At our primary school, I believe it is important not only to raise literacy but to tackle passivity and lack of ambition, especially in girls. So with Year 5, I looked at Victorian writers and individuals, including women, who influenced social reforms.
Weekly sessions have focused on Charles Kingsley (child labour, especially chimney sweeping), Isabella Beeton (cooking and servants), Anna Sewell (animal cruelty), Charles Dickens (abuse of children in schools and the workhouse), Elizabeth Gaskell (industrial towns), Mary Seacole (care of the sick, hygiene), Charles Darwin (evolution), Queen Victoria (family life among the upper classes, diary keeping) and Octavia Hill (National Trust co-founder).
We have read extracts and worked with writing frames to imagine ourselves living in those times. Pupils spent an afternoon as Victorian town councillors, deciding which amenities or improvements they could afford to introduce.
Since my objectives involved questioning attitudes and perceptions, it was difficult to measure outcomes, but the children enjoyed it and retained much of what they studied. And I found it exhilarating to teach lessons not taken directly from curriculum documents or textbooks.
Pat Hulmes teaches at Molehill Copse County Primary School, Maidstone, Kent