Category Archives: Social Studies

Using Film in History.

Building enthusiasm within your classroom is important if you are to ensure engagement from pupils in their learning. The curriculum for excellence: building the curriculum 4 documents that using enthusiasm and motivation for learning enable young people to become successful learners (Scottish Government, 2009a). A good way to hook pupils at the start of a topic is to make use of media such as television and film. More often than not, the first cultural experience children will have will be through TV and video (BFI Education, 2013). For many young people, they look forward to going home after a day at school to engage in some sort of entertainment media such as gaming or a movie (The Tech-Wise Family, 2017). Therefore, incorporating film into lessons helps to bridge the gap between home and school.  Additionally, it is exciting for pupils to do something they will perceive as fun,  I can guarantee you will receive a high level of engagement as soon as you even mention a video! That is why it is important we, as teachers, make use of such media to engage young people in history and to provide information at a level they understand.

For our social studies TDT, we were to choose a film that could be used for teaching a historical subject and devise some suitable learning outcomes and activities for an upper stage class. I decided to choose the diary of Anne Frank, which aired on the BBC in 2009 as a series of 5 episodes whereby the well-known diaries were adapted for television (The Diary of Anne Frank, 2009). I chose this because I remember watching it when I was in primary 7 myself, it wasn’t to do with anything I was learning in primary school, it was merely out of interest and I remember really enjoying watching the programme.

I thought it would be great to use in an upper stages class as an introduction to a topic on world war two that would focus on the holocaust. This could be linked with the experience and outcome “I can discuss why people and events from a particular time in the past were important, placing them within a historical sequence” (Scottish Government, 2009b). These diaries that had come to life in the form of a accessible TV programme would be great for engaging children in the topic and aiding their knowledge and understanding. It can often be hard for young children to comprehend such events that seem so distant and show no relevance to their lives, however these sort programmes allow children to use a medium such as TV which they understand and are familiar with to relate to the story of Anne Frank and develop their understanding as to why the holocaust is a tragedy for humanity (Lello, 1980). The use of voice-over allows the thoughts and feelings of Anne to be empathised with whilst we watch scenes unfold showing what it was like to be in hiding. The use of media would enable emotional effects, allowing the pupils to feel a part of the learning.

In terms of activities, I thought it would be a good idea for the pupils to write a letter to Anne Frank as one of the other characters in the programme. This will enable a more real learning experience and they will be able to draw on their knowledge and understanding to ask questions. Farmer (2015) suggests drama can provide young people with a purpose to their writing, this sort of meaningful context can enable improvement in writing skills as well as understanding of historical events. We would be able to discuss their letters and come up with possible responses, using the diary extracts to get into the role of Anne Frank to enable us to really understand her thoughts and feelings during that time. There are many famous quotes from her diary which can be used in a classroom to promote higher order thinking skills, allowing them to critically analyse her words – do they agree or disagree? Are what she discusses relevant to our society? The curriculum for excellence cites the importance of teachers promoting the development of higher order thinking skills (Scottish Government, 2009). There are so many ways you can take this topic but one way could be to get young people really thinking about what they would ideally like in their society, what is a perfect world? And what are our hopes and aspirations? Anne’s dreams for her life are often mentioned throughout the diaries and it can help put a positive spin on a sad ending, looking at what our dreams are as a class. Another great way to aid pupils understanding would be to play the programme as the pupils have their eyes closed, this enables them to focus on her words as she describes the situation so they can imagine it themselves and feel as if they are there. Following on from this, the class can then go on to look at the holocaust as a whole and being able to see where Anne Frank’s story fits in with the timeline of events. In terms of learning outcomes, learners will have developed knowledge of the story of Anne Frank and developed an initial understanding into the Holocaust, as well as begun developing skills such as chronology, capacity for critical thinking, enquiry – asking questions, empathy and historical imagination (Hoodless 2008; Scottish Government, 2009c).

Whilst the programmes are very thought provoking, they can be emotional to watch and could potentially upset some young people, however it is important time in our history which aids pupils’ understanding of the world we live in, for example, why we have the Holocaust Memorial Day. Additionally, it demonstrates the power of writing and how it can be used to enable us to understand someone else’s perspective. This is just one example of how film can be used to make history come alive and provide a meaningful learning experience for young people.

“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”

Anne Frank

Reference List

BFI Education. (2013). Look Again! A teaching guide to using film and television with three- to eleven-year-olds. London: Department for Education and Skills.

Farmer, D. (2015). Drama For Writing. [online] Drama Resource. Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2018].

Hoodless, P. (2008). Teaching History in Primary Schools. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Lello, J. (1980). The Concept of Time, the Teaching of History, and School Organization. The History Teacher, 13(3), p.341. Doi: 10.2307/491674.

The Diary of Anne Frank (2009). BBC One Television, 5 January.

Scottish Government (2009a). Curriculum for Excellence, Building the Curriculum 4: skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government. (2009b). Social Studies: Experiences and Outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government. (2009c). Social Studies: Principles and Practice. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

The Tech-Wise Family (2017). How Teens Spend Their After-School Hours. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24th Oct. 2018].


Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom.

Yesterday in my Social Studies Elective we were discussing teaching controversial issues within the classroom and it became clear that it was quite common for such issues to be shied away from, one of the reasons being the potential backlash from parents. It got me thinking about my experiencing with controversial issues during my time in primary and secondary school. One experience which stuck out was a modern studies class I had in first or second year of high school, we went in one day and without any prior discussion my teacher put on a clip from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was horrified, I couldn’t believe it, despite being 3 years old at the time of the incident and seeing it on the news, I had no recollection and had managed to not come across it till then. Despite being shocked I was so intrigued by it, I remember going home and telling everyone, I was so fascinating by what I had seen that I spent that night on the computer researching, watching documentary after documentary on it. This soon became my favourite class, I wasn’t the biggest modern studies person, I didn’t even take it at standard grade level and yet I looked forward to these classes due to the fact we would explore controversial issues in every lesson, my teacher wasn’t afraid to explore them and I for one, enjoyed discussing them and learning more about them, I was so engaged as a result. This experience has shaped the teacher I have become as I believe quite strongly in teaching controversial issues within the classroom, more often than not pupils will be engaged and you as the teacher can provide a safe place for them to discover and discuss such issues. This being said there is always going to be a certain degree of risk involved but isn’t risk-taking important in teaching?

So, why teach controversial issues?

It could be argued that the reason for social studies is to teach young people the kind of substantive knowledge that promotes a deeper understanding of their world. So you could say that the best way to do this is to provide consistent opportunities for students to tackle controversial issues. Still don’t believe me? Well you don’t have to, esteemed social studies educators such as Edwin Fenton, Lawrence Metcalf, Hilda Taba, Anna Ochoa, Shirley Engle and more all advocate teaching through inquiry which promotes enduring questions, positive confusion, reflective thought and an understanding of differences in values, priorities and definitions of mortality. Teaching controversial issues does this, nothing in my whole 6 years at high school got me thinking more than that lesson on 9/11, yes I was confused, it is hard to comprehend how another human being could do something like that but that got me thinking – what would make someone do that? This lesson promoted reflective thought, I had experienced something (watching the clip), I had thought (a lot) about what had happened and I learnt from that experience (that everyone sees the world differently and things can happen that drive people to do bad things). Reflective thought is part of the critical thinking process, are these not the sort of higher order thinking skills we want our young people to be developing? As controversial issues prompt young people to think about why people do things that we perceive to be horrific (like I did), this provides a perfect opportunity to nurture a growth in tolerance for other points of view. This sort of cultural awareness and appreciation of diversity is essential if young people are to become responsible citizens. If there was more of a tolerance for others within our society then there might be less conflict. Doesn’t that sound great?

But won’t the children will be scared?

Most of the time, no. As a teacher, you should know your children well enough and research the topic you intend to discuss well to ensure this doesn’t happen. Controversial issues can be seen everywhere in the media and with the rise of the internet, it is likely a lot of children will encounter these issues outside of the classroom off their own accord. Therefore, it is even more important they have a place where they can discuss what they have seen and share their thoughts, learning the facts rather than being alerted by fake news. You could argue they aren’t controversial issues they are relevant issues, issues that affect our society and learning about these are relevant to young people’s understanding of the world.

But what if the parents don’t like it?

Most parents understand that controversial topics will come up at school, just like they will come up at home, you can’t avoid them. If you are going to be exploring such an issue, send home a note or email letting parents know, a lot of the time they just want a chance to share their views with their children and letting them know in advance means you already know if there will be upset and you can deal with this. Controversial issues are extremely valuable learning experiences and as such it requires some thought and advance preparation but the impact it will have on your students will be worth it. 8 years on and I still remember that lesson like it was yesterday, the experience has stayed with me and enabled me to make sense of the world we live in. It introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed and shouldn’t a child’s education expand their horizons?

Controversial issues can be uncomfortable and it can be easier to avoid the conflict and risk involved with teaching them but it is necessary. As teachers we have the power to provide a safe and nurturing environment in which to explore controversial issues and we need to use it.