Teaching Resource

Investigating local history

Transport your students back in time with an in-depth investigation into your local area and its history, and discover what made your community the place it is today.

We all want the pupils in our care to become responsible, confident, critical and informed members of society. The study of where we come from and the history of our locality makes a vital contribution to this, enabling pupils to acquire knowledge and concepts while also developing important skills and attitudes.

The local area for any pupil across the country, and indeed the world, provides a rich source of information for historical investigation. The exploration of the immediate environment will reveal instances in which the people in the past have shaped elements of the present surroundings through settlement, farming, building, industrialisation and other activities.

The influence of the past is not confined to the physical and material world however. History can also reveal how our sense of identity – on a personal level and as a member of family, national and other communities – has been shaped by the cultural and social experiences of many different people in the past. Perhaps most important of all, history can help our pupils to begin to explore how people’s interpretations of the past can exert a powerful influence on their attitudes, beliefs and actions today.

This project plan will guide you through a local history enquiry, providing a template to follow or a starting point to develop your own investigation.

As your students progress through the activities in this project, they will build a detailed, although by no means complete, picture of their local area. They will use maps, photographs, trade directories and old advertisements. They will learn how their local high street has changed and developed over the years. They will discover how people – perhaps their own ancestors – lived, learned and worked.

Photos from oldukphotos.com, 1st-art-gallery.com and pbase.com

For the purpose of this project, we have used a local legend from the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, the legend of Pennard Castle, as a ‘way in’ to developing a local history project. Local myths and legends provide a link to the history around us. They engage students with their local environment and fire up their imaginations. Of course, the legend of Pennard Castle will not be relevant to everyone – the activities associated with this text have therefore been designed to allow easy adaptation to any myth, legend or folktale from your own local area.

This cross curriculum project includes:

The Legend of Pennard Castle’ text (Open Access)
A welsh legend complete with warriors, a princess and a faerie curse, designed as a ‘way in’ to exploring local history. Available as a word document (formatted to make mass printing easier and more cost effective).

Image Bank (Open Access)
A compilation of images to accompany ‘The Legend of Pennard Castle’.

Activity 1: Making predictions about the text (Open Access)
Complete one of the three mini-activities included in this resource pack prior to reading the text, ‘The Legend of Pennard Castle’, to encourage your students to ask questions and make sensible predictions about the story to follow. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 1a – Fiction prediction chart
  • Activity sheet 1b – Before reading prediction prompts
  • Activity sheet 1c – Board headings

Activity 2: Reading the text
Students take on a reading role and read the text, ‘The Legend of Pennard Castle’, from that perspective, contributing to a group record sheet. This activity encourages active thinking and reading and encourages students to work collaboratively, but independently. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 2a – Reading roles collection sheet
  • Activity sheet 2b – Group roles cards (to cut out and assign to each student)
  • Activity sheet 2c – WOW worksheet (Working Out Words)

Activity 3: Summarising information
Students complete one of the two mini-activities provided in this pack to summarise a story in a set number of words. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 3a – Wordsplash
  • Activity sheet 3b – In a nutshell…

Activity 4: Where and when am I?
Launch an investigation into your local area with this activity encouraging pupils to think about their locality in terms of time and change. They then identify the reasons for change. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 4a – Questions to consider (Student introduction)
  • Activity sheet 4b – Important places brainstorm template

Activity 5: What shall we investigate?
Students decide here upon possible areas of investigation and devise key questions to explore. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 5a – Types of change since 1800 brainstorm template
  • Activity sheet 5b – Our investigation brainstorm template

Activity 6: Where do we start?
This activity and accompanying resources are designed to help students to identify the evidential sources available for local history investigations. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 6a – Student guide sheet
  • Activity sheet 6b – QuADS Grid

Activity 7: Class timeline
Students work collaboratively as a class to create detailed, accurate timeline of change in the locality. Much of the information found during the other activities in this project can be added to the timeline. Includes activity instructions.

Activity 8: Using census returns
This activity will help students understand how to use census returns as a source of information for investigating change over time. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 8 – Census data collection sheet

Activity 9: Using maps
Students use maps to look at changes to the locality over time and changes to the landscape due to human intervention. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity Sheet 9 – Double entry journal

Activity 10: The high street
In this activity, students use photographs, census data and other sources to investigate change. Includes instructions and:

  • Activity sheet 10a – What can photographs tell us?
  • Activity sheet 10b – What can photographs tell us worksheet
  • Activity sheet 10c – What can census returns tell us?
  • Activity sheet 10d – What can maps tell us?
  • Activity sheet 10e – What can directories tell us?
  • Activity sheet 10f – What can advertisements tell us?

Further reading

Our place in history
A selection of websites and online sources to get you and your students started on a journey into your hometown’s history.

Rewriting history
Neil Tonge explains how the cross-curricular local history project he coordinated gave students pride in Newcastle.

Cross-curricular history
A group of Bristol school children have explored their local history and seemlessly integrated it into their lessons