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Learning lessons about war in a real-life trench

Schools have found many innovative ways to teach children about the First World War, but few will have gone as far as Barrowcliff School in Scarborough, which now has its own trench. 

“We’ve seen great enthusiasm from our children as the site has been taking shape," says deputy headteacher Paul Johnson. "They’ve been imbued with a deep respect for those who have gone before us.” 

The trench, which is 1.6 metres deep and 15 metres long, was built in collaboration with local council staff. It has a fire step, a wooden machine gun, sandbags, a dug-out, shell craters, wrecked trees and makeshift barbed wire, and has already proved to be a fantastic resource for the pupils. Role plays and drama lessons in the trench have promoted a personal connection with the men who fought in the war and helped to ground their accounts in reality.

"They’ve been given a real purpose for writing too," Johnson says. "Their letters and poems show a sensitivity that might otherwise have been lacking. It has produced a level of quality in imagination and technical skills that have impressed us all.”

The school is happy for other local schools and community groups to visit the site. The project was designed not only to create a hands-on learning experience for children, but to ensure the students understood the legacy of war and how it affects the local community. Scarborough was one of the first areas in the country to be attacked in 1914 (by the German navy) and the school was built within a housing estate created to accommodate servicemen returning after the war. 

John Hodgson, a Year 6 teacher at the school, said this half-term had been the richest he’d experienced in his 23 years with the school, thanks to the trench. 

"It gives pupils a personal connection to the war and more directly conveys the horror of the conditions in the trenches," he says. "It builds an emotional connection that seems to be missing from many history lessons and links today’s young people with the countless people directly affected by war."

 You can download more inspiring lesson ideas on the First World War from the TES website where you’ll also find resources to aid your teaching of the trenches.

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