentum when the going gets tough.”

More information about the Waterloo 200 schools programme and how your school can take part in the commemorations are available on the Waterloo 200 website.

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