A recent poll I ran on my Facebook page – Mr T does Primary History – revealed the most commonly taught concepts in primary school history is chronology – thank goodness! But, what does effective teaching of chronology look like and how can we show progression throughout the primary school phase?
Let’s start with the misconception: you don’t have to teach in chronological order and it doesn’t improve children’s understanding of the past. It is vital children are able to make links between their history learning so it does not compartmentalise their knowledge.
Combining the elements below is a sure-fire method to effectively teach chronology and enable us to show progression throughout the whole primary phase.
This is the most commonly taught skill when understanding chronology. This process can start in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 using the children’s own life experience. Ordering ages and referring to being a baby, toddler etc. can reinforce counting the years and chronology at the same time.
In year 1 and 2, this can be developed by constructing practical timelines using numbered scales. When you create timelines by placing dates in order, this is sequencing.
It’s important that children understand the linear nature of time and how BC/AD influences how long ago an event was. By the time children reach Upper Key Stage 2, they should understand the principle of sequencing and be able to understand where eras occurred in relation to each other.
To really understand the scale of history we must teach children that events do not occur one after another. There are quite often years, decades and centuries between events we choose to study and using scaled timelines can really reinforce this.
In Key Stage 1, using practical multilink timelines allows children to see the difference between events (simply more cubes = more time). In Key Stage 2, however, children should be able to identify the approximate number of years between events and create their own scales.
I’d thoroughly recommend using ChronoZoom to explore the scale of time in a fun and engaging way. A quick question to consider: Imagine a timeline with the construction of the great pyramid of Giza at one end and the modern day at the other. Which would Cleopatra be closer to?
Explaining how long something took place for can be a tricky concept. Once again, doing it practically using a scale is really beneficial. When selecting events to use for a timeline, ensure there are some that have a duration of time.
Example: the Greco-Persian war lasted for approximately 50 years, therefore could be represented by a bar measuring 50cm and the Peloponnesian war lasted for approximately 27 years so could be represented by a bar of 27cm, meaning the duration of each event is clear for everyone to see. This reinforces the practical multilink timelines suggested in Key Stage 1.
Concurrence is a very challenging principle that I personally leave to Upper Key Stage 2 when duration, scaling and sequencing are all embedded in the children’s understanding. Concurrence is two or more timelines occurring at the same time.
This allows children to understand that civilizations exist alongside each other, interact with each other and, let’s be honest, come into conflict with each other. My personal favourite resource for this is timemaps.com, which uses a map-based timeline system to show change over time.
Using this resource and several related timelines enables children to identify civilizations that would have encountered each other based on the period of history they existed in and their geographical location.
Finally, the most important skill to ensure that children don’t compartmentalise their knowledge and see history in isolated chunks of time is to make links between eras consistently and effectively. How do you do this as a class teacher, who doesn’t teach the whole curriculum?
This is where collaboration is important and ensuring teachers are aware of links between what they teach and what has been taught in other year groups. One approach is to have a huge school history display that each year group contributes to; this is a clear visual reference for children to refer to.
If this isn’t an option, links can be made in other ways that have as much meaning. In chronology lessons, refer to the era of history being studied and pose questions such as: Which other civilizations have you learned about? How does this fit into our picture of history so far?
Chronology is a vital concept laid out in the National Curriculum and developing it across school is less daunting than it can appear. Introduce the terminology early, reinforce it consistently and look to apply the different terms as often as possible in your topics.
A primary teacher based in Leeds, he’s a primary committee member of the Historical Association, a CPD provider and runs ‘Mr T does Primary History’ on Facebook.