Active Learning – Favourite History Board Games

I took over my current history department from Ian Luff who has written and spoken regularly about the power of role plays and simulations in the history classroom. I was a convert from the first time I heard him speak. I’m sure I’m not alone either in having being inspired by the work of the likes of Ian Dawson and Dan Moorhouse.  Suffice to say that I now have a very fat file of activities of varying complexity which always go down well with classes from Y7 to Y13. There are also some engaging on-line history games at sites like SchoolHistory and even the game console is starting to make its way into the classroom. I like all of these. Well, ok, I haven’t moved the X-Box into school yet but you know what I really do like is a good old fashioned board game every now and then.

I love finding the opportunity to play a game as part of a lesson and the kids get a lot out of it as well. Used as either a ‘hook’ at the start of a unit (see below – Life in the Trenches) or as the culmination of a detailed investigation to consolidate understanding (Germanopoly) games can be a really powerful teaching method. Getting the children to design their own games is also a real winner. Sadly it is often the case that our time constraints….”I still have three units to finish with 10B before the exam so I can’t waste time”….mean we push things like games aside and plough on with the content. We should resist this pressure. Games do have a place in even GCSE and GCE schemes of work and invariably engage the students so effectively that some really deep learning takes place and, dare I say it, this is probably more effective than ploughing on with the content! So go on Sir/Miss let’s play a game…….
Y12/13
  • Germanopoly – Based on Monopoly unsuprisingly. Deals with the economic and social conditions in Germany between 1933-1945. Highlights the relative impact on different social groups and is very cleverly structured. Taken from: John Murray Advanced History Core Texts ‘Weimar & Nazi Germany’ John Hite and Chris Hinton ISBN 0-7195-7343-2.
Y10/11

  • The Trek West – A little gem that is based on the experiences of the Mormon journey to Salt Lake. Requires pupils to plan for journey in a wagon for many weeks. A limited budget and space/weight limitations force them to think carefully about what to take! Another lesson is taken with a series of scenarios being described and which effect the various families according to their level of preparation. Some survive but others are not so lucky! Very good for reinforcing how difficult life on the trail west was. Taken from an education pack that I was sent by the Mormon Church.
  • Cattle Trails Board Game – Finding out what was involved in one of the early Long Drives of the cattle industry.Taken from: Hodder & Stoughton SHP Investigations ‘The American West 1840-95’ Robin Wichard ISBN 0-340-70487-X
  • The Black Death Game – A rather old game now but one that I’ve used repeatedly in the SHP Medicine units. Set in a village of Hadham in 1349 not far from Leicester. Everyone is aware that a terrible plague has come to Leicester and there have been reports of deaths in nearby villages. The pupils act as villagers while either the teacher or other selected pupils take the roles of four key characters who all have some ideas of what causes the illness and how best the village can prepare. This ‘hot seat’ style activity presents some of the contemporary beliefs about the cause of the plague and also what was done to deal with it. Chris Jordan and Tim Wood (1982) History Action Pack – Hodder.
  • The Medieval Medicine Game – Another great little game! Twenty four pupil patients are handed a ‘mystery illness and then visit a variety of doctors offering numerous cures used at the time. Chris Jordan and Tim Wood (1982) History Action Pack – Hodder.
Y9
  • Life in the Trenches- Pupils take the role of a soldier in 1914 and record on small diary cards what happens to them as their time in the trenches develops turn by turn. They use the diary entries to put together a ‘Regimental Diary’ and then complete a piece of descriptive writing based on this and other research. Taken from: John Murray Discovering the Past SEN Support Materials  The Twentieth Century World Teachers’ Resource Book Colin Shephard and Ann Moore ISBN 0-7195-7047-6
  • The Home Front during WWII – Pupils take on the roles of four children in September 1941. They are planning a surprise party for their Dad and they want to give him all his favourite food. They also have a cousin who is getting married soon and they want smart new outfits for the wedding. Everyone is determined to make sacrifices. Players start with a few clothing and food coupons and have to collect more as they move round the board. Of course each scenario, giving useful details of life on the home front, could result in them gaining or loosing coupons. The winner is the player with the most clothing and food coupons. Taken from: John Murray Discovering the Past SEN Support Materials  The Twentieth Century World Teachers’ Resource Book Colin Shephard and Ann Moore ISBN 0-7195-7047-6
Y7
  • Town Life in the Middle Ages – Simple snakes and ladders style.
  • Welcome to Ostia- This one I designed myself. After a brief intro to the significance of Ostia to the city of Rome the teacher takes on the role of a wealthy merchant looking for a variety of goods for customers in Rome. The pupils are captains of ships who, each armed with a different shopping list from the merchant, have to visit different parts of the empire (classroom) to see what they can find. Having discovered what items come from which countries they return to port where they exchange information for future trips and put together a full list.

If you need links:
I’ve been meaning to get this posted for ages now and I still have a few bits to add but it needs to go up anyhow. Check back as there will be some pictures etc. in due course on BoxNet.

About richmiller66

My name is Richard Miller. I am currently Director of Learning and Head of History at a secondary school in Suffolk, UK. I teach history, politics and geography to pupils aged 11-18. I am particularly interested in teaching more able pupils and looking for innovative and creative approaches to learning and teaching. Having recently started studying for the NPQSL I'm using the blog as my reflective journal - the views I share are 'work in progress'!
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