The history of x in ten objects activity

This idea was inspired by the trend in books that tell a history or a story of a particular event or development. For example, the books The History of the First World War in 100 objects and The History of Football in 100 Quotations are excellent reads and present a story in an engaging and enquiring manner as well as create the debate about why the objects were chosen and encourages you to consider what other objects were worthy of consideration for inclusion in these histories.

With this in mind, I thought that this structure in presenting research and historical knowledge would easily transfer to an activity in the classroom and could apply in any subject for any topic with slight adjustments, although History would readily lend itself to this type of activity. Where, perhaps, this kind of activity would work is a task which would require students to summarise their learning of a topic taut over a period of lessons or for revision in summarising a topic in a different way than the traditional note making activities.


I first used this task with a Year 9 class who were coming to the end of the topic on the First World War. Their task was to create a booklet called The History of the First World War in Ten Objects. They had the freedom to choose their objects, but they had to justify them and outline not only what each object symbolised in the First World War but also their significance and why they were selected. The ten selected objects  would be listed in order of significance with the least significant first all the way down to the most significant object at the end (like the books which inspired this activity). The link to the instruction sheet below gives a more detailed insight about how the activity can be managed, but the activity took place over a period of a couple of lessons plus home learning time devoted to it.

Which ten objects tell the story of the First World War worksheet

The outcomes of this activity were excellent as students had to present their booklets to each other and justify their objects’ inclusion. The key questions which followed this evaluative discussion were –

  • Would you include any alternative objectives in your booklet?
  • Would you edit any objects from your original list of ten objects?
  • Would you change the order of your objects in terms of significance?
  • What improvement could you make to your booklet?

In the discussion and through their research and booklets, students were able to summarise a topics’ worth of learning, independently research material, display skills in prioritising, evaluation and explanation as well as engage with others and present ideas and opinions.

Of course, as with many teaching ideas, this can be adjusted to fit any subject and differentiated to suit students in a number of ways, such as –

  • Instead of objects pick quotations, people, ingredients, elements, words, images, maps, theories or newspaper headlines.
  • Differentiate through the number of objects to be researched and selected.
  • Vary how students can demonstrate their learning, alternatives from a booklet could be a shoebox containing the objects or representations which are made by the students, an infographic or a Prezi presentation.

An engaging leaning activity which helps students access a range of higher order thinking skills which can be used in any classroom in any context.

Six degree of separation chains

This idea was inspired by two sources –

  • From the Six Degrees of Separation idea which I found from Zoe Elder’s Full On Learning, which I included in my own book, 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Revision.
  • The excellent idea from @lamb_heart_tea who is setting a CPD challenge each week called, Mission Possible, by including an object as part of one’s pedagogy. This week’s challenge was –

Six degrees of separation, the principle that everyone and anything is no more than six steps (or fewer) away from each other can be used as a framework to link and sequence items of knowledge for reviewing purposes. I used an adaption of this idea in that by using pipe cleaners and card students could make a Six degrees of Separation chain connecting events and knowledge on particular aspects of a topic.

In this context, I grouped the students into pairs or threes and set each group a different area of a topic to study giving them an event they had to start their chain with and an event on which to end their chain. In their groups, students then had to create a chain of connected events in six steps, including the start and end they had been given. Once they had decided their chain, they had to record this on their record sheet explaining at each stage the connections they made. This record sheet could be used as evidence of their work in their files. Then using card and pipe cleaners, they would make their six degree of separation chains. On each card students needed to include the event and a happy or unhappy face on whether they event had a good or bad impact on the country they were studying. To add greater challenge, students had to use a red pipe cleaner to highlight on their chain which they thought was the turning point or most significant event.

Once the chains were completed, they were then hung on a coat hanger and then presented to the rest of the class. The presentation must include the following points –

  • An outline of the chain, giving a step by step explanation of the events.
  • Based on their happy or unhappy faces, the overall impact the events had on the country studied.
  • Which event was the turning point and why?

This activity made for a great reviewing and revision session which students found engaging and demanding as it required many of the higher order thinking skills, such as decision making, sequencing and connecting knowledge, required for exam success. What follows below are the resources, I used for the activity – a record sheet and an adaptable PowerPoint presentation – the lesson was an A Level session on the foreign policy of Elizabeth I.

Six degrees of separation – Elizabeth I and foreign policy

The six degrees of separation – Elizabeth I and foreign policy