History

19th January 2007 at 00:00
Ages 14 to 16

For our GCSE Treaty of Versailles study, I allocate the students to be a country for the lesson: either Britain, France, the United States or Germany. They spend the first part in their country's group and are given a sheet explaining key facts about how they fared in World War One, such as number of men lost and amount spent. They discuss with their compatriots how they feel at the end of the war and what they will want out of the peace talks.

I go round the class, helping them discuss their tactics and see what they think the other countries will be pushing for.

Then they divide into groups of four, with one member of each country represented (Germany is there to plead its case, unlike in the real talks).

Terms of the treaty are thrashed out and the group reveals the outcome to the whole class.

Next lesson we look at the real Treaty of Versailles. Pupils invariably find that their own terms were more punitive. This teaches pupils that, although the Treaty of Versailles increased German bitterness and helped cause the Second World War, an "unfair" treaty was inevitable given the conditions at the end of the First World War.

We, as historians, should not be too quick to condemn the actions of people in the past.

Stuart Day is head of history at Cedars Upper School in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

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