Archduke shot dead

14th December 2007 at 00:00

Neil Smith turns his pupils into news hounds to help them understand the trigger for the First World War. This lesson helps key stage 4 pupils answer the question: How did the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lead to the outbreak of the First World War?

We begin with me adopting the role of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's "press officer" and thanking the assembled "journalists" (the class) for attending this hastily arranged press conference. Each member of the class is given a short press release, announcing that the Archduke and his wife have been murdered and I invite questions from the floor about the assassination, the victims, the suspects, and the likely consequences of the murder.

Initially, the pupils tend to react quite slowly to the exercise. Used to having the outline and learning objectives presented at the beginning of the lesson, the immediate immersion into a virtual world catches them off guard.

This however, is no bad thing; it forces them to think on their feet and helps them to develop critical, questioning skills that are essential to the historian.

Implicit in the task is the opportunity for differentiation. At a basic level, pupils might be interested in the nature of the assassination or the names of those involved. More able members of the group often try to investigate the likely consequences of the act and attempt to relate it to the development of tension in Europe since 1871.

By structuring the lesson in this way, it automatically allows pupils to learn from each other. As there are no exclusive rights to the teacher's answers, each member of the group is thus able to make their own mind up what details will be necessary for their final piece of work.

Once the press conference draws to a close, I distribute an information sheet, providing technical advice on how to format Word documents so that, with the use of WordArt and the columns function, they resemble the front page of a newspaper. They are then set the homework of producing a newspaper report on the assassination and its likely consequences.

Depending on the quality and range of questions asked during the press conference, the plenary usually focuses on the possible reactions of the Great Powers and invites the class to think for next lesson how the assassination could lead to the outbreak of war in Europe.

Lesson objectives:

- Pupils gain an understanding of how and why Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.

- They will be able to make links between this short-term "trigger" event and longer term causes of the First World War.

- Pupils develop technology skills through creation of a word-processed newspaper report.

- Their questioning improves.

- This lesson can be used in the modern world GCSE.

Neil Smith teaches history and politics at Manchester Grammar School.

Secondary history resources

Website: The QCA has produced a bibliography to support the teaching of the multi-ethnic British history in the national curriculum for key stages 2 and 3. Download from


Look out for free regional conferences in each subject on implementing the new KS3 - and book quickly because there are only 100 places at each. Visit www.cfbt.comnsc.

Website: The Shapes of Time website www.shapesoftime.nethighlights useful films on the British Pathe website and provides suggestions and support materials for using the films in the classroom. Look out for pages on Guernica, Iwo Jima and the Holocaust.


InSite: 20th century conflict for 21st century learning. An immersive learning programme for teachers and other education professionals, visiting Germany, the Czech Republic and Budapest.

The aim is to make links between the legacy of the Second World War and its effect on the events of the Cold War from 1945. Participants will meet with eyewitnesses and others to gain insight into past events and their present interpretation. Visit

Alf Wilkinson is education manager of The Historical Association.

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