Manual Narrative Matters: Teaching History Through Story

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You're reading a preview, sign up to read more. Start Your Free Month. More from The Atlantic. The Atlantic 7 min read Politics. What Happened in Ukraine? But the similarities are only surface deep. The Atlantic 5 min read Society. A couple of years ago, I started invoicing my husband for housework. It made sense to us: While our goal was to divide the work equally, I ended up doing much more because he worked in an office and I worked at home as a freelancer, using my breaks t.

The Atlantic 3 min read Politics. Schools Council, , p12 It is interesting that Grant Bage used this quote to begin his chapter on Making Meaning of Story and History in, what has become, the definitive book on learning history through narrative in primary schools, Narrative Matters.

It is a simple statement which seems to echo those long distant times when the Schools' Council held sway over the curriculum and, like many simple statements, it contains a great truth — that the stories of people from the past can teach us a lot about our humanity,. Add to Basket Join the HA. This can be explained to children as finding answers to questions and questions to answer, by taking apart and putting together again real stories about the past.


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If the story is now complete, why read on? Let me explain. I am not writing to make you follow my lead, just as I try not to teach history lessons that tell the truth. I am writing this book—and I try to teach history—to a democratic design. On such grounds I now offer a research note about which I have been arguing with myself for a decade. Why am I attracted to teaching history through story? In my teaching I use narrative as bricks and story as design. Temporally, narrative connects different episodes which become a storied whole through imaginative reconstruction.

Communicatively, turning narrative episodes into open stories publicizes historical understanding: storytelling not just in narrow literary senses, but as an educational conversation. Pedagogic rather than academic history has taught me these things. But what if I, or the curriculum, was in error? To avoid imprisoning learners in my own understanding, I must extend their experience of and power over narrative…a main teaching task is to mould NC history and central curricula so that they can help children to criticize, create and enter historical narratives.

In this light story has much to offer bureaucratic curricula: to recast them in forms that are attractive and accessible to learners. Despite marginal changes, in my everyday classroom experience narrative still tends to be identified with fiction e. There is a much broader assumption worth testing: can we teach history or any other discipline without teaching how to think, listen, talk…and then write in an explicitly narratological way? Spoken stories reflect audience reaction more immediately than writing.

They require instantaneous rethinking and redrafting…higher quality language can result. Listeners heckle, fall asleep or change the subject in ways that are painfully but usefully obvious to tellers. Spoken stories are already common in classrooms, with many variants between the relatively well-known extremes of pedagogic formal lecture and incidental anecdote.

Consciousness and control of these may enhance our pedagogic craft knowledge e. Jackson, Much history derives from talk, written down…Analysis of evidence should attempt to reconstruct or consider the talk and stories surrounding its creation e. Domesday book, church buildings, film as source or experience. Spoken stories have a longer educational lineage than their parvenu literary cousin. Orality prefigured literacy Meek, , p. Spoken stories have a psychological lineage: is the development of thinking not just reliant upon but inseparable from narrative and talk?

At the least it seems likely that story teaches tools for thinking—if not thinking itself. History is littered with pulpits, parliaments and pedagogies run for the benefit of those already in control. Even when their stories have been interrupted or conversational— argumentative or dialectic—their association with power is undiminished. A curriculum to decentralize control over knowledge may depend upon exposing the powers which spoken and written narratives confer. If to control narratives is to gain power, should all disciplines more consciously develop powers of constructing narratives written and spoken and evaluating them listening, analysing, criticizing?

Ethics and civics intrude, since all societies host competing and explanatory stories: faiths, advertisements, political broadcasts, advice lines, reminiscences, lessons etc. Many explain our everyday, personal histories. If we do not fully understand their strengths, we may fall prey to those who do: witness the persistent, global influence of news broadcasters, ethnic orators or advertisement-led consumerism. Although belief systems often express themselves in stories e. Christian parables or Norse sagas one does not have to believe in these systems to value them. If certain stories contain the distilled practical or moral wisdom of millennia it would seem perverse not to retell and criticize them in schools: historically, or morally.

Liberal, democratic ideals concerning voice are relevant. Perhaps it is democratically essential for citizens to develop individual historical voices? Voice is typically important in teaching English, and often commented upon in reports. The affective is also significant. Stories can communicate emotions in powerful ways. Emotions matter in history, and if well-used, narratives can improve learner motivation.

This affective element extends to teachers. Have we been seduced by history stories? Alexander, , Chapter 6. My assumptions and hopes about teaching, history and story are being exposed to arm the reader with my thinking and protect them from my prejudice. This approach is a model for pedagogy as well as a communicative device. It acknowledges the importance and the impossibility of attempting universal or timeless definitions. What Is a School History Story? The implication is that although sophisticated analytical language can be taught through history Counsell, , this can grow naturally from stories rather than be juxtaposed simplistically against them.

I am making the argument that story is not a form that children grow out of, rather something that adults grow into in ever more complex and reasonable forms—of which one is history. The model of story I offered earlier assists these ends, by exploring the complex relationships between fact and fiction. A discipline like history offers the chance to speak and listen, then write and read texts that are simultaneously narrative and analytical, imagined and real.

Universal genres are identifiable, but the truth claims attached to them defy simple generalization. History stories help learners grapple with this fundamental cultural idea, synthesizing like many great disciplines e. It remains difficult precisely and universally to define the term for several 37 Narrative Matters reasons.

Empowering students through storytelling - Robert Rubinstein - TEDxClaremontColleges

Secondly, standardized interpretations of stories cannot be made public since nuances of meaning are personally and privately constructed; the outlines of their meaning may be communicable but the fine details remain stubbornly individual, especially with younger learners. Thirdly, writers loosely interchange story and narrative and meanings vary with context. For instance the Shorter Oxford English dictionary , p. Pragmatically story parcels meanings and ascribes endings along such multiple lines, varying with its history, location and form until the synonyms hybridize: tale, narrative, myth, history, fiction, fact, faction.

Our mutual interest lies less in universal literary definitions, more in how people-as-teachers over time have used things called story for educational ends: and here we reconnect with Appleby et al. Plato defined Ancient Greek educational story by its purposes. Shelley, , pp. One right time is when you are asked a question. Consequently, most of the storied teaching methods in this book prompt questions and elicit responses by slowing, speeding, repeating or freezing representations of narratives for educational ends.

The ambition is to enable children to value but also interrogate narratives and thereby develop their own. This combination of narrative with enquiry defines what I mean by storied pedagogy. Stories are powerful in their own right but perhaps become truly educational when made susceptible to questions. A colleague illuminated this relationship autobiographically: I was an avid reader and always loved historical stories, so much of my knowledge and interest came via this route.

My over-riding memory of history at Grammar school is of note taking…although the subject came briefly to life when…we had a lively male American teacher who made us ask questions and told us funny stories… Marion Aust, September , my italics In other words, the learner was drawn into the subject through lively narrative and questioning dialogue: they entered the world of the educational storyteller.

Journal—April How different are historians, storytellers and teachers? In contrast, history demands attributable evidence, so that others may follow its process. As teachers, we need both. This is important because for learners, many things seem fictional: like stories, realities are taken on trust from authority, the storyteller.

These storytellers often offer their interpretations of reality as reality, and children test them out by experience. These experiences modify the story, and the children start to author their own existence. History, involving the reconstruction in our imagination of the past, is a mainstay of such growth.

How can we enable that reconstruction to occur when many of the actors are dead or inaccessible? Sometimes, but in my experience not 39 Narrative Matters often enough, we recreate events then ask learners to enter them: to watch history as audience, enact history as imagined character, interpret history as author. This entering is a significant act…it relies upon the use of historical imagination fuelled, informed and bounded by evidence. But it is the nature of the evidence which differentiates the process from the authoring of fiction, not the process itself.

To imagine life as a story, even if we do not believe it, is to empower the thinker as actor, author or both: to stimulate perceptions that other endings are possible…If teachers use methods which encourage learners to behave as if they were acting in an evidence-based fiction, might effective learning occur more easily? Such views reflect more than my idiosyncratic experience. Contexts do not have to be storied to achieve this. All I suggest is that storied lessons and activities have helped me and others to motivate pupils into animated, focused discussion of particular historical problems; and provide many opportunities for teachers to monitor, channel or augment pupil knowledge.

This might be summarized as a factionally storied, discursive, dramatic, whole class and small group roleplay. Extracts here point to two interesting mixes. Firstly, talk or story did not straightforwardly decentralize power: the teachers did much of the talking, creating frameworks within which precise, problem-solving pupil-led talk followed. Secondly, fact and fiction— or rather information and imagination—were blended. These extracts suggest that story can be informative, analytic and teacher-interventionist, in typical factual mode as well as imaginative, exciting and open-ended in traditionally fictional mode.

At the lesson start, the children were assigned roles as audience and actors, charged with the ultimate task of deciding how the story will end: Sandra: 40 We are the governors of Rome. And we are soon going to have a deputation from Roman soldiers who have been to Britain to try to explain why we should put an awful lot of money into sending an army of occupation to settle.

Then after nearly an hour of talk framed by the story, children authored an ending: Sandra: Alright a vote…those who think that we ought to go to Britain and settle there for all the excellent reasons we have heard? Those who think it is not such a good idea? But I think that that point which our Senator over there made was a very good one, because what did eventually happen?

Some people around the country mutinied and they had to go back? The Saxons. OK, Well done. Line up at the door. As well as specific sections of whole-class teacher-directed question and answer, unsubtle attempts were made during small group work to steer children from imaginative errors back to real information. They were clever. Yes, food for the cattle. What about… They have, they have different clothes.

They have different clothes? And you could learn a different language. Did they, what in Roman times?

Narrative Matters: Teaching and Learning History Through Story - Grant Bage - Google книги

Do you think we could bring any of the people back? Could we bring them back to Rome? What a good idea! I was single-minded in pursuing perceived historical truth and prepared to manipulate the conversation to sate my insecurity. In consolation the children were even more ruthless: 41 Narrative Matters Child 1: Sandra: Child 1: Sandra: Because they um had different machinery um to make our clothes.

That was…sorry?

You get slaves and bring them back. Slaves, you can get slaves there? And then you can make money… How do you do that? By selling the slaves. One question at a time… Other people in other countries will need their houses building as well. So we might get some slaves out of it? What other reasons did we have then are you suggesting? Is there? Ah…we do need continuous supplies…which will be jolly useful to us as we always need weapons.

Alright, any other suggestions? Despite the historically fanciful construct of soldiers persuading and senators voting this teacher language was purposeful, skilfully mixing fictional with managerial, historical and pedagogic demands. Since I am arguing that powerful teaching in history is characterized by this last question: any other suggestions? I now model it myself. The children responded within a closely and carefully constructed framework: the lesson was planned and it showed. This did not necessarily inhibit real and independent learning. The controlling organizational and linguistic framework gave children the freedom safely to experiment with developing interpretations of history.

It might be though, think about it… Because the gods told us to. Is there anything in Britain that might be useful to the people in Rome? That you might find there? Well, you might find clay and ray and them that you might not find in other places and rocks and stone… [f] OK, so one of those I think might be very important… Iron. Different weapons. Like in Rome they all have swords and knives but in our country we have um, guns.

Three more similarly offered explanations [g,i] or speculations [f]. Another was an explanation in error through anachronism, subsequently admonished by the group [j]. The last two consisted of one question-cum-accusation [c] and an admission of puzzlement or failure [e]. Teacher talk framed these responses but they were thoughtfully learning about the causes of Roman invasions, how to think about thinking, discuss problems and verbalize solutions: these children were acquiring history as active and independent knowledge.

Suggestion 2: Was this Evidential History? Was this educational story improper history? I was troubled by the lack of primary evidence and some talk within the framework was not accurately historical. Such observations influenced my development of teaching principles for history stories see Chapter 6. But the fictional elements were preceded by a factually descriptive overview of the Roman empire.

Together they created a factional history story into which children were invited as actors and authors. Within this they were then free to develop properly historical analytical and reasoning skills. Using story, children were enabled to make historical knowledge mean something to themselves. The protagonists of the myth are made present. One becomes their contemporary. This also implies that one is no longer living in chronological time but in primordial time, the time when the event first took place. Polanyi and Prosch, , p. The following classroom instance combined these elements.

View this as another link in the chain of evidence connecting what theoreticians say about story with what I have witnessed or initiated in classrooms. My colleague designed the gallery teaching sessions, using 30 replica and original world maps dating from Ptolemy. I led the other 80 minutes in a common room. All children experienced both lessons, which were designed to show that Aztecs had a capital city as advanced as European equivalents and to imagine reasons for practising human sacrifice.

One teacher followed this up with her 8- and 9-year-olds by asking them to write poetry. Poem 1 Tenochtitlan the city of…. It was also a place of war trade and religion A place of aggression war and captive slaves A place of religion gods, and sacrifice and death Carvings of gods looming over houses and temples At the market people talking running screaming in the beautiful centre square.

An awful smell piping from the rotting skulls on the skull rack And the nice smell coming from the flowers in the gardens Tenochtitlan was a beautiful place indeed I am not claiming that these children entered mythic time and gained direct access to Aztec culture, but I am suggesting that experiencing different evidence forms majoring on story helped them write vividly and historically about Tenochtitlan in present Poem 1 and past tenses Poem 2.

Is such writing history? Cooper, , pp. Perhaps…but read them again with the following historical questions in mind: 1 2 46 What was Tenochtitlan like? They also lead to a further question: Might myths and stories contain concentrations of cultural power into which children can tap?

Stories need translators see Chapter 8. Equally stories and myths, like that of the sacrificial Aztec Sun God, exercise cross-cultural power by addressing common human problems. How otherwise can we explain the oral, the literary or any cultural tradition? If really ambitious of ridicule, I might extrapolate that some stories exploit humans as hosts.

I would deploy the metaphor of myths as powerful viruses and argue that absorbing and controlling them should lie at the heart, not the edge of education: Stories think for themselves, once we know them. They not only attract and light up everything relevant in our own experience, they are also in a continual private meditation, as it were, on their own implications. They are little factories of understanding. Since to make such a statement might endanger an educational historian, I leave it to a poet laureate to think the unthinkable: If the story is learnt well, so that all its parts can be seen at a glance, as if we looked through a window into it, then that story has become like the complicated hinterland of a single word.

It has become a word. These appear not only dull, but isolated from meaning by being decontextualized. When words live as stories, anything can happen. Key Elements, DfEE, a. Might stories teach historical thinking skills as well as content, naturally and organically? Interview, March As I read them stories containing in familiar and time-tested packages the trinity of knowledge as content, information and understanding.

If made well, told clearly and listened to with mind as well as ear, stories may linger to be learnt from when ready. Given excellent telling, story-listeners may even receive a lifelong gift to revisit at progressively higher levels of understanding. Teaching history is therefore a humanitarian venture. Story has often proved difficult to handle as it presents a completed narrative, whereas drama is concerned with the building of a narrative.

Fines and Verrier, , p. Drama raises arguments in its own right e. Abbs, , pp. Story may also coin broader educational and cultural currencies, covering the participative and imaginative activities of classroom drama but being recognized more widely than they. Crucially for pedagogues, story explores how generally single authors can make the complex simultaneously simple, accurate and engaging.

Teachers have to do the same: A common assumption is that simplifying entails removing narrative or contextual detail…In fact if an event is complex…nothing can be done to alter that… Teachers are not mistaken in their intentions when they set out to simplify…but are mistaken if they think that conciseness is the same as simplicity.

Shawyer, Booth and Brown, , p. Rather, to be counted as educational the stories we call history should be interrogated in depth. This takes time and, as the next chapter argues, it takes talk: Of course the past must be simplified. Of course children will need some stories to make sense of it. What they do not need is the story of the whole British past: they need a workable framework…room for manoeuvre…Pupils need time to examine passages of the past in detail…Children need time to talk.

Teachers need time to listen. Lee, , p. They can be used across age ranges but are angled here towards supporting younger children. Children speculate about the gaps by talking, drawing missing pictures or writing key words. It is particularly powerful to speculate about endings. Children discuss characters at the centre or edge of the action, placing their pictures appropriately on a drawn circle. If you wish to be more sophisticated and discuss how books came about—introduce pictures for the author, illustrator or publisher. If you want to discuss historical evidence in particular, talk about how sources mentioned in the book came to be there e.

Why Did They Do That? A variant is for children to have a larger set of pictures and pair them off: this picture happened because of that one…and so on. What Changed or Stayed the Same? Pictures can be grouped or cut up under these headings, or words grouped and written for display. Is It Like That Now? Comparable to the above, but asks children directly to compare the past of the story with the present day.

What is the same or different about houses, food or school?

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The Problem With History Classes

An extension is to use different stories about the same themes to compare two different historical times and the present. Captions works similarly but focuses upon naming particular words, pictures, objects or evidence in the text. Either can be compared to the original, giving multiple opportunities for examining books in general and using historical words in particular.

Editing Simply, children are asked to reduce the number of pictures but still tell the same story.

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A more complex version edits words too. Which ones would children choose? How does the story alter? To increase support, alternatives can be offered from which children choose. Real or Made Up? Children are given sets of historical pictures, characters, stories or books about a time they have been studying. They discuss and divide the pile into stories that are fact and fiction—real or made-up. More sophisticatedly, can they explain their choices, or place materials on a graded continuum?

Versions Find a well-known story or event in different books, texts, pictures or videos e. Fire of London, World War Two evacuation. How many different ways can children find of comparing these different versions? Can the children find any different evidence or ideas in them? Spin-Offs After reading a story about school 40 years ago, children collect stories from grandparents and turn them into a book.

Rewrites After telling, children discuss how they could retell the same story in another form e. Even though they generally want to, children do not have to rewrite the whole: simply discussing ideas may serve your purpose. Key Points Having listened to an historical story, ask children to pick out the most important: person, thing, event, place or meaning. More sophisticatedly, can they tell the story again from memory and, using an audience or a tape recorder, discuss what they left out or changed from the original?

Talking Bubbles Pictures of story characters or authors are reproduced with speech bubbles attached. After hearing the story, children devise questions and answers and write or have them scribed in the bubbles. To make this specifically historical, the teacher models historical words or concepts beforehand.

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This play may be harnessed by teachers, so long as their adult values are not allowed to spoil or dominate what is happening. Cooper a, pp.

Pot Luck The names of the characters in a story are written down for children to draw out of a hat. Afterwards they may be asked to explain why they did a particular thing or to say more about that character through words or actions. What Might the Moral Be? Do you agree? Quasi-historian, as one of my enemies put it…It was because dissension was frowned upon when I was a child…Argument, of course, is the whole point of history… Lively, , p.

Classroom talk about history figured in this burst of activity e. Such scholarship inspired my own teaching and underpins curiosity about the following classroom behaviours. Talk as Thinking Out Loud It is difficult to be clear about the personal chronology of important ideas. Do we see them in practice in classrooms and then discover them in books, or see them in practice in classrooms because we have discovered them in books?

Since then, teaching children to communicate has fuelled my pedagogy. The publishing bonanza offered by NC history Cooper, b, p. Yet teachers often do not use history textbooks effectively Ofsted, , p. Smith similarly underscored purposeful, contextual language 54 History, Stories and Talk learning e. It is that learning is continuous, spontaneous and effortless.

It requires no particular attention, conscious motivation, or specific reinforcement and is not subject to forgetting. The learning is social rather than solitary. It can be summarised in seven words: We learn from the company we keep. Storied structures and methods can support both ambitions: teacher-talk demonstrating how to understand and pupil-talk developing it. Anecdote as oral history remains an historical source independently accessible to young learners and, as personal storytelling, an especially suitable enquiry tool Cramer, Talk in particular leads to unexpected achievements.


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  6. This entails serious and active listening by teachers to pupils, and vice versa. A massive weight of experience and theory points to teaching history as a cooperative discipline into which talk and story tempt learners to participate. Children need such textual challenges. They are entitled to diverse, even puzzling historical experiences: to exploring curricula balanced between obvious processes such as phonics or dates, and the endless mysterious questions of history such as how and why? Such talk can simultaneously be external and verbal and internal and thoughtful, rather as Socratic dialogues resemble both conversations and thinking e.

    Hamilton, Abbs, , p. Questions and stories are not necessarily different creatures. I interpret this as history needing a storyline, and one that motivates learners to engage with it through talk. Mixing talk and questions with story and meanings boasts deep educational roots.

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    Both continue to be cited in contemporary educational writing: Socrates typically being associated with critical dialogues, Jesus with contemplative parables e. Such traditions are also represented in classrooms, as the next section shows. Oral History in Schools I became interested in oral history in the early s.

    Yow, A few extracts from empirical classroom work illustrates these themes: Oral History with Children Aged 4—11 4 and 5 year old children are perfectly capable of reminiscing their way into a life story: Grant: So, can you remember now about the first day that you started school? Girl 1: I remember when I first started, well I was really scared of Mrs T…and when I was doing her work I was really scared to come and show her. Hilton described mixing oral history and historical storytelling work with 8-year-olds, for which a special interviewee was needed: An older person…skilled enough to shape their own experiences in the twilight zone between speech and written story…The person needed to be able to tell his or her stories in a small way but with a sense of historical importance…I found a retired primary schoolteacher.

    Hilton, , p. These factors combined to forge a narratory power so extraordinary that I cite it here. This sustained through talk alone and without eye contact the historical interest of an infant class for 80 minutes. Simultaneously it modelled how to question, as well as listen. Then he advised the children: Listen around you…I hear stories or I hear people speak…Last week I heard about an old horseman…I went and interviewed this old man, with a tape recorder like Mr. As a teaching episode it was seamless: the prompting and answering of questions by telling stories. Peter Gerrell was 60 when he died, eight months after this lesson.

    Historically I still find it hard to decide whether its composite nature e. Henige, made his evidence more or less trustworthy as testimony. But pedagogically I trusted it: the sentences were short, the language simple, the imagery and affective appeal captivating. Which aspects were based on direct personal experience? Oral or storied evidence needs such scrutiny but KS1 or KS2 teachers especially need to balance methodological with educational anxieties. The class teacher here did so by asking further questions, diversifying sources and discussing stories and truth. Another interview with an experienced primary headteacher from the early days of NC history illuminated this need for teacher confidence and translation of the discipline.

    In Bage, , pp. Both teachers worked towards 60 History, Stories and Talk narrative outcomes exhibition, drama expressed in story forms. Peter Gerrell combined these spoken traditions: oral history led by enquiry in its questions and stories in its answers. Moving from question to answer, from enquiry to description, from past to present, from personal to general all while gripping infant attention. I felt in awe of him. Lowestoft Journal, October 2 Peter Gerrell, writer, raconteur and rural philosopher, died at the James Paget Hospital yesterday morning, aged 60…He was an exceptional man…who could always see the best in people.

    Although he hankered in many ways for the tranquil ways of days gone by, he had all the time in the world for the youngsters of today. Was Gerrell teaching didactically? As the Gerrell example showed, oral history can entail highly concentrated didactic experiences that nevertheless rely upon questions and appear educationally effective.

    I used to think, like Peck, that oral history decentralized power. Now I am arguing that in some oral history, adults do the length of talking which gained didacticism a bad name in the first place. I am explicating a tradition of pedagogic storytelling and prompting which values and reconciles both: teaching as concerned with the answering and asking of questions and the prompting and telling of stories by definition. It also explains why positive views of questioning and enquiry in school oral history are practically consensual amongst educators e.

    Dodgson, ; Watkins, and inclusivity Morris, have all been claimed as benefits of oral history in secondary education. Interview, This age group has more experience in handling, comparing and evaluating a range of different sources. I liked that. I found out a lot of information, yeah. Even books benefited from stories and oral history, as Richard explained: I thought the books were better because it tells you more…like I done housework equipment for women and it tells you what the women said about the washing machine and everything…that was useful…one of them if their washing machine ever broke down, if they turned it on their side it just started again.

    Oral History Children prepare and then interview respondents. Memory-jogging starting points include: maps, walks, photographs, printed or spoken stories, buildings, scars, toys, food, clothes or key national events. A wide literature exists relating to this oversimplified summary. Performing Stories An historical story is amplified through research, reduced through artistry and then told using words, sounds, mime, expression, 63 Narrative Matters questions and evidence.

    Some teachers do not physically involve audiences. I prefer to, by stopping the historical action at key points and including learners through mime, talk, decision-making, advising or acting. Performance can be adapted to all media: pictures, models, music, poems or puppets can represent stories from the past and be brought alive through talk. Storyboxes From a box or bag children describe artefacts or representations of historical evidence and characters e.

    A Storied Production The story of an object is told through the actions or materials needed to produce, transport, sell, use and preserve it. The author has successfully used the same principle for modern examples, e. Victorian bricks.