How I teach - Winning ideas for lessons on VE Day

1st May 2015 at 01:00
Seventy years after Allied victory in Europe, pupils can still learn from the Second World War

On 8 May 1945, the Allies celebrated victory over the axis powers in Europe. As Japan fought on, the war was over for the Nazis. With the 70th anniversary of VE Day falling next week, it's crucial for pupils to learn about this event - the culmination of six years of hardship, misery and death on a colossal scale. It's also a significant milestone in their journey through 20th-century history.

Looking at the events of the day is a good way to start exploring its impact. Create a timeline of 7 and 8 May, including the announcement of surrender, responses from the government and royal family, and details of how celebrations were conducted in different areas of the country. Using archive radio and news footage, get pupils thinking about how it must have felt to wake up to the news that war in Europe had ended. You can also discuss how the celebrations unfolded over the next 48 hours.

Building on this activity, explore some local and personal stories of VE Day by inviting veterans from the community (or their sons and daughters) into the school. Ask them to give their accounts and get the children to prepare questions.

You can also set homework where pupils interview members of their family about VE Day. Pupils really engage with this task, and the results make an excellent display for the classroom or corridor. I tend to dedicate an entire lesson (or even two) to sharing this homework in a show-and-tell format. If pupils don't have family members who can take part, ask them to conduct research through museums and on the internet.

Education in empathy

In another lesson, I summarise how what happened in the Second World War affected the citizens of countries involved. Create two outlines on A3 sheets, one representing a German citizen and one a British citizen. Hand out cards with different events and themes on them, then ask pupils to write notes on how these events would make a citizen from each country feel. For example, for the Holocaust, pupils might put the word "ashamed" in the German outline and "regret" in the British one. This leads to some really interesting discussions about why that might be. In the three years I have been using this activity, it has proved an excellent way to explore feelings and to get pupils thinking deeply about the effects of the war.

Daniel Hartley teaches at Minehead Middle School in Somerset. Find more primary lesson ideas for VE Day at www.tesconnect.comVEDayLessons

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