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The Victorians


Victorian innovations and discoveries helped make our world what it is today – but at what cost? Explore the lives of the rich, poor and more with this series of themed classroom activities for use with Key Stages 2 and 3.

The Victorian era was a time of massive change. During this time, the British Empire expanded into many parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Canada. Queen Victoria ruled over so many countries it was called ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’.

The expansion of the empire increased trade between Britain and distant regions, helping to boost the economy. Explorers became the heroes of the day as they undertook dangerous travels in the name of humanity and science and helped to inform the world of uncharted territories.

The reign of Queen Victoria was also a time of great inventions and changes in medicine, science and engineering. The development of machinery and railways revolutionised society and the economy, and sparked the Industrial Revolution, which soon spread around the globe. These changes affected the life of everyone in Britain.

At the beginning of the Victorian age, the majority of the population lived in villages and worked on the land. By the end, most people could be found in towns and cities, working in offices, shops and factories.

Life for the poor remained largely unpleasant, yet by the end of Victoria’s reign, child labour had been outlawed, with reform bills passed to make sure all children received an education.

The progress in science also led to significant developments in medicine and medical care. Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole revolutionised the care of the sick. There were breakthroughs in antiseptics and anaesthetics, popularised by Queen Victoria when she used chloroform during the birth of two of her children. Micro-organisms were found to be the cause of diseases that were carrying off even the most prominent members of society. A result of this was new sewage systems. The workhouses also had a place in helping to care for the most vulnerable members of society.

The catalogue of inventions during this time period is vast – the camera, electricity, the light bulb, the car, the steam engine, the list goes on. No other period in history saw so many inventions. Many famous doctors, explorers, novelists and artists are still remembered today for what they did during Victorian times. The Victorian age therefore offers a huge range of opportunities for pupils to undertake their own research into the changes, innovations, inventions and exploration that helped shape the world they live in today.

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Images: (top right) victorianschool.co.uk; (left) historyconflicts.com; (middle) webs.bcp.org; (right) 1216.virtualclassroom.org.uk

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Activity 1: Reading in roles

(Project: The Victorians) Encouraging active thinking and reading through close examination of the text ‘John Rae, Britain’s forgotten explorer’, using the reciprocal reading roles: summariser, predictor, clarifier, questioner. Text included.
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Activity 2: Reading comprehension exercise

(Project: The Victorians) Students answer the questions provided about the text ‘John Rae, Britain’s forgotten explorer’, in order to develop inferential reading, questioning and predictive skills. Text included.
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Activity 3: Victorian explorers

(Project: The Victorians) Students research a Victorian explorer and write a diary entry for a significant event in their voyages.
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Activity 4: The British Empire

(Project: The Victorians) Students write a historical account of the growth of the British Empire to the height of its distribution across the globe.
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Activity 5a: Victorian timeline

(Project: The Victorians) Students create a class timeline of events during Queen Victoria’s reign in order to understand significant turning points in British history.
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Activity 5b: Long, long ago...

(Project: The Victorians) Pupils calculate how many years ago a number of important Victorian events occurred.
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Activity 6: A new invention

(Project: The Victorians) Students become Victorian journalists, researching and writing a newspaper report about the discovery of a new invention.
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Activity 7: Famous Victorians - Who said that?

(Project: The Victorians) A game in which students write and attribute made-up quotes to a range of famous Victorians.
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Activity 8: Let us begin

(Project: The Victorians) Students compare the beginnings of a selection of Victorian novels, and consider what makes a good story opening.
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Activity 9: Queen Victoria's family tree

(Project: The Victorians) Pupils draw a family tree for Queen Victoria in order to understand the connections between the queen’s children and the other royal houses of Europe.
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Activity 10: Royal children

(Project: The Victorians) Pupils answer a range of maths questions related to Queen Victoria’s nine children.
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Activity 11: The Industrial Revolution

(Project: The Victorians) Students use a variety of sources to research and write up the impact of the Industrial Revolution on towns and their inhabitants, with particular emphasis on the poor.
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Activity 12: 'Darkest London'

(Project: The Victorians) Students have travelled back in time and landed in London slums, circa 1850. They compose a piece of creative writing about their first impressions.
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Activity 13a: The workhouse and child labour

(Project: The Victorians) Pupils make a comparison between their lives today and the lives of children in Victorian times, with particular emphasis on children in poverty.
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Activity 13b: Rights of the child P4C enquiry

(Project: The Victorians) Students discuss the plight of children in Victorian times and compare the way in which they lived to the rights and protection children have today.
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Activity 14: Victorian money and maths

(Project: The Victorians) Students first examine Victorian coins and their values before moving on to solve a range of maths problems using Victorian money denominations and the imperial measurement system.
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Activity 15: The cost of living

(Project: The Victorians) Students calculate combined incomes and expenditure for different-sized Victorian households.
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Activity 16: Making William Morris wrapping paper

(Project: The Victorians) Students create wrapping paper inspired by William Morris’ intricate, nature-based designs. They either create their patterns on a computer or by printing with polystyrene tiles.
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Activity 17: Famous Victorians in medicine

(Project: The Victorians) Students research a number of Victorians who made significant contributions to medical science. They write a brief biography and examine the impact each person’s work had on society.
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Activity 18: Germ theory

(Project: The Victorians) A series of five science-based activities to help students understand the discovery of germs and their role in causing disease, and the many other more useful ways micro-organisms impact our life.
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Activity 19a: Cholera in Victorian London

(Project: The Victorians) A ‘fill the gaps’ research activity directing students through the four main cholera outbreaks in Victorian England.
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Activity 19b: Avoiding cholera

(Project: The Victorians) Students explore the sources and symptoms of cholera, and design a leaflet advising modern-day travellers on how to avoid catching the disease.
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Activity 20: Deadly diseases

(Project: The Victorians) Pupils devise a board game in which players survive their childhood by avoiding the diseases that claimed so many lives in Victorian times.
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