Developing my year 9s’ ability to write (more) like historians – part 2

In my last post I described how I had taught my year 9 classes about the causes of World War One and how I had used the teaching and learning cycle to help scaffold their ability to write a paragraph explaining one of the long term causes. In this post I will show some examples of their work and then describe how we tackled the short term cause, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.


The paragraph the pupils were asked to write was on alliances (the ‘a’ in the MAIN causes) and here are some examples, with commentary:




These two examples show that pupils were comfortable reproducing the definition of the factor as well as describing the formation of the two alliances, making sure they including the name of each, their members and the year in which they were formed. These details to be included had been discussed just before they wrote the paragraphs.


What is also clear is that the final phases, in which pupils had to explain how the presence of two rival alliances had created tension, are underdeveloped. This was a common theme throughout the answers. This indicates that we did not discuss enough how and why alliances created tension and thus I was replying on pupils to work this part out largely for themselves. The lack of discussion was partly due to time constraints and party due to a reticence on my part to ‘give them the answer’ – something I need to get over, frankly. Reading the information relating to this, discussing it and asking well-chosen questions about it would enable pupils to gain insights into the causation at work, which they would then be able to demonstrate understanding of more effectively in their paragraphs. The most common piece of feedback I gave (as can been seen on one of the examples above) was ‘what could have happened if one nation from each alliance had had a disagreement?’.


The final paragraph of the overall assessment – Why did World War One start in 1914?


After completing the alliances paragraph, receiving feedback from me and having the opportunity to address some of the questions I posed, we then turned our attention to the spark for the war – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.


This end product we were working towards was a paragraph explaining the short term cause – how an assassination had led to a continent-wide war. To begin with we looked at a map of Europe in 1914 that showed the position of Bosnia within the Austro-Hungarian Empire with Serbia next door. We then watched this excellent clip of Dan Snow describing the events of the assassination and I focused pupils’ attention by asking them to look for answers to the following questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who was killed?
  • Where did this happen?
  • When did this happen?
  • Who was the killer?
  • Why was this killing carried out?

We then established these details with the aim of using them in our paragraph, which would have the following structure:




Pupils then completed the first phase using the details, with me insisting they be as detailed as possible, for example including Franz Ferdinand’s title and position rather than just his name.


Next lesson we moved on to completing the paragraph and started with a recap of the assassination as well as an introduction to the consequent chain of events: We then placed the chain of declarations of war into chronological order with the pupils reading the order of events in the textbook and sticking cards describing and illustrating the events into their book in the correct order.


At this point we had established the outline of the second phase of the paragraph:




We discussed the events of the second phase, trying to pick out how they linked together and I explained the agreement Britain had with Belgium to protect its neutrality. We then had to show in writing how this chain of events had progressed and why. We added the dates and then I modelled how I would link the first two or three events, explaining my choices (deconstruction). I then invited suggestions from the class for the next couple and we agreed what to write (joint construction) before pupils completed the links themselves on a planning sheet (independent construction):


We then had a brief discussion about what we felt was the key reason that an assassination in an obscure corner of Europe led to a war between the continent’s greatest powers before pupils completed the paragraph independently using all the preparation we had done.


Here is one outcome:




What’s clear from this piece of work is that the pupil has a clear idea of the order of events, but is inconsistent in providing the links between them. He has also identified what he believes to have been the key factor in the escalation of events – the alliance system – but has not explained why he believes this with any authority. Once again, much more discussion is needed to develop pupils’ thinking and understanding in this phase before they write the final product.


My next blog will describe my year 8 lessons on the break with Rome. Having looked at my year 7 books we have not covered enough ground to justify a blog – my year 7 classes are split and so I only see them once per fortnight.

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