The Viking invasion

8th June 2007 at 01:00
Experimental lessons give children an opportunity to express themselves, as Jan Walker discovered with Year 3 role play - complete with a longship and dungeon

Is it today, Mrs W? When will it be? Will it be this afternoon?" My class of eager seven and eight-year-olds was desperate for it to happen - and as soon as possible. What was driving them into such a frenzy? It wasn't an unexpected day off or a trip. It was simply a history lesson - part of our "invaders and settlers" topic.

But it was a history lesson with a difference. After a journey of nearly two and a half years, where we gradually built our creative curriculum, we were to embark on an experimental learning lesson - not using books, chalk and pencils, but rather classroom furniture, an interactive whiteboard, film, costumes and real food. Oh, and the lesson was going to be observed by 12 visiting heads and teachers from local schools.

The children had researched the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings and we had painted a longship invasion on the classroom windows. We had discussed our forthcoming capture of an Anglo- Saxon chief - Mr H, our headteacher, who was a willing participant.

At last the day arrives. A Viking raid on an unsuspecting Anglo-Saxon village. Several exuberant children help transform the classroom. Tables are upturned to make a longship. The sail (a huge piece of green and white-striped material) is hoisted, by skipping ropes from the PE cupboard, to the ceiling. Plastic chairs with holes in the back are perfect for holding the metre rulers "oars".

More upturned tables become stables for a large and gangly equine puppet, while chairs and boxes evolve into a Viking dungeon - ready to confine the Anglo-Saxon chief. Poor Mr H.A huge wholemeal loaf is broken up, then hot cross buns shared out - not authentically Viking fare, but added for taste and variety. The morsels are shared out between camps and wooden plates and bowls ready to feed hungry invaders and villagers.

Thirty children come bursting through the door at once, and within five minutes they are in costume and raring to go. They are soon followed by the 12 observers, who sit down, not knowing what to expect. Neither do I.

Anything could happen. Even though I have done this lesson with other year groups, it has the potential for all kinds of disasters. Fighting is with imaginary weapons and in slow motion. Visions of black eyes and missing teeth are floating around in my head.

The children are amazing. Vikings and Anglo-Saxons stay in role throughout, even during "time out", when they are asked: "What can you see, what can you hear, what can you smell, how do you feel?" They are all chatting, cooking, sailing, rowing, plotting, listening to rumours of invasion, worrying and crying.

Anglo-Saxon villagers wail as their chief is taken from the riverbank where he is fishing (Mr H is sitting, suitably cloaked, in his office, with a fabric fish on a stick dangling into his wastepaper bin). He is dragged, poked and pushed back to the dungeon in the classroom.

The Vikings are victorious and kill nearly all the Anglo-Saxons, save for the captured chief, the two or three villagers who are taken as slaves, and the few who remain weeping as the longship sails away.

Afterwards, the children are more than happy to talk to our visitors, in and out of role. Once they have gone, and Mr H has been uncloaked and reluctantly released, we reflect. We plan to look at the footage our film crew has taken (two shy girls who still feel equally involved).

The writing that follows is excellent, with all of the children drawing on their experiences

Jan Walker teaches Year 3 at Darley Dale Primary School in Derbyshire


* Make the children part of the planning for your creative activities so there is lots of opportunity for cross-curricular work. The Viking lesson combines history, ICT, art, speaking and listening, literacy, drama and geography.

* We did a series of "off timetable" WOW (watching others work) weeks, which involved all the children in the school moving around from class to class (in mixed age groups) doing lots of different activities.

* Work with another teacherclass so planning and organisation can be shared.

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