Basing a discussion of abortion around a giant pregnancy timeline can help increase pupils' awareness and understanding, says Dawn Cox
Dealing with abortion can be daunting, but following basic rules, such as encouraging each pupil to take part in the discussion and using a good quality visual aid, will help. As a guide, this lesson covers all aspects of abortion needed to answer GCSE questions, based on When does life start? and different stances on abortion.
A good way of opening is to have a quick quiz to check understanding of keywords that will be used in the lesson. For example, pupils sometimes mix up conception and contraception.
The lesson is based around a timeline showing the 40 weeks of pregnancy from conception to birth. It should be large enough for pupils to sit around it and see easily. While they are looking at the pregnancy timeline, pupils will be given strips of paper with different facts written on them, which they place on the week they think it relates to.
Start by telling them about the UK abortion law and discussing why the limit is currently 24 weeks. Since a 22-week baby has survived, this can lead to a discussion on why some people want the law to be changed. It can also lead to discussion on abortion being illegal in the Republic of Ireland.
Put the strip of paper saying "UK Law" on the 24 week stage. This acts a basis for the rest of the exercise.
Next, give each pupil a strip with a foetal developmental fact on it: the foetus measures 5.5cm; it's smaller than a grain of salt; it feels pain.
Pupils can take it in turns to read their fact and place it on the timeline in what they think is the right place in the foetus' development. You can encourage discussion, but the pupil with the paper should ultimately decide where it should go. More than one strip of paper can go on each week. This should continue until all strips of paper are on the timeline.
Finally, you produce three strips that say: "Life begins", "is a person", "is alive". Ask pupils where these should go. There should be some discussion and hopefully they will conclude that there is no "right" answer and it is opinion based. This is where they start to form their own opinion about when life starts, and consequently their view on abortion.
Go through the correct answers and place each strip on its correct week. Pupils are often shocked that so much foetal development happens early on and the foetus can "feel pain" when abortions are still legal. Next, produce strips about the religions you want the pupils to learn about, such as "Muslim view", "Catholic view". If there is more than one opinion within a religion, make multiple strips.
Place these on the timeline and explain how the view of when life starts will then determine that person's view on abortion. For example, some Muslims believe that abortion is acceptable up to 120 days because it is at this point the foetus receives its soul. So the "Muslim view" paper should be placed at 17 weeks. Ask pupils to discuss them after they have all been placed onto the timeline.
Finally, ask the pupils to complete a piece of written work. They should write one section on the religious views on abortion and the reasons for these beliefs. Those working to a higher level should be able to explain the variation of opinions within the religions studied.
The second section should be their own response to when "life begins", "is a person" and "is alive", developing it into a personal opinion on abortion. Higher level pupils should be able to compare their view with the religious views.
As an extension exercise, pupils can consider whether the religions studied and they themselves would consider that the UK abortion law should be changed, why, and what it should be changed to.
For the plenary, hold up a strip of paper from the timeline (either the UK law or a religious one) and ask a pupil to explain the beliefs on when life starts and on abortion.
Carrying out this exercise, along with the pupils' written answers, should give you enough to assess their knowledge and understanding of the lesson objectives
Pupils will know and understand:
The basic stages in the development of a foetus.
The basis of the UK law on abortion.
The religious views of when life starts and that religion's stance on abortion.
Pupils will form their own opinion about when life starts and what they believe regarding abortion.
This lesson is based around discussion, so make sure all pupils get to speak. This is made easier by each pupil having their own piece of paper, which they must read out.
You can differentiate depending on the level
your pupils are working to. To make things simpler, only use one or two basic religious views.
A* to C pupils must be able to explain all views.
Leave the chart out when the pupils are completing their written work, so they can easily refer to it.
All the resources are available on The TES Resource Bank at
Dawn Cox is head of RE at Orwell High School in Felixstowe, Suffolk