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Effective Extra-curricular Activities in History


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#1 Nichola Boughey

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Posted 01 July 2003 - 11:05 PM

I can remember sitting through choir sessions at lunchtime and playing the cello in the orchestra whilst at school myself. It strikes me now that the only extra-curricular activities open to me at school involved music, sport or drama. I can openly admit that none of these interested me as I had no aptitude in any of them. My keen interest at school was History – yet alas no History clubs were ever run. Thus I promised myself that when I became a teacher I would offer my students the chance to enjoy my subject beyond the spectrum, and restrictions, of the classroom. So my question, and seminar topic is simple:

“What makes an effective extra-curricular History activity?”

As a teacher I, like most of you reading this topic, have my personal opinion about what I would like to achieve from running a History club during lunchtimes. In the two years that I have been teaching I have run three very different extra-curricular activities, each of which included elements of the essential skills that I feel can be developed through extra-curricular activities:

History and ICT Club for Yr. 7 and 8

In my first year of teaching I set up a Lower School club which enabled students in Yr. 7 and Yr. 8 to experiment with History topics using ICT. For example, the lunchtime group (34 students) designed and wrote their own versions of the “Who wants to be a millionaire?” PPT game and then swapped their game with another student. The group planned, prepared and presented PPT slideshows on a topic of their own choice which was not covered in the KS3 syllabus. These were some of the best researched and presented PPTs that I have ever seen.

English Heritage and History Channel Local History Competition

I encouraged a team of four students, Hip Historians, from Yr. 7 through to Yr. 10 and of different abilities to research the history of the school and then present their findings in a book format. This research spanned almost a year and required the students to hone their analytical skills, writing styles, presentation and historical interpretations. The team were a success, producing a booklet which went on to win first prize in the competition.

Criminal History Master Classes

Never a person to sit still for long I was covering a Yr. 10 lesson for a colleague of mine in the Social Science Department when a student asked me why I enjoyed History. I enthused and gushed about my love of History, particularly Criminal History, and suddenly the class of 26 girls were hanging on my every word. This obvious enthusiasm spurred me to set up a series of 5 Criminal History Master Class lectures to last just 5 weeks. Almost 7 months later the classes were still going strong and the girls enjoy discussing, debating and dissecting the various historical crimes I introduced them to – cheerfully examining evidence, historical theory and comparing them to modern day information. The success of this club was evident by the fact that over half of the attendees do not take GCSE History.

These three different activities sum up for me what it is that I feel makes a successful extra-curricular activity. I feel that the extra-curricular activities should have at least some of the following aims:

It should be an activity that students do not take part in during their regular lessons.

It should be a historical topic far removed from those of which they study as part of the History syllabus.

It should take place in a more relaxed environment than that of a classroom.

If possible it should involve students of more than one year group in order to encourage different peer groups to interact.

Students of all abilities should be able to enjoy the same activity without fear of teasing.

If you can give it a competitive edge then do so – the students do love this!

It does not have to be strictly ‘educational’ – after all it is their free time as well as yours.

It should encourage the development of new historical skills – but do not make it blatantly obvious – you may be the teacher but it is not a lesson per say.

These are the 8 rules that I have set myself when running extra-curricular activities. You may have different rules which work well for you. One of the things that struck me though whilst preparing this seminar topic is that a lot of the emphasis today is placed upon us to justify our activities and explain, perhaps to the SEN or G&T co-ordinator, as to what we hope to gain from the activities and thus what the ‘learning outcomes’ will be for the students taking part. I feel we need to take a step back and examine the most important feature of the extra-curricular activity (the students) and actually ask what they hope to gain from giving up their spare time and what they feel makes an effective extra-curricular activity – so I did!

Yr. 10’s Opinions on an Effective Extra-Curricular Activity in History!

As regular attendees of ‘Criminal History Master Classes’ it would appear that this form of extra-curricular activity has all of the features needed to be an effective one. No other clubs or classes like these have been made available before which offer students the chance to explore and investigate, whilst learning, in a fun way.

Some students are not as enthusiastic about sport as other pupils and may feel that they have absolutely no talent in performing arts; however they may have interests in History. The classes are available for students to listen to, observe or actively participate in. They do not require pupils to be good at, or have any historical knowledge yet encourage and stimulate active participation and group discussion.

After discussing the classes with other students in Yr. 10, it was established that many of the attendees enjoy the classes because they are so different and also because they contain a great deal of criminology. This leads to interesting theories and can sometimes include gory details.

The use of PPT presentations and props never fails to intrigue or excite the pupils each week. For many, their style of learning responds well to the use of kinaesthetic teaching thereby helping them to remember a certain topic or story. Students are given the opportunity to learn new stories and skills, such as holding mature debates and analysing historical crime scenes. It also gives students the chance to use their imaginations to conclude the unexplained mysteries.

A teacher’s approach to extra-curricular activities has a definite influence on whether a pupil returns to an activity or not. It is evident from the popularity of the ‘Criminal History Master Classes’ that a variety of teaching methods and resources ensures that the students are entertained whilst also learning about Criminal History. A passion and enthusiasm for History from participating teachers certainly helps the pupils to enjoy and discuss their opinions about the cases they study in each master class.

In Conclusion…

Based on my own experience and Yr. 10 reactions my advice is very simple. Find a topic that you enjoy, after all you are giving up your spare time. Choose an activity that you would have enjoyed when you were at school e.g. re-enacting the Battle of Hastings, building a table sized trench system, using ICT to make PPTs or even telling gruesome historical stories to Yr. 10. Advertise your activity each week, talk in assembly, always be enthusiastic and most all have fun! Do not worry about learning outcomes – leave that for the classroom lessons.

Edited by Nichola Boughey, 09 July 2003 - 10:51 PM.


#2 John Simkin

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Posted 02 July 2003 - 07:05 AM

Never a person to sit still for long I was covering a Yr. 10 lesson for a colleague of mine in the Social Science Department when a student asked me why I enjoyed History.  I enthused and gushed about my love of History, particularly Criminal History, and suddenly the class of 26 girls were hanging on my every word.

I know from my own experiences as a student that a teacher’s enthusiasm for a subject is infectious. The problem for the teacher is maintaining that enthusiasm. I remember a music teacher telling me he was going to be retrained as a maths teacher. When I asked him why he told me it was because he loved music too much and he could not take any longer the constant rejection of something he cared so much about. I suspect part of his problem was he had been suppressing his enthusiasm for the subject in the classroom. To many people it is more important to be “cool” or “laid back” than enthusiastic. I fear some older teachers don’t like young teachers to be too enthusiastic. It probably makes them feel guilty as they remember that in the long distant past they were also enthusiastic. Although they know it works, enthusiasm is not something you can act. You genuinely have to feel it for it to have the required impact on the students.

You have definitely hit on a winner with your Criminal History Master Classes. It is interesting to speculate why students are so interested in this subject. I suspect the blood and gore aspect of the subject is part of the reason. I have yet to meet a student who is not interested in hearing about people being hung, drawn and quartered. Public executions is another topic that fascinates them. I think they also like the mystery side of it. Take the Jack the Ripper case which is always popular with students. The blood and gore is part of it but more important than that is the fact we do not know who the murderer was. I think one of the reasons why mysteries are important is that it gives the student the opportunity to play a more active role in the learning process. I have found that students, especially bright ones, are less interested in answering questions when the teacher already has the answer. They find it more stimulating to come up with their own answer (or theory). I have always tried to make use of this interpretation of human behaviour in my teaching. Wherever possible I have included topics that have a “mysterious” element to them.

It was an excellent idea to get your students to research the history of your school. I have always found local history projects very successful. It is even more rewarding if the student is involved in research that is different from the rest of the class. This creates problems for the teacher but it is well worth it. When I was teaching in East Grinstead I spent a couple of days at the Lewes Public Record Office looking at the East Grinstead Observer (1914-18). I photocopied as many articles as I could about East Grinstead and the war. The students then selected a topic from a list that I provided and used the photocopies as research material. Their work was then added to the school website and therefore they provided a local history resource for historians.

When I was teaching in Brighton I did something similar on researching the General Strike in the town. I also did one on murder cases in Brighton (one of the advantages of living in a town with a high murder-rate). As we have had many local books published on this subject I did not have to use the local record office to photocopy the newspaper articles.

#3 jo norton

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Posted 02 July 2003 - 08:34 AM

Thanks for your excellent ideas Nicky, and I wholeheartedly agree with John that enthusiasm is the key for an extra curricular approach, or indeed for class teaching.

I have found that students, especially bright ones, are less interested in answering questions when the teacher already has the answer. They find it more stimulating to come up with their own answer (or theory)


I have been running a Mystery History club for years 7 & 8 for the past two years - it has been great fun and enjoyable experience. Occasionally I led the club, for the most part though pupils researched an area they were interested in and reported back on some very diverse and odd stories - the truth behind the Manx Vampire was discovered to be the fact the corpse coughed during the wake and was staked through the heart! And as John said the mystery hook really worked.

#4 neil mcdonald

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Posted 02 July 2003 - 01:34 PM

I copied Nicola's idea and have my own little group of followers - interest was at its highest during the Jack the Ripper work we did in Year 9 but extra curricular groups are something special - the debate that can follow often lends itself tot he classroom in subsequent lessons. As for Local History, I think it is best done by people with real knowledge of the area - I struggle to understand the history of Doncaster in any great detail but I would love to know if there was a mystery to be solved.
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#5 Nichola Boughey

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Posted 02 July 2003 - 05:44 PM

I have found that students, especially bright ones, are less interested in answering questions when the teacher already has the answer. They find it more stimulating to come up with their own answer (or theory). I have always tried to make use of this interpretation of human behaviour in my teaching. Wherever possible I have included topics that have a “mysterious” element to them.

This is true - three of my most successful, and slightly frustrating classes for the students, were the ones on the Lindbergh Kidnapping, WACO and the Black Dahlia Case. I gave them the evidence, let them debate it and when they looked to me for the answers I actually did not have them!

They were great classes. :king:

#6 Dan Lyndon

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 06:14 PM

It should be an activity that students do not take part in during their regular lessons.

It should be a historical topic far removed from those of which they study as part of the History syllabus.

I am interested in why you made these two choices Nicky. As regards the first suggestion, what sort of activities are you referrring to - I can't really think of any activities that I wouldn't want to use in the classroom whether it is role play, investigations, mysteries, ICT etc. In fact one advantage of a History club is to reinforce or develop the kind of activities that can be used in the classroom - trial and error on a small scale is really useful. One activity that I used with a small group of G&T students was to create a historical board game, which was really successful, so much so that I will be doing it with a whole class over the next two weeks.

As regards the second statement, I can understand the idea of expanding student's historical knowledge and freeing ourselves fron the restraints of the National Curriculum, but there are again some real advantages of using a history club to enrich the knowledge that students have been working on in class - I recently did some work on Martin Luther King vs Malcolm X which linked in with the Black Peoples unit that we were doing and the boys really enjoyed the 'deep' level of knowledge that they could pick up from an extended session on the work.

As a side note I really do admire the bounding enthusiasm which pours out from your seminar - if I was one of your students I would join your History club!

Edited by Dan Lyndon, 03 July 2003 - 06:16 PM.

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#7 Nichola Boughey

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 06:39 PM

It should be an activity that students do not take part in during their regular lessons.

It should be a historical topic far removed from those of which they study as part of the History syllabus.

I am interested in why you made these two choices Nicky. As regards the first suggestion.

Sure no problem...

To address Dan's first point:

I felt that a lunchtime activity in History where I work should be one that ensured that students, especially Yr. 10, were not writing down information, working towards coursework or even practicing for a public or school event. These are the only other real activities available for Yr. 10 and unfortunately I do/did have to compete with Yr. 10 voluntary Drama rehearsals, Yr. 10 Chamer Choir rehearsals for carol and summer services, Science coursework club and PE Dept practices. Many of the attendees also chose History as I am really the only teacher to use PPT and this aspect appealed to them - so maybe an activity very different for them.

Dan's second point:

This one depends upon the topics that you teach the students. Since the club was aimed at our Yr. 10 students you have to take into consideration that we study:

1. Agricultural Revolution.
2. Transport Revolution.
3. Leisure and Communication.
4. Home Front
5. Styal Mill.
6. Jack the Ripper.
7. Chartism.

At the end of the day the students attending the Master Classes in particular were looking for a little bit of a different subject matter to break up the lessons on drainage and fertiliser.

As I said Dan - these are just my opinions and are obviously based upon my individual experiences - I agree that some of the extra-curricular topics can be used, built upon and used to enhance lessons as well!

#8 Dan Lyndon

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 07:22 PM

Ah you see you are a lot braver than me - my year tens wouldn't go near an extra curricular club, not cool you see - I limit myself to a few keen year 7 and 8s. As for your gcse course, well if you haven't seen the light of SHP .....
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#9 Nichola Boughey

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Posted 04 July 2003 - 05:32 PM

Dan - my students may not enjoy the topics that are taught at GCSE level sometimes but they do enjoy the lessons.

What has been noticeable is that some of the students attending the extra-curricular classes not only enjoy the subject matter but have been applying their debating skills, analytical experiences and opinions more openly in class. This is a good benefit of the extra-curricular classes - they pick up skills whilst thinking that they are enjoying themselves. :D

#10 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 31 August 2006 - 07:22 AM

We managed to get funding for a film making project last year which worked very well. Year 10 students from 3 schools volunteered to take part in the development of a short film on the life of Mary Queen of Scots. Activities included working on the script; travelling to and from historic sites (where we filmed); a visit to Oxford to talk to an expert on Mary's life; rehearsal's and filming; organising costume, artefacts etc and working on production techniques.

It worked very well at getting students to work together, appeared to generate a lot of interest in the content - which has nothing at al to do with any of the 3 schools KS4 courses - and as a spin off, provides us with a resource that we can use with Yr8 (or our feeder schools).

Hopefully I'll be involved in a follow up to that this year (or next). The big downside is the cost, this cost over £3000, but there are ways and means of doing it on a smaller budget that wouldn't reduce the value for pupils too much. (We used lots of professional tools which were costly, 'real' cameras, sound effects and an original musical score... all very nic, of course, but if the cash hadn't been there I'm sure we'd have been able to do it to a lower budget).

Extra curricular one for this year. Looking for a group of Yr7/8 pupils who want to become involved in an ongoing project based on Medieval life. Will start them off with a range of hands on workshops showing them how different things were done - mainly everyday tasks but a few jazzier ones to stimulate interest. If the workshops go well, we're then intending to take it a step further and start working on a medieval farm, from scratch. Longer term the idea is to get this toa point where pupils could stay overnight / a weekend at the site working on the farm and using the produce they've sowed, tended and harvested. Cost is minimal for this as the idea has formed as a result of conversations with friends who can provide the land, kit (a replica medieval house) and the know how. If anyone wants more details let me know as that was a very brief overview of what the plan is.

#11 Lou Phillips

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Posted 31 August 2006 - 03:48 PM

Just thought I would share my experience with you:

I ran a very successful History club last year for Yr7s which I believe has carried on since I left. The pupils were certainly a mixture of both top and lower set so I tried to make the activities reasonably removed from academic work.

Topics/ activites were chosen mutually through discussion or to do with the time of year.

e.g. Bonfire Night- we made big sparkly posters explaining why we celebrate on Nov 5th while eating toffee apples etc!
Christmas Truce- we prepared a short play for the Christmas concert where children read eye witness accounts, sung Silent Night/ Stille Nacht and dressed up as soldiers
Castles- we built (reasonably!) realistic castles out of boxes and toilet rolls etc
World War II- they made a display on world war two. This could have been better but they made ration books, wartime cookbooks, posters of tanks, propaganda posters etc.

We also spent a few sessions watching Forrest Gump! It is my favourite film and we discussed some of the historical issues in it like Civil Rights, Vietnam etc.

I really enjoyed it and I think they did too as when I left they made me a card, bought me several presents and we had a lovely party.

If anyone is considering it, I would thoroughly recommend doing it as its a lovely way to get kids really enthusiastic about history and develop good relationships. The club was (unfairly) described as "Geek Club" by some (staff and pupils) and to be fair a lot of them were the more able, and often some quite strange, children. To these it got them off the yard at least once a week where I know from experience its not much fun for a "swot" so they really appreciated the time and effort I took to sort of look after them I suppose.
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