Teaching the Great Fire of London

Sian Evans
29th August 2017
teacher teaching the great fire of london using resources

Kate Cunningham, aka Reading Riddle, offers innovative ideas for exploring the infamous 1666 fire in the primary classroom

When teaching the Great Fire of London, it becomes very apparent that pupils are more disconnected from their ancestors than ever before. Although their grandparents would probably have experienced cooking over a fire and living without central heating, there are many children who may never have seen fire or ash in real life. This, of course, makes a difference when explaining the events that took place in 1666.

Making the right impression

Using fire in the classroom is undeniably a health and safety risk, but being able to show it to pupils is an important part of bringing this topic to life. Some teachers do so by setting light to model houses, which is certainly memorable. However, this is potentially hazardous and all too often takes place at the end of the topic once writing opportunities have passed. And I am, understandably, slightly uneasy about making them excited about setting houses alight!

In this lesson plan, I suggest using tea-light candles to observe little flames. While this too has limitations in terms of size, it is manageable, controllable and real. I have found that even the liveliest children are absorbed by the flame enough to follow the rules and not risk having it removed.

Breaking down the topic

Following this introduction, I start the class on a range of activities that lend themselves to discussion, negotiation and explanation. For example, I introduce timelines and the concept of chronology with this interactive activity, in which students must use verbal instructions to put a series of events in the right order. It is a good idea to model the type of language you want the children to use, such as “You are 1969. You are later than 1935 but earlier than 1975 so you go in between”. With this firmly in place, you can move on to order different events during the fire using these cards

Adding something extra

A visit or a visitor is another way to bring the topic to life. To teach the Great Fire of London, I recommend inviting fire service education officers or storytellers into school, or even heading out to a firefighting museum. Alternatively, the National Archives and Museum of London offer online sessions.

Making memories in class

Bringing history to life in this way can make your lesson unforgettable. I will always recall the day my history teacher put down the textbook and re-enacted the battles of the Spanish Armada. By using these innovative resources, you too can have a memorable impact in the classroom.

Quick links

Great Fire of London set of 7 lesson plans

This is a set of 7 lessons on the Great Fire of London with aims, activities, vocabulary and references to the National Curriculum. The lessons go with the further resources I have uploaded, but you can use and adapt in whatever way is most useful to you and your class.

I love this topic and have tried to include plenty of talk, drama activities and images that bring it to life, in a way that will excite children, and give them the tools to write and discuss with enthusiasm. The Big Questions aim to give them a wider perspective and stretch their understanding.

Obviously I hope they are useful to you, please forgive any errors (and let me know if there is anything I need to change for future users). There are many more fabulous ideas out there, but this is a starting point.
By Kate Cunningham

Timeline activity - created as part of Great Fire of London lesson sequence but adaptable

This is a practical class activity to introduce and explain a timeline. The resource includes a cover page explaining the activity and how it fits with the National Curriculum. There are 33 pages of dates and events that children work together to place in order and make a long-term timeline. It takes children through the process, and gives the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of chronological order and distance between events. There is lots of opportunity for talk in groups. This activity has been developed to fit a set of lesson on the Great Fire of London but is broad enough to be used around other topics and specific dates can easily be added to give it different focus.
By Kate Cunningham

Great Fire of London timeline cards

Six images to put in order and make a timeline of the Great Fire of London. For an extension activity children can write further detail and add information about when the fire was finally extinguished. Further free resources are available on the TES shop and information about my storytelling sessions can be found on www.readingriddle.co.uk

The images are taken from my picture book "Vlad and the Great Fire of London" which is available from Amazon (£7.99). As London sleeps Vlad the flea, and his friend Boxton the rat witness the start of the fire before making their escape to the fields around the city.
By Kate Cunningham

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