In the wars

25th May 2007 at 01:00
Gareth Rogers dons uniform and uses a jeep to get his pupils fired up about history

I love teaching my Year 9 classes about the life of a soldier in the First World War, and I think they love it too. It shouldn't be a surprise for them really, as often their big sisters will have told them about it, but they still look pretty gobsmacked when I've clanked down the corridor and come into the classroom.

All I do is dress up in my First World War gear and tell them stories about what it was like to be serving in the trenches. I'm sure lots of other teachers do the same sort of thing.

I've got my grandad's helmet, rifle and bayonet, and there are other bits I've bought from eBay or army surplus shops. I've got two dummy sets of hand grenades - one of them German - and a Lee-Enfield rifle. I show them how it works, then they can have a go with it at the end of the lesson.

They can't believe how heavy it all is - it really does weigh a ton.

I wear puttees, which are like long socks that you wind round your legs and seem to go on forever. I've got an old army coat and helmet. Pupils try those on too - they're very heavy. And then there's the webbing, which is the khaki belts with leather bags.

It helps if I've got a free period before the lesson as it takes a while to dress up. Quite often I end up teaching the next lesson partially in uniform.

I've also got a board full of relics I've dug up in the battlefields for them to look at, and I like to use clips from television series, such as the BBC's The Trench.

That's it really. It's mainly storytelling, and they love it. I like to do something similar with the Second World War - I've got a Second World War jeep and a trailer that I drive into the playground, and they can climb all over that and, again, handle the rifle which was used in that war as well.

At the end of the lesson I keep thinking to myself that it was terrible because they didn't write anything - but they learn a lot. I set homework, and they write diaries and so on. Storytelling has gone from education, but I think it is such an important part of it.

We get a high proportion of pupils choosing to take history GCSE - more than 100 out of a year group of 250. I'm sure it's not just letting them climb over a jeep or try on a greatcoat and helmet, but I do think it helps bring it all to life Gareth Rogers teaches at Weatherhead High, a girls' school on The Wirral, Cheshire

A day in the life

This lesson fulfils the requirement to develop empathy with characters from the past. Try eBay, second-hand and army surplus shops for the kit. To read what Mr Rogers's Year 9s made of it, go to www.weatherheadhistory.ik.org, then go to Who We Are and Mr Rogers for their version of his First World War soldier's story.

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