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Module 2: Investigating History

Section 1: Investigating family histories

Key Focus Question: How can you structure small-group activities in your classroom to develop collaborative working and build self-confidence?

Keywords: family; history; confidence; investigation; small-group work; discussion

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:

  • structured your activities to help pupils understand themselves and their relationships with other family members;
  • used small-group discussions to build pupils’ self-confidence as they investigate their family histories.


Good teaching often starts by encouraging pupils to explore situations that they are already familiar with. In terms of history, this means using their own lives, and the lives of their immediate families, as a source of investigation. The skills used to explore this familiar history can then be used in the study of broader historical questions.

All of us have a history, which starts from the moment we are born. This will include all our experiences and all the people we interact with.

In this section, you start by exploring your pupils’ immediate family situations and their roles and responsibilities within the family. You will also look at the wider context of the extended family. As you work in this area, you will have to be sensitive to different backgrounds and family or other structures that your pupils live in.

1. Working in groups to discuss families

When investigating the family, it is useful to first explore pupils’ understanding of what a family is and show them the diversity among families. Celebrating such diversity helps pupils feel better about themselves when they realise how different families can be. Case Study 1 and Activity 1 explore different ways to do this.

In the case study, the teacher encourages his pupils to work in small groups (see Key Resource: Using group work in your classroom) and to remember the rules that they have agreed for small-group discussions.

Case Study 1: Using group work to explore my own family

Mr Nguzo is a social studies teacher at Muhimu Primary School in Tanzania. He wants his pupils in Standard 3 to learn about families and the roles of different family members.

He organises groups of not more than six; he puts pupils together who do not usually work with each other.

In the groups, pupils take it in turns to answer the following questions, which he has written on the board.

  1. What is your name?
  2. Who are your father and mother? What are their names?
  3. Who are your grandfathers and grandmothers? What are their names?
  4. How many sisters and brothers do you have? What are their names? Are they older or younger than you?

How many cousins do you have? What are their names? During the discussion, Mr Nguzo goes to each group to check that all the pupils are being given a chance to contribute. After 10 to 15 minutes, he asks the groups to share with the whole class what they have found out about different families: What were the similarities between the families? What were the differences? (For younger or less confident pupils, he would have to ask more structured questions, e.g. ‘Who had the most brothers?’)Then he asks the groups to consider this question:

  1. What makes someone your sister, your brother, your aunt, etc.?

After 10 minutes, one member of each group presents their answers to question 6 to the class. Mr Nguzo prepares a large, basic kinship chart to help focus the discussion (see Resource 1: Kinship chart). Mr Nguzo and the pupils note that although there are words in their language that express cousin, uncle and aunt, these relations are normally referred to as brother or sister; grandfather, father are usually simply father; grandmother, mother are similarly simply mother. There is a distinction between the uncles and aunts from the mother’s side and those from the father’s side. Mr Nguzo realises that teaching pupils about the relationships within families can be confusing for younger pupils.

Activity 1: Who am I?

  • Before the lesson, prepare a kinship chart as a handout (see Resource 1).
  • Ask the pupils to work in groups of three or four. One pupil volunteers to list all the people they know in their family and fill in the details on a kinship chart. (You may wish to select which pupil is chosen.)
  • Pupils might want to draw pictures of their relatives on the chart.
  • Share these charts with the class.
  • Discuss the variation in families and emphasise how good this variety is.
  • At the end of the lesson, display the kinship charts on the wall of the classroom.

2. Modelling making a timeline

When studying past events, it is important to help pupils understand the passage of time and how things change from generation to generation.

Developing the ways that young pupils look at their family histories will help them link events together as well as put them in sequence. Resource 2: Another kinship chart provides a family tree that will help pupils see relationships between family members, e.g. their cousin is their mother’s or father’s sister’s or brother’s child.

Case Study 2: Family histories

Elizabeth Twumwaa plans to teach about family relations over time with her Class 5 pupils.

She cuts a series of pictures from magazines of people of different ages, doing different things, e.g. at a wedding, a school prize day, and writes numbers on the back of each picture. She tells her pupils that the photographs represent different events in one person’s life and asks her pupils, in groups of six, to sequence the photos in terms of the age of the person. She gives them 15 minutes to discuss the order and then asks each group to feed back. She asks why they chose the order they did and lists the clues they found in the pictures to help them order the events. They discuss the key events shown in the pictures and Elizabeth tells the pupils they have made a ‘timeline’ of life.

Activity 2: Pupils creating their own timeline

Resource 3: Timeline template can be a starting point for your class to do their own timeline.

  • First, discuss the importance of knowing one’s own origins and members of one’s family.
  • Explain what a timeline is.
  • Model (demonstrate) the making of a timeline yourself (you don’t have to use your own life – you could do a realistic one based anonymously on someone you know). Modelling is an excellent way of supporting pupils to learn a new skill/behaviour. Draw this timeline on the board and talk through what you are doing, or have one prepared on a large roll of paper. Remember to use a suitable scale – a year should be represented by a particular length. (When your pupils come to do their timelines, they could use 5 cm or the length of a hand if they don’t have rulers.)
  • Ask pupils to write down key things they remember about their lives and also give them time to ask their parents/carers about when they first walked etc.
  • Ask them to record any other information they want to include on their timeline.
  • Support them as they make their timelines. You could encourage them to write in the main events that have happened to them personally, and in a different colour (or in brackets under the line) the main events that happened to their wider family (e.g. older sister went to college, father bought a field etc.).
  • Display their timelines in the classroom.
  • Pupils who finish quickly could be asked to imagine and draw a timeline of their future. What will be the main events when they are 20, 25, 40 etc.?

3. Helping pupils explore their past

Helping pupils to develop their understanding of past and present takes time, and involves giving them a range of activities where they have to observe, ask questions and make judgements about what they find out.

How can they develop skills to help them think about how things change over time? Case Study 3 and the Key Activity use the wider environment to extend your pupils’ understanding of time passing and things changing.

Case Study 3: Visiting an older citizen

Mr Kata, Mrs Kofie and Miss Banda planned their social studies together. They did not all do the same topic at the same time, but it helped them to share ideas.

They all read Key Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource. They planned to take their classes to visit an older member of the community to talk to them about how the village has changed since they were a child.

They decided to organise the classes into groups and each group would prepare questions to ask the elder. Each group would have a different area to think about such as games they played, food they ate, houses they lived in etc.

Key Activity: Using different sources to investigate family life in the past

Do a brainstorm with your class. Ask them to consider how they could investigate the ways in which life for their families has changed in the village/community over time. What sources could they use to find out about this?

They are likely to come up with ideas such as: using their own observations and memories to think about what has changed in their own lifetime; asking their parents; talking to other older people; talking to people in authority (such as the chief); looking at older maps; using a museum (if there is one); reading from books about the area etc.

Ask the pupils to gather stories from their own families about how life has changed for them over the last few generations. What was everyday life like for their grandparents and great grandparents? What are the family stories from previous times? Does the family have any old newspapers, photos, letters, etc. that help show what life used to be like?

Pupils could share their stories with each other in class and use them as a basis for presentations – these could include pictures of what they think life was like, role plays about life in the past, written factual accounts based on family stories and other documents, and imaginary stories e.g. ‘describe a day in the life of your grandmother when she was young’.

Resource 1: Kinship chart

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

A kinship chart shows how each person is related or connected to the others and their family or community. Different cultures have different ways of describing relatives.

An example from Ghana is shown below:


My Parents

My Grandparents

Ohene Boateng

Father – Twum Boateng Grandfather – John Kwame Boateng
Grandmother – Nana Kyene

My Brothers/ Sisters

Akwasi Boateng, Darkwa Boateng,

Kwadwo Boateng

Mother – Akosua ObiriGrandfather – Samuel Obiri
Grandmother – Afua Anamuah-Mensah

Resource 2: Another kinship chart

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

Resource 3: My timeline

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

Section 2: Investigating how we used to live

Key Focus Question: How can you develop your pupils’ thinking skills in history, using oral and written sources?

Keywords: evidence; history; thinking skills; interviews; questions; investigations

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:

  • used oral history and documents to develop pupils’ thinking skills in history;
  • planned and carried out activities that help pupils gather and use oral evidence to find out about past events.


When we study history as part of social studies, we place a great deal of importance on the sources of evidence that can tell us something about the past.

There are two important ways of gathering evidence about the past – finding and analysing documents that record what happened and using oral history. Oral history is the gathering of people’s stories about particular events. We can also look at objects, pictures and buildings from the past to find out more.

In this section, you will encourage your pupils to investigate documents and conduct oral interviews in order to help build their understanding of their own past. It is important to encourage pupils to ask questions and listen to each other’s ideas, so they develop skills in assessing evidence and drawing conclusions.

1. Gathering oral histories

Teaching history does not only involve facts about historical events, but also the development of pupils’ historical skills. As a teacher, you need give your pupils the opportunity to develop and practise these skills. The kinds of events you explore with your pupils will depend on their ages. With younger children, you will also take more of a lead in helping them find out and understand what happened.

In this part, pupils will conduct oral interviews with an older family member or another member of the community. The aim of the interview is to find out how different their own lifestyles and interests are, compared with those of people in the past. By showing pupils how to conduct an oral interview, you can help develop important skills – being able to see the value of oral history and being able to listen. (Read Resource 1: Oral history now to find out more about this valuable resource.)

Case Study 1 shows how one teacher introduced her pupils to the idea of using oral history to find out about the past. Read this before trying Activity 1 with your class.

Case Study 1: Family oral histories

Every person has a history. Mrs Eunice Shikongo, a Grade 5 teacher at Sheetheni School on the outskirts of Windhoek in Namibia, wants her pupils to explore their own family histories by interviewing one family member.

First, she discusses what oral evidence is, by encouraging pupils to share things they have learned from their grandparents. She asks them: ‘Has what you have learned been written down?’ Most agree that things learned in this way are not written, but passed on by word of mouth. Mrs Shikongo then explains that, by conducting an interview, pupils will collect oral evidence about what the past was like and will find out what a valuable source of evidence this can be.

She helps them compile a list of interesting questions to use to interview their family members (see Resource 2: Possible interview questions). The pupils then add their own questions to the list before carrying out these interviews at home.

The next day, they share their findings with the rest of their class. Mrs Shikongo summarises their findings on the board under the heading ‘Then’. Next, she asks them to answer the same questions about their own lives, and summarises this information under the heading ‘Now’. She asks them to think about how their lives are different from the lives of their family members in the past. She then asks the pupils, in pairs, to compare ‘Then’ and ‘Now’. Younger pupils write two/three sentences using words from the board. Older pupils write a short paragraph.

Activity 1: Oral interviews about childhood

  • First organise your pupils into pairs. Then tell them to think of some questions they can ask an older person about his/her childhood. Give the pupils time to think up their questions and tell them how long they have to do this task – maybe two or three days. If you have younger pupils, you could work together to make up three or four questions they could remember and ask at home.
  • When they have asked the questions at home, ask the pupils to share their information with their partners.
  • Then ask each pair of pupils to join with another pair and share what they have found out.
  • Now ask each group of four to complete a table to show how life has changed.
  • Discuss with the whole class how life has changed since their parents and/or grandparents or other older people were children. Pose questions that encourage them to reflect on why such changes have taken place. (Key Resource: Using questioning to promote thinking  can help you think of the kinds of questions you need to ask to stimulate pupils. You could note some of these down before the lesson to remind you at this stage.)
  • Make a list of the key changes on the board.

2. Investigating a historical event

As well as using oral histories to find out about life in the past, you can use written records with your pupils.

In this section, we look at how different sets of records can help pupils build up their understanding of the past. In Activity 2 and the Key Activity, pupils explore written records of past events and conduct oral interviews with community members. How you organise and gather resources together is part of your role and advice is given on how you might do this.

Case Study 2: Using written records to explore past events

Mr.Peter Arhin is a teacher of Class 6 at the Catholic School in Cape CoastGhana. The 27th anniversary of the June 4 1979 uprising is coming up, and he remembers that soldiers from the air force played a central role in that event. He wants his pupils to honour the role that the soldiers played and the anniversary by creating a display.

He sends his class to the library where they read up on the events of 4 June 1979. Two local newspapers, The Times and The Daily Graphic, have just published supplements commemorating the uprising and the role of the men from the air force, which he reads extracts from to his class to stimulate interest. These articles contain profiles on over 20 of the prominent soldiers, their lives and what has become of them. Many are now famous politicians, renowned business people or intellectuals.

He divides his class into groups and asks each to identify one of the leaders, and to research and then write a profile of that person on a poster, for display in the school hall. The poster must include how they were involved and what happened to them both then and now.

The pupils then plan to present their findings to the whole class. Some of the pupils speak at assembly with their posters displayed around the walls.

Resource 3: The June 4 1979 uprising gives some background information.

Activity 2: Researching an important date in history

This activity is built on a visit to a national museum, in this case the Armed Forces Museum in Accra, but you could use a more local site for a visit. (If it is not possible for you to visit a museum, you could collect together some newspaper articles, pictures and books to help your pupils find out for themselves about an event.)

  • Decide on a particular historical event that you wish your pupils to investigate during the visit to the museum (or in class if you have the resources), e.g. the role students played in the uprising in Ghana on 4 June 1979. It is important that you focus the attention of your pupils on a particular event, since museum exhibitions often cover many years of the past.
  • Divide the class into groups, giving each a different issue or aspect of the historical event to focus upon.
  • Discuss what kinds of questions they might need to find the answers to as they read and look at the exhibitions (if at museum) or materials (if in school).

Back in class, ask the pupils in their groups to write up their findings on large posters. Display these in the classroom or school hall for all to see.

3. Thinking critically about evidence

This part is intended to extend your ideas of how to help pupils use oral history as a resource for finding out about the past. You will encourage them to think critically about the validity and reliability of such evidence, and to compare oral testimonies of a historical event with written evidence of the same event. Investigating the similarities and differences in the two types of evidence provides an exciting learning opportunity for pupils.

Case Study 3: Collecting oral testimonies

Mrs Monica Boakye teaches history to Class 6 at a small school just outside Accra. Many families in the area participated in the events of the June 4 1979 uprising. Ms Boakye has invited two men who participated in the uprising to come to the school, and speak about their experiences. They will come on consecutive days as they do not know each other and have differing views about the role played by the men from the air force.

Mrs Boakye warns her class that these two men are now very old, and that an older person’s memory is not always very good. Before the guests arrive, the pupils prepare some questions that they want to ask the men. Over two days, the visitors come and tell their stories. The pupils listen carefully and ask them questions.

In the next lesson, Mrs Boakye and the class discuss the similarities and differences between the two accounts. They think about why the two men have different views of the events.

Mrs Boakye lists the key points that came out of their stories and also stresses that, when they were young, being members of the armed forces was very important to these men, and they may have romanticised their involvement. She explains that while these oral histories may give pupils some understanding of the June 4 1979 uprising, they may not always be accurate, and the stories that different people tell may vary considerably.

Mrs Boakye believes her class learned a valuable lesson in the uses and problems of gathering oral evidence of history.

Key Activity: Comparing oral interviews and written texts

  • With your pupils, identify an important historical event (such as a local feud or uprising) that took place in your area in the past. If you can, find a short written text about it. Resource 4: The Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900 gives one example you could use if you cannot find another event.
  • In preparing this activity, you need to gain an understanding for yourself (as a teacher) about what people in your community know about the uprising or event in question. These ‘memories’ are the oral stories that have been passed down from person to person. Identify some key people who your pupils could talk to at home or could come into school.
  • Send your pupils out in groups to interview these older people. Ask the pupils to record ten key points made by each interviewee. (Make sure that pupils only go in groups and that they are safe at all times.)
  • Back in class, ask your pupils to feed back their key findings.
  • Ask each group to design a poster of the event, including the key events and using some of the visitor’s comments to give a feeling of what it was like to be there.
  • Display these in class.
  • Discuss with your pupils whether they think they have enough clear evidence about what happened from the people they spoke to. If not, how could they find out more?

Resource 1: Oral history

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher


We all have stories to tell, stories about our lives and special events that have taken place. We give our experiences an order and organise such memories into stories. These stories could, if collected together with other people’s memories of the same event, allow us to build up a clearer picture of what actually happened.

Your local community will be a rich source for exploring what happened at a particular event or what it was like to live there 20 years ago. Your pupils could investigate the Nigerian Civil or Biafran War or some other more local event.

What is oral history?

Oral history is not folklore, gossip, hearsay or rumour, but the real history of people told from their perspectives, as they remember it. It involves the systematic collection of living people’s stories of their own experiences. These everyday memories have historical importance. They help us understand what life is like. If we do not collect and preserve those memories, then one day they will disappear forever.

Your stories and the stories of the people around you are unique and can provide valuable information. Because we only live for so many years we can only go back one lifetime. This makes many historians anxious that they may lose valuable data and perspectives on events. Gathering these stories helps your pupils develop a sense of their own identities and how they fit into the story of their home area.

How do you collect people’s stories?

When you have decided what event or activity you want to find out about, you need to find people who were involved and ask if they are willing to tell you their stories.

Contact them to arrange a time of day and tell them what you want to talk about and what you will do.

You need to record what your interviewee says. You can do this by taking notes by hand or possibly by tape recording or video recording.

Having collected your information or evidence, it is important to compare and contrast different people’s views of the same event, so that you can identify the facts from the interpretations that different people put on the same event. You could ask your pupils, in groups, to interview different people and then to write a summary of their findings to share with the rest of the class. These could be made into a book about your class’s investigation into a particular event.

Adapted from original source: (Accessed 2008)

Resource 2: Possible interview questions

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

Below are some questions to use with a visitor to find out about an event in the past or how they used to do things in the past. Areas you could explore include:

  • growing food;
  • traditional dress;
  • traditional healing;
  • building houses;
  • education.

These three sets of starter questions will help you support your pupils in thinking of their own questions.

(1) Historial events

  • What historical events took place when you were young?
  • What did you wear when you went to a party or a wedding?
  • Which event do you remember most?
  • What do you remember about it?
  • What happened? Tell me the story as you remember it.
  • Who else was with you?
  • Could I speak to them about this still?

(2) Games

  • What games did you play when you were a child?
  • How did you play these games?
  • Who taught you to play these games?
  • When did you play them?
  • Where did you play them?
  • What other activities did you enjoy?

(3) Growing food

  • What vegetables and fruit did you grow?
  • How did you grow them?
  • Where did you grow them?
  • What tools did you use?
  • What did vegetables cost at the time?
  • Where did you buy them? Which ones did you buy?
  • What else did you eat that you liked?
  • Do you still eat these foods?

Resource 3: The June 4 1979 uprising

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

Soldiers spark mass struggle against corruption in Ghana by P K Acheampong

On 15 May 1979, Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings was named as the leader of an abortive uprising that took place the previous day. The uprising was the result of a conflict between the lower ranks and officers of the Ghana armed forces. There were rumours that J J Rawlings was to be executed if found guilty by a military tribunal. On June 4 1979, the prison gate where Rawlings was, was broken loose and he was released by dissidents from among the lower ranks.

Ghana before 4 June 1979

Ghana before 4 June 1979 was facing acute social and economic hardship, which resulted in massive frustration among the citizenry. There were many events that brought Ghana into hardship. Events such as military coups, military governments, four-digit inflations, massive corruption, acute food shortage, and smuggling black racketeering (kalabule) were ripe in the country. Prior to 4 June 1979, the rains had stopped, and there were widespread bush fires in the country; transportation had become a problem and Ghana was described as ‘a woman in labour waiting in agony for the arrival of a midwife’.

The civilian opposition

By the end of 1976, the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) proposed a Union Government that they thought would save the situation. The civilian population opposed the idea. General Kutu Acheampong the then head of state and the brain behind the ‘Union Government’ idea was toppled from power in a palace coup led by his deputy General F W K Akuffo who abandoned the Union Government concept and decided to return power to a civilian government. A new constitution was drafted and a timetable for election and handing over was set for July 1979. Consequently Ghanaians breathed a sigh of relief.

However, the relief was shortlived because on 15 May 1979 an unsuccessful uprising was staged by some men of the air force. The uprising was quickly quelled by the army, led by the army commander General Odartey Wellington.

Ghanaians were angry and disapproved the attempted coup. But at the open trial of the culprits of the uprising, the explosive revelations of the leader J J Rawlings lifted high the reasons behind their action. Several people consequently supported them and wished the uprising had succeeded.

The June 4 1979 uprising

In the early hours of 4 June 1979, J J Rawlings was released from his cell by a group of soldiers. He immediately made a live broadcast to the nation telling Ghanaians that the ranks had released him from his cell and that he was going to deal with the wrongdoers. Ghanaians had mixed feelings about this. Whereas some were gripped with fear, others thanked God for having sent the ‘Junior Jesus’ (Rawlings) to save Ghanaians. However, Ghanaians were confused when the Ghana Broadcasting House became the battleground.

General Odartey Wellington again tried to quell the popular revolt but he was killed in action.

The turning point

There was a period of silence from midday into the evening before General Joshua Hamidu, the chief of defence staff, announced the success of the coup.

In another broadcast, General Hamidu had this to say:

I am happy to announce that the hypocrisy of Acheampong and Akuffo since 1972 has been brought to an end. All members of the regime are to report to the air force station or any nearest police station now for their own safety. We wish to assure you that election procedures will go on as planned. It is in the national interest. We have suffered too long. May God bless the nation.

Let the blood flow

On 5 June 1979 Ghanaians came to understand that the coup was not the normal type when soldiers remove civilian governments. It was rather a popular revolt of the military against the military and the social injustice that had crippled Ghana, a once great and prosperous nation.

Fear gripped Ghanaians. ‘Let the blood flow, action, action,’ were the battle cries of the lower ranks supported by students and the general public. The leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) were tired as tension rose to its limit. Power was in everybody’s hands: students took to the streets and were joined by workers and the rural folks. Demonstrations took place in all parts of the country, and there were calls for justice and severe punishment for all offenders.

The AFRC and the house cleaning exercise

The mood expressed and the battle cry ‘let the blood flow’ extended from the armed forces and the students to the majority of the ordinary Ghanaian, including religious leaders. All these openly voiced the views that things had gone wrong for a long time in the country and that a change of direction would be achieved only by letting the blood flow of those who embezzled money.

Ghana’s march forward

The AFRC fulfilled the promise they had made – to go ahead with the elections as planned by the SMC. Dr Hilla Liman and his Peoples National Party (PNP), won the elections and power was handed over to him. President Liman promised to continue the house cleaning exercise from where the AFRC left. However, the PNP was later saddled with power struggles after Alhaji Imoro Egala suddenly died. Dr Liman was a founding member of the PNP; but he was invited by his uncle Egala to lead the party when Egala was banned from holding any public office. Hence, after Egala’s death, Dr Liman did not possess any power or control over the affairs of the party and the country. Conditions started to return to the pre June 4 1979 era. The scene was thus prepared for another explosive uprising.

Adapted from: Ghana Web, Website

Resource 4: The Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

The Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900 By P.K. Acheampong

The Yaa Asantewaa War, which was fought between the Asantes and the British colonialists, is an important event in the history of Ghana. It was a war fought to force the British to return the Asantehene (king of the Asantes) Nana Agyeman Prempeh 1 who had been captured by the British in Kumasi and exiled to the Seychelles Islands.

The Asantes before 1900 had waged incessant wars against the southern and coastal people including the British. In an attempt to subdue the Asantes, some British expedition forces were sent to Kumasi in 1896, and they defeated the Asantes. The Asantehene Nana Agyeman Prempeh 1 was captured, and Nana Yaa Asantewaa led an army of the Asantes to force the British to release their king.

The early 19th century: The first British people arrived at the coast of what is the present Ghana as traders. But with their close relationship with the coastal people, especially the Fantes, the British become the enemies of the Asantes.

1817–1821: Two British ambassadors are sent to Kumasi to discuss peace with King Osei Bonsu, but the attempt fails.

1823–1824: Sir Charles Macarthy and his Fante allies support the Denkyiras in the war against the Asantes. Macarthey dies in the war.

1826: The Asantes are defeated in the battle of Katamanso near Dodowa.

1831: George Maclean signs a treaty with the Asantes; 600 oz of gold is kept for the Asantes; two princes are sent to Britain. The princes return after six years in Britain in 1842.

1844: Commander Hill signs a bond with the Asantes called ‘The bond of 1844’.

1863–1864: The Asantes defeat the British at the Battle of Bobikuma. The Asantes again defeat the British in another war.

1873–1877: Kofi Karikari the Asantehene invades southern and coastal areas. Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley with British expedition forces defeats the Asantes. The Treaty of Fomena is singed in 1874.

1896: British troops led by Sir Francis Scott march to Kumasi. The Asantehene Nana Agyeman Prempeh1 is captured and first exiled to the Elmina Castle, then to Sierra Leone, and finally to the Seychelles.

1900: Sir Fredrick Hodgson goes to ask for the ‘Golden Stool’ of the Asantes. The Asantes are infuriated. Asante chiefs hold a secret meeting in Kumasi in which Nana Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of Edwiso (Ejeso) is presnt. The chiefs discuss how they should wage war on the British and force them to release their king to them. Nana Yaa Asantewaa observes that some of the chiefs are afraid; they say that there should be no war. Rather they should beg the governor to release the king. Suddenly Nana Yaa Asantewaa stands up and speaks as follows:

Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: If the men of Asante will not go forward, then we will. We women will. I shall call upon my fellow women.

This speech stirs up the men who take an oath to fight the British until they release the Asantehene. For months the Asantes, led by Nana Yaa Asantewaa, fight very bravely and keep the British in the fort in Kumasi. A British reinforcement totalling 1,400 soldiers arrive in Kumasi. The Asante army is defeated. Nana Yaa Asantewaa and other leaders are captured and sent into exile. Nana Agyemang Prempeh 1, over whom Nana Yaa Asantewaa led the Asante army to fight the British, returns to Kumasi in 1924; Nana Prempeh 1 dies in 1931.

Nana Yaa Asantewaa’s war becomes the last of the major wars in Africa led by a woman.

Adapted from : On War, Website

Section 3: Using different forms of evidence in history

Key Focus Question: How can you use mind mapping and fieldwork to develop historical skills?

Keywords: historical skills; mind mapping; fieldwork; investigations; history; maps

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:

  • used pictorial maps to help pupils see the importance of the natural environment in human settlement patterns (see also Module 1, Section 2);
  • used small-group investigations, including fieldwork, to develop pupils’ understanding of early African societies.


In addition to looking at oral and written evidence, your pupils can also learn about the past from other sources, for example maps.

In this section, you will structure lessons and activities that will help pupils understand the factors that led to the emergence of strong African kingdoms in the past. It provides you with insight into the kinds of evidence and resources you can use.

It covers:

  • using maps and other documents to examine factors in the natural environment that influenced the nature of the settlement and the kingdom;
  • exploring the role of pastoral and agricultural practices in shaping African lifestyles and culture;
  • exposing pupils to the material evidence that remains in and around settlements, which will help them examine how the past is reconstructed.

1. Thinking about the location of settlements

By looking at the local environment and the physical layout of the land, it is possible to think about why a community settled in a certain place.

Great Zimbabwe provides a good example. It is important that as a social studies teacher you understand a case like this, as it gives you the skills to relate these ideas to a number of different ancient African kingdoms and to your local setting. Using fieldwork, such as actual trips to a site, allows pupils to see for themselves why one place was chosen for settlement and why some developments survived longer than others.

Most settlements are where they are because the environment provides some kind of resource, such as water or trees, and/or the site provides protection from the elements and, in earlier times, from enemies. Villages and towns are often found near a stream or wood to provide water and wood for shelter and to burn for heat and cooking. By looking closely at your school’s local environment or your pupils’ home environment, whichever is easier, you can help them to begin to understand how settlements developed.

Maps from earlier times will show how a site has changed over time (this can build on the time walk activity from Module 2, Section 1).

Case Study 1: Investigating heritage sites

Ms Sekai Chiwamdamira teaches a Grade 6 class at a primary school in Musvingo in Zimbabwe. Her school is near the heritage site of Great Zimbabwe. She knows that many of her pupils pass by this magnificent site of stone-walled enclosures on their way to school. But she wonders whether they know why it is there. Ms Sekai wants to help her pupils realise that the landscape and its natural resources played an important part in people’s decision to settle in Great Zimbabwe.

She begins her lesson by explaining how Great Zimbabwe was a powerful African kingdom that existed between 1300 and 1450 (see Resource 1: Great Zimbabwe). She asks the pupils to consider why the rulers of this kingdom chose to settle in the Zimbabwe Plateau rather than anywhere else in Africa. A map is her key resource for this discussion (see Resource 2: Pictorial map of Great Zimbabwe). One by one, she points out the presence of gold, ivory, tsetse fly, water supply and access to trade routes on the map; she asks her pupils to suggest how each of these led people to establish the settlement where they did. As her pupils suggest answers, Ms Sekai draws a mind map on the board (see Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas).

Ms Sekai is pleased at the level of discussion and thinking that has taken place.

Activity 1: Using a map to gain information about Great Zimbabwe

Before the lesson, copy the map and questions from Resource 2 onto the chalkboard or have copies ready for each group.

  • First, explain what a key represents on a map. Then divide the class into groups and ask each group to analyse the key relating to the map of Great Zimbabwe. Agree what each item on the key represents.
  • Ask your pupils why they think the people first settled here. You could use the questions in Resource 2 to help them start their discussion.
  • As they work, go around the groups and support where necessary by asking helpful questions.
  • After 15 minutes, ask each group to list their ideas.
  • Next, ask them to rank their ideas in order of importance.
  • Write down their ideas on the chalkboard.
  • Finally, ask pupils to vote on which they think are the three most important factors.
  • With younger children, you could look at local features and ask them to think why people settled here.

2. Using mind maps to structure thinking about the past

In the past, cattle were always viewed as an important resource, and many farmers and communities still view cattle this way.

The purpose of Activity 2 is for pupils to investigate the traditional role of cattle in African societies using the local community as a source of information. They will then determine how much African farming societies have changed.

Case Study 2 and Activity 2 use mind mapping and a template to help pupils think about the task as they work together in groups to share ideas.

Case Study 2: Farming in Central Region

There are many farmers living in the Central Region and many of the pupils in the school are children of farmers. Joana Atenga wants to investigate with her class how important cattle were to the lifestyle and culture of the early Fulani cattle pastoralists who settled in West Africa. She also wants her pupils to think about the extent to which African farming societies have changed. She plans to use the local community as a resource of information.

Joana begins her lesson by explaining the important role of cattle in early African societies. She draws a mind map on the chalkboard that highlights the importance of cattle, and what cattle were used for. (See Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas  and Resource 3: A mind map about keeping cattle to help you question your pupils.) The class discuss these ideas.

In the next lesson, in small groups with a responsible adult, the pupils go out to interview local farmers. Joana has talked with them beforehand to see who is willing to talk with her pupils.

The pupils had two simple questions to ask local farmers:

  1. Why are cattle important to you?
  2. What are the main uses of cattle?

Back in class, they share their findings and Joana lists their answers on the chalkboard. They discuss what has changed over the years.

Activity 2: Farming old and new

Before the lesson, read Resource 4: Cattle in traditional life – the Fulani

  • Explain to pupils why cattle were important to the Fulani people.
  • Ask them, in groups, to list reasons why people used to keep cattle.
  • For homework, ask them to find out from older members of the community how keeping cattle has changed.
  • In the next lesson, ask the groups to copy and then fill out the template in Resource 5: The role of cattle – past and present to record their ideas.
  • Share each group’s answers with the whole class and display the templates on the wall for several days so pupils can revisit the ideas.

3. Fieldwork to investigate local history

One way to reconstruct how societies in the past lived is to analyse buildings, artefacts, sculptures and symbols found on sites from a long time ago.

In this part, pupils go on a field trip to a place of historical interest. If this is not realistic for your class, it is possible to do a similar kind of task in the classroom by using a range of documents, photographs and artefacts. Pupils can start to understand how to investigate these and fill in some of the gaps for themselves about what used to happen.

Case Study 3: Organising a field trip

Ms Joana Atenga has already explored with her Class 5 pupils that the Fulani developed a strong culture and society. Now she wants them to think about how we know this, particularly since there are few written records about their history. She is fortunate in that her school is near a museum that has artefacts and information about Fulani culture.

At the site, the pupils take notes about what the buildings look like. They also describe and draw some of the artefacts and symbols that can be found in and around each of these buildings.

Back at school, they discuss all the things they saw and list these on the chalkboard. Joana asks them to organise their findings under headings for the different types of building they have seen. The pupils then discuss what they think the different buildings were used for, based on what they looked like and the artefacts and sculptures that were found there. Joana helps fill in the gaps by explaining aspects of Fulani culture and the meaning of some of the sculptures and artefacts. The ideas are displayed and other classes are invited to see the work.

See Key resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource.

Key Activity: Exploring local history

Before you start this activity, gather together as much information as you can about the local community as it used to be. You may have newspaper articles, notes of talks with older members of the community, names of people who would be happy to talk to your pupils.

  • Organise your class into groups. Explain that they are going to find out about the history of the village using a range of resources. Each group could focus on one small aspect, for example the local shop, or church, or school.
  • Look at the resources you have, if any, before going to talk to people.
  • Give the groups time to prepare their questions and then arrange a day for them to go out to ask about their area.
  • On return to school, each group decides how to present their findings to the class.
  • Share the findings.
  • You could make their work into a book about the history of your local area.

Resource 1: Great Zimbabwe

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

Great Zimbabwe, or ‘houses of stone’, is the name given to hundreds of great stone ruins spread out over a 500 sq km (200 sq mi) area within the modern-day country of Zimbabwe, which itself is named after the ruins.

The ruins can be broken down into three distinct architectural groups. They are known as the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the famous Great Enclosure. Over 300 structures have been located so far in the Great Enclosure. The types of stone structures found on the site give an indication of the status of the citizenry. Structures that were more elaborate were built for the kings and situated further away from the centre of the city. It is thought that this was done in order to escape sleeping sickness.

What little evidence exists suggests that Great Zimbabwe also became a centre for trading, with artefacts suggesting that the city formed part of a trade network extending as far as China. Chinese pottery shards, coins from Arabia, glass beads and other non-local items have been excavated at Zimbabwe.

Nobody knows for sure why the site was eventually abandoned. Perhaps it was due to drought, perhaps due to disease or it simply could be that the decline in the gold trade forced the people who inhabited Great Zimbabwe to look elsewhere.

The ruins of Great Zimbabwe have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.

Adapted from: Wikipedia, Website (Accessed 2008)

Resource 2: Pictorial map of Great Zimbabwe

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

  1. Find Great Zimbabwe.
  2. Find the Zimbabwe Plateau. Why do you think the founders of Great Zimbabwe decided to build the settlement on a plateau?
  3. What natural resources were found in and around the region of Great Zimbabwe?
  4. Why were these resources important?
  5. What other environmental factors may have contributed to the people’s decision to settle on the Zimbabwe Plateau?

Adapted from: Dyer, C., Nisbet, J., Friedman, M., Johannesson, B., Jacobs, M., Roberts, B. & Seleti, Y. (2005). Looking into the Past: Source-based History for Grade 10. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman. ISBN 0 636 06045 4.

Resource 3: A mind map about keeping cattle

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

Resource 4: Cattle in traditional life – the Fulani

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

The Fula or Fulani is an ethnic group of people spread over many countries in West Africa, including Ghana. The ancient origins of the Fula people have been the subject of speculation over the years, but several centuries ago they appear to have begun moving from the area of present-day Senegal eastward.

The Fulani are traditionally a nomadic, pastoralist people, herding cattle, goats and sheep across the vast dry hinterlands of their domain, keeping somewhat separate from the local agricultural populations.

A Fulani family needs at least 100 heads of cattle in order to live completely off their livestock. When the number of livestock drops, the family must start farming to survive. Fulani always prefer not to farm if it is possible.

Resource 5: The role of cattle – past and present

Pupil use


The role of cattle in the pastThe role of cattle today
Cattle were important for:

Cattle are important for:

Section 4: Understanding timelines

Key Focus Question: How can you use timelines and other sources to develop understanding of cause and effect?

Keywords: timelines; historical change; chronology; history; historical sources; debate

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:

  • used timelines to represent historical change over time;
  • helped pupils to identify the key events in a particular historical process;
  • encouraged pupils to view history not just as a series of dates to be learned but as a process to be investigated;
  • used a variety of sources to help pupils see that one event may have many causes.


When developing an understanding of time past and passing, it is important to be able to sequence events into the order in which they happened.

Pupils often struggle with the concept of time. In this section, you will first help your pupils to divide time into periods that are more manageable and then, once they are able to do this, think about the order of events and why this is important. (With young pupils, this might be as simple as helping them order how they do certain tasks, leading on to more complex activities as their understanding grows.) You will then help your pupils identify the most important events in a particular passage of time. This can lead, with older pupils, into an analysis of cause and effect, and the understanding that there is usually more than one cause of an event.

1. Building a timeline

Investigating a particular period in history, and trying to sequence events in the order in which they happened, will help pupils begin to see the links between events and some of the possible causes. Understanding the causes of change in our countries and societies may help us to live our lives better.

The purpose of this part is to explore how using timelines in history can be a useful way to divide time into more manageable ‘bits’, so that we know which ‘bit’ or period we are dealing with. This is particularly important when we are teaching history, because it is crucial that pupils understand the idea of change over time.

From an early age, pupils need help to sort and order events. As they grow and experience life, they can revisit activities like these ones, using more complex sequences and events.

(Section 1 in this module used timelines to explore family history. You might find it helpful to look at that section if you have not done so already, particularly if you are working with younger pupils.)

Case Study 1: Ordering events

Ms Tetha Rugenza, who teaches history at a small school in Rwanda, wants to show her Grade 4 class how to divide up time into smaller periods. In order to do this, she plans a lesson where she and her pupils explore how to construct a timeline and divide it into periods.

Ms Rugenza decides to use the example of Rwanda. She draws a timeline on the board of the history of Rwanda. To help pupils understand the concept of periods, she divides the history of Rwanda into the pre-colonial, the colonial and the independence period. To give a sense of how long each of these periods is, she draws each period to scale.

She writes a list of important events, together with the date on which they took place, on separate pieces of paper and displays these on a table. Each event, she tells the class, falls into a particular period. She asks her pupils to work out which events fall into which period and in which order, doing a couple of examples herself. She calls out one event at a time and allows a pupil to come and stick it next to the appropriate place on the timeline. The rest of the class check that it has been put in the correct place. Through discussion, she helps the pupils if they are not sure where an event should go. She asks them if they can think of any other national events that should be placed on the timeline and adds them as appropriate.

Activity 1: Drawing timelines

Tell the class that they are going to make a timeline of the school year together.

  • Start the lesson by asking your pupils to write down the most important events that have taken place in school during the year.
  • Ask them to give each event a date if they can, or to find this out.
  • Ask pupils to order these events from the beginning to the end of the school year.
  • Help pupils to decide on how big they want their timelines to be and to create a scale accordingly.
  • Ask pupils to mark out each month correctly in terms of their chosen scale and to write down the event dates on the left-hand side of the timeline – starting at the bottom of their timeline with the past, and working up to the present at the top.
  • On the right-hand side of the timeline, ask pupils to write a short description of the appropriate event next to each date.
  • Display the timelines for all to see.

(If you do not have enough resources for this to be done individually then it can be done in groups of up to five pupils.)

  • Discuss as a whole class whether there are some school events that could happen at any time of the year. Are there some that have to happen at a particular time? Why? (End-of-year exams, for example – why can’t they happen at the start of the year?)

2. Introducing the concept of chronology

The study of time and the order in which events took place over time is called chronology. This part explores how you can help pupils understand this sequencing of events, the relationship between the order events happen and the outcomes. In using these activities with pupils, you will realise the importance this has on their understanding of the past.

Case Study 2: Ordering events

Mr Eminah wants to show his Class 5 pupils how chronology affects their understanding of events. He writes the following sentences on the chalkboard:

A body of a man lies on the floor in the room.

A man is arrested for murder.

Two men go into the room.

A man leaves the room.

A man screams.

He asks the pupils to rearrange these sentences into an order that makes sense and to provide a reason for why they think the sentences should go in that particular order. Mr Eminah uses this exercise to show how important it is to place events in a logical order.

However, he also wants pupils to begin to see the connections between events, and how one event influences another. He tells the class about the events in Ghana since independence from British rule to the 4 June 1979 uprising. (See Resource 1: Some important historical events since independence.) Using some of these events, he and his pupils construct a timeline on the chalkboard. He has selected a short section of Resource 1 so that his pupils are not confused by too much information. He cuts these events up into strips and asks his pupils to put them in date order. He asks his pupils if they can identify the most important events that changed the course of Ghanaian history.

Mr Eminah is pleased that his pupils are beginning to see chronology as the first step in explaining why things happen.

Activity 2: Identifying key events

Give pupils, individually or in groups, a copy of a story from a local newspaper; or you could read the story to them and ask them to make notes as they listen; or you could copy the story onto the chalkboard for pupils to read. Choose the story for its interest and the sequence of events it contains.

Ask pupils to:

  • read through the story;
  • underline what they think are the important events that took place;
  • using the events that they have underlined, create a timeline. Remind them about the importance of listing the events in order;
  • mark on their timeline the event they believe is the key event;
  • explain below the timeline why they have chosen that particular event as most important. In other words, how did that event cause later events?
  • share their answers and, by discussion, agree the key event and then discuss whether or not this key event was the only cause of later events.

3. Comparing African histories

Timelines can help us compare the similarities and differences in a series of events for different people, or different groups, or different countries.

For example, if your pupils drew timelines for themselves, there would be some events the same (starting school) and others different (birth of baby brother or sister for example).

Using timelines to compare the history of a variety of African countries during the time of moving to independence can help your pupils see common themes but also differences between their experiences.

Case Study 3: Examining the passage of different African countries to independence

Mrs Nsia organised her class to work in groups to make a comparative multiple timeline that helped them to learn about the experiences of their own and other countries’ journey towards independence.

For each country that she chose she made a long strip of paper (she did this by sticking A4 pieces of paper together, one piece equalling five years). See Resource 2: African timelines template.

This would enable the groups, when finished, to place one under another to allow for easy comparison.

With her own books, and books and other materials borrowed from a colleague in a secondary school, the groups carried out their own guided research to find out the major events for each chosen country and then wrote each event in at the correct time on the chart. (For younger classes you could provide the events and dates yourself to help them construct the timeline.) Resource 3: Key events in the move to independence provides examples of some key dates and also suggests websites where further information can be found if necessary.

Mrs Nsia made the timeline for ‘World events’ as an example (World War II, independence for India, first flight in space, the Cold War, Vietnam War, the invention of the Internet, Invasion of Iraq etc.).

She made sure that each ‘country’ wrote ‘Independencein the appropriate time spot in another colour.

When all the groups had finished, she asked them to line up their timelines one under the other neatly. This enabled easy comparison between the countries.

Key Activity: Comparing the African experience

  • Follow the activity carried out in Case Study 3.
  • When the timelines have been completed, let each group introduce their country and talk through their timeline.
  • Prepare a series of questions for the class to answer, for example:
    1. What are the major events on the timelines?
    2. What similarities can you see between the experiences of different African countries?
    3. What are the major differences?
    4. Which countries were the first to gain independence and which were the last?
    5. Which countries have suffered most from internal wars since independence?
    6. What major events are soon to happen (e.g. South Africa hosting the World Cup in 2012)?
  • (This sort of work can easily be extended. Groups can carry on researching their designated countries to find out more about them: languages spoken; major industries; agriculture; cities and towns etc. They could draw maps of their countries and label them. There are many possibilities.)

Resource 1: Some important historical events since independence

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

6 March 1957Independence Day. The British Colony of the Gold Coast Becomes independent Ghana.
1 July 1960Ghana becomes a republic, with Nkrumah as president.
1964Ghana is declared a one-party state. Akosombo Dam is completed.
1966While Nkrumah is in China, army stages widely popular coup. National Liberation Council (NLC), led by General Joseph Ankrah, comes to power.
April 1969General Ankrah is replaced by Brigadier Akwasi Afrifa.
May 1969A new constitution is introduced and the ban on party politics is lifted.

August 1969

An election for a new national assembly is held, the Progress Party (PP) wins and is led by Dr Kofi Busia, who is subsequently appointed prime minister. The PP government takes office in October.
January 1972 Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Acheampong leads a military coup in January that brings the National Redemption Council (NRC) to power.
1975The NRC is replaced by the Supreme Military Council (SMC) also led by Acheampong.
1978A referendum is held in favour of union government. Acheampong forced to resign by fellow officers; General Frederick Akuffo takes over.

The ban on party politics is lifted and 16 new parties are subsequently registered.

A coup staged by junior officers of the armed forces, led by Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings, fails on 15 May and he is subsequently imprisoned.

In June, junior officers stage Ghana's first violent coup. Armed Forces Revolutionary Council forms under Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings.

Resource 2: African timelines template

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

Resource 3: Key events in the move to independence

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher


1957 Ghana becomes first independent black state in Africa under Kwame Nkrumah through Gandhi-inspired rallies, boycotts and strikes, forcing the British to transfer power over the former colony of the Gold Coast.
1958Chinua Achebe (Nigeria): Things Fall Apart, written in ‘African English’, examines Western civilisation's threat to traditional values and reaches a large, diverse international audience.
1958All-African People's Conference: Resolution on Imperialism and Colonialism, Accra, 5–13 December 1958
1954– 1962French colonies (Francophone Africa) oppose continued French rule despite concessions, though many eager to maintain economic and cultural ties to France – except in Algeria, with a white settler population of 1 million. Bitterly vicious civil war in Algeria ensues until independence is gained in 1962, six years after Morocco and Tunisia had received independence.
1958White (Dutch-descent) Afrikaners officially gain independence from Great Britain in South Africa.
1964Nelson Mandela,on trial for sabotage with other ANC leaders before the Pretoria Supreme Court, delivers his eloquent and courageous ‘Speech from the Dock’ before he is imprisoned for the next 25 years in the notorious South African prison Robben Island.
1960– 1961Zaire (formerly Belgian Congo, the richest European colony in Africa) becomes independent from Belgium in 1960. Then, in Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi), ‘charismatic nationalist Patrice Lumumba was ... martyred in 1961, with the connivance of the [US] Central Intelligence Agency and a 30-year-old Congolese colonel who would soon become president of the country, Joseph Deséré Mobutu.’ (Bill Berkeley, ‘Zaire: An African Horror Story’, The Atlantic Monthly, August 1993; rpt. Atlantic Online)
1962Algeria (of Arab and Berber peoples) wins independence from France; over 900,000 white settlers leave the newly independent nation.
1963Multi-ethnic Kenya (East Africa) declares independence from the British.
1963Charter of the Organisation of African Unity, 25 May 1963.
mid-60sMost former European colonies in Africa gain independence and European colonial era effectively ends. However, Western economic and cultural dominance, and African leaders’ and parties’ corruption intensify the multiple problems facing the new nations.
1965Rhodesia: Unilateral Declaration of Independence Documents.
1966Bechuanaland gains independence and becomes Botswana.
1970sPortugal loses African colonies, including Angola and Mozambique.
1976Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegal, 1923–1986), one of the great African intellectuals of the 20th century, publishes the influential and controversial book, The African Origin of Civilization, his project to ‘identify the distortions [about African history] we have learned and correct them for future generations’.
1980Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia) gains independence from large white settler population after years of hostilities.
1970s– 1980sPolice state of South African white minority rulers hardens to maintain blatantly racist and inequitable system of apartheid, resulting in violence, hostilities, strikes, massacres headlined worldwide.
1986Nigerian poet/dramatist/writer Wole Soyinka awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.
1988Egyptian novelist and short story writer Nabuib Mahfouz awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first prizewinning writer with Arabic as his native tongue.




The Hutus massacre up to a million Tutsis in Rwanda; then fearing reprisals from the new Tutsi government, more than a million Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in a panicked mass migration that captured the world's attention.

500,000 of Hutu refugees streamed back into Rwanda to escape fighting in Zaire.

2001After 38 years in existence, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU: is replaced by the African Union.
Timeline – African countries in order of independence
CountryColonial nameColonial powerIndependence dateFirst head of state
Ethiopiaestablishment as theKingdom of Aksum1st century BCMenelik I
LiberiaCommonwealth of LiberiaAmerican Colonization Society26 July 1847Joseph Jenkins Roberts
LibyaLibyaItaly24 December 1951Idris
SudanSudanBritain1 January 1956Ismail al-Azhari
TunisiaTunisiaFrance20 March 1956Muhammad VIII al-Amin
MoroccoMoroccoFrance7 April 1956Mohammed V
GhanaGold CoastBritain6 March 1957Kwame Nkrumah
GuineaFrench West AfricaFrance2 October 1958Sékou Touré
CameroonCamerounFrance, Britain1 January 1960Ahmadou Ahidjo
TogoFrench TogolandFrance27 April 1960Sylvanus Olympio
MaliFrench West AfricaFrance20 June 1960Modibo Keita
SenegalFrench West AfricaFrance20 June 1960Léopold Senghor
MadagascarMalagasy ProtectorateFrance26 June 1960Philibert Tsiranana
DR CongoBelgian CongoBelgium30 June 1960Patrice Lumumba
SomaliaItalian Somaliland, British SomalilandItaly, Britain1 July 1960Aden Abdullah Osman Daar
BeninFrench West AfricaFrance1 August 1960Hubert Maga
NigerFrench West AfricaFrance3 August 1960Hamani Diori
Burkina FasoFrench West AfricaFrance5 August 1960Maurice Yaméogo
Côte d'IvoireCôte d'IvoireFrance7 August 1960Félix Houphouët-Boigny
ChadFrench Equatorial AfricaFrance11 August 1960François Tombalbaye
Central African RepublicFrench Equatorial AfricaFrance13 August 1960David Dacko
CongoFrench Equatorial AfricaFrance15 August 1960Fulbert Youlou
GabonFrench Equatorial AfricaFrance17 August 1960Léon M'ba
NigeriaNigeriaBritain1 October 1960Nnamdi Azikiwe
MauritaniaFrench West AfricaFrance28 November 1960Moktar Ould Daddah
Sierra LeoneSierra LeoneBritain27 April 1961Milton Margai
TanzaniaTanganyikaBritain9 December 1961Julius Nyerere
RwandaRuanda-UrundiBelgium1 July 1962Grégoire Kayibanda
BurundiRuanda-UrundiBelgium1 July 1962Mwambutsa IV
AlgeriaAlgeriaFrance3 July 1962Ahmed Ben Bella
UgandaBritish East AfricaBritain9 October 1962Milton Obote
KenyaBritish East AfricaBritain12 December 1963Jomo Kenyatta
MalawiNyasalandBritain6 July 1964Hastings Kamuzu Banda
ZambiaNorthern RhodesiaBritain24 October 1964Kenneth Kaunda
GambiaGambiaBritain18 February 1965Dawda Kairaba Jawara
BotswanaBechuanalandBritain30 September 1966Seretse Khama
LesothoBasutolandBritain4 October 1966Leabua Jonathan
MauritiusBritain12 March 1968
SwazilandSwazilandBritain6 September 1968Sobhuza II
Equatorial GuineaSpanish GuineaSpain12 October 1968Francisco Macías Nguema
Guinea-BissauPortuguese GuineaPortugal24 September 1973Luis Cabral
MozambiquePortuguese East AfricaPortugal25 June 1975Samora Machel
Cape VerdePortugal5 July 1975
ComorosFrance6 July 1975
São Tomé and PríncipePortugal12 July 1975
AngolaAngolaPortugal11 November 1975Agostinho Neto
SeychellesBritain29 June 1976
DjiboutiFrench SomalilandFrance27 June 1977Hassan Gouled Aptidon
ZimbabweSouthern RhodesiaBritain18 April 1980Robert Mugabe
NamibiaSouth West AfricaSouth Africa21 March 1990Sam Nujoma
EritreaEritreaEthiopia24 May 1993Isaias Afewerki
South AfricaSouth AfricaSouth Africa (apartheid)27 April 1994Nelson Mandela
Sahrawi Republic 1Spanish SaharaSpain27 February 1976El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed
Adapted from original source: (Accessed 2008)

Section 5: Using artefacts to explore the past

Key Focus Question: How can you use artefacts and other evidence to explore local and national history?

Keywords: artefacts; evidence; group working; local history; environment; questioning

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:

  • used artefacts to help pupils raise questions about and understand the past;
  • developed lessons that allow pupils to think about their national history in relation to their own identities;
  • involved local experts and the environment in your lessons to stimulate pupils’ interest in local history.


Understanding who you are and having good self-esteem is enhanced if you have a strong sense of your identity and can see your place in the bigger pattern of life. Studying what happened in the past can contribute to this. Through the activities in this section, you will encourage your pupils to think about history as it relates to them. Using group work, inviting visitors into the classroom and using practical hands-on activities to investigate artefacts will allow your pupils to share ideas and develop their historical skills.

1. Discussing artefacts in small groups

Handling artefacts or looking at pictures of them provides a means for you to draw attention to both the factual aspects of history and the interpretation involved. Something that will help you in this work is collecting resources as and when you can. Often it is possible to find old utensils and artefacts from the home and in markets.

This part will help you to plan tasks for your pupils to think about how things that we use in our everyday lives have changed over time. For example, by looking at what we use for cooking now and what we used in the past, we can begin to think about how people used to live. We can compare utensils and, from this, speculate about what it would have been like to live in the past and use such artefacts. This will stimulate pupils’ thinking about themselves and their place in the local community and its history.

Case Study 1: Finding out about objects

Mr Ndomba, a Standard 5 history teacher in Mbinga township, Tanzania, has decided to use artefacts used in farming in his lesson to stimulate pupils’ interest and encourage them to think historically.

He organises the class into groups, giving each group an actual artefact or a picture of one. He asks the groups to look closely at their object or picture and to write as much as they can about it by just looking at it. His pupils do well, as they like discussion, and it is clear to Mr Ndomba that they are interested and enjoying speculating about their artefacts. (SeeKey Resource: Using group work in your classroom.)

After a few minutes, he asks each group to swap its picture or artefact with that of the next group and do the same exercise again. When they finish, he asks the two groups to join and share their views of the two pictures or artefacts. What do they think the artefacts are? What are they made of? What are they used for? How are they made? They agree on five key points to write about each artefact with one group doing one and the other group the second. Mr Ndoma puts the artefacts on the table with their five key points and makes a display for all to look at for a few days.

At the end of the week, he asks each group to write what they are certain they can say about the object on one side of a piece of paper and on the other side they write things they are not sure about, including any questions. For him, it is not so important that there is agreement on what the object is, but that there is lively, well-argued debate on what it might be used for and how old it might be.

Activity 1: Being a history detective using artefacts

ReadResource 1: Using artefacts in the classroom before you start.

  • Ask your class to bring in any traditional objects that they have at home. Tell them that you want the object to be as old as possible, perhaps used by their grandparents or before. But remind them they have to look after it carefully so it is not damaged. Have a table ready to display them on when the pupils bring them in the next day.
  • Explain to your pupils that they are going to be like detectives and piece together as much information and evidence as they can about their objects.
  • Ask them, in pairs, to look at all the artefacts and try to name each one and make a list of them in their books. Just by looking and holding, ask them to note what they think each is made of, how it is made and what it might be used for. You could devise a sheet for them to use.
  • As a whole class, look at each artefact in turn and discuss the different ideas. Agree which idea is most popular and ask the person who brought the object in what they know about it. Or send them home with some questions to ask and bring answers back to share with the class the next day.

2. Welcoming visitors to enhance the curriculum

One of the purposes of teaching history to your pupils is to allow them to understand and discover their own and their community’s identity. As a social studies teacher, even of primary school children, you should always be looking for interesting ways of helping pupils understand this past, their history. Considering how local customs, everyday tasks and the objects used for them have changed helps builds this identity.

Case Study 2: Investigating traditional dress

Mrs Noamasi has asked two older members of the local community to come to class in their traditional dress and talk about what has changed about traditional dress since they were young.

Before the visit, Mrs Noamasi reads Key Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource  and, with her class, prepares for the visit. Once the date and time have been agreed, the pupils devise some questions to ask the visitors about what has changed over time.

On the day of the visit, the classroom is organised and the welcome party goes to meet the visitors. The class is excited but shy with the visitors. However, the visitors are so pleased to come and talk that everyone soon relaxes and there is much discussion about the dress they are wearing and the importance of each piece. The visitors also brought some traditional clothes that belonged to their parents for the children to see.

After the visitors have left, Mrs Noamasi asks her pupils what they had learned that they did not know before, and she is surprised and pleased by what they remembered and liked about the event.

Activity 2: Exploring traditional crafts

This activity aims to put in place a frame that you, as a teacher, can use to conduct a classroom discussion about any aspect of social studies or history. In this case, we are looking at local artefacts and their traditional use.

  • Arrange for your class to visit a local craftsperson or ask them to come to school to talk with your pupils about their craft now and how it used to be.
  • Before the visit, you will need to organise the date and time and what you want to talk about, so the visitor can prepare what to bring.
  • Next, with your class, decide what kinds of things they want to know and what questions they would like to ask about the artefacts that the visitor might show them or they might see on their visit. Maybe the visitor could demonstrate their craft for the class.
  • On the day, tell your class to enjoy the visit and to be respectful to the adults.
  • In the next lesson, discuss their findings and ask pupils, in groups of four, to choose one item, draw it and write what they can about it from memory and the notes they took. (See Key Resource: Using group work in your classroom.)
  • Ask your pupils to put their work on the wall for all to read and see.
  • You may be able to organise a craft lesson with the visitor, so your pupils can try the particular crafts.

3. Interpreting evidence from artefacts

History is always about balancing subjective claims (peoples’ personal accounts and opinions) against objective (independent) evidence. When exploring artefacts, rather than oral or written evidence, the same balancing applies. There are definite things that can be said about a pot for example, i.e. its shape, what it is made of etc. Something like ‘what it was used for’ can only be speculation, based on what we use such pots for now. By looking at the pot carefully, consulting old drawings and paintings and talking to others, we can build up a more certain picture of how it was used.

This part explores ways of helping pupils question their thinking and understanding about artefacts.

Case Study 3: Interpreting historical events using letters as artefacts

Mrs Minka decides to use a book of letters of how children remember the events of the Yaa Asantewaa War against the British in 1979. She plans to use the book A Story from Ghana: A History for Primary Schools as the text for the lesson. She chooses to read to the class the speech by Nana Yaa Asantewaa that galvanised the men of Asante to go to war. After studying these accounts carefully, Mrs Minka realises that they are based on subjective evidence, and thinks that it would be a good idea to compare them to more objective historical evidence in the lesson. Therefore, Mrs Minka gathers a range of documents and books written by historians that examine the events leading to the war. She makes a summary of the key ideas to use in class.

First, she asks each group to read the chosen paragraphs from A History from Ghana: A History for Primary Schools and then asks them to look at her chart of key events and thoughts by respected historians. Do they see any similarities or differences in these accounts of the same event? They discuss whether the subjective accounts in the book can be supported by the objective historical evidence put forward by historians. They agree that both give insights. The book is people’s perceptions and can vary according to their beliefs, but the chart just has facts.

At the end, Mrs Minka summarises for her class the difference between subjective and objective evidence when looking at the past.

Key Activity: Displaying some of our history

  • Ask your class to bring in any old items they have in their homes, such as traditional dress, old cooking utensils, woodwork, masks, bead and craftwork, pots etc.
  • Remember that for your pupils things that are only 20 or 30 years old will seem very old. The important part of the exercise is for them to gather evidence about the artefact and, by looking at lots of old objects, to develop some idea of how to make sense of life in the past. If you can, make sure you have also collected some items, so that you can give to those who are unable to bring in anything.
  • Ask your pupils, in pairs, to produce a sheet (see Resource 2: My artefact) to display with the artefact.
  • When the display is complete, ask other classes to visit your exhibition. You could even ask parents and the local community to come to see the exhibits. You may find out more from your visitors about some of your artefacts.

Resource 1: Using artefacts in the classroom

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

The opportunity to handle actual artefacts is a unique experience. For some reason that no one is quite sure of, the act of touching an object, which obviously has its own history and story, inspires everyone. Pupils will inevitably be curious about the artefacts and this will naturally lead to good discussion.

Handling an artefact allows pupils to use their senses, develop questioning and problem-solving skills, strengthen their understanding of a period, and empathise with people from the past.

What is the purpose of an artefact handling session?

Artefact handling sessions can be used to:

  • motivate pupils at the start of a new topic;
  • attract and hold the attention of pupils;
  • deepen their understanding of a topic they are studying;
  • lead to an in-depth study within a broader unit of work;
  • act as a bridge between several different subjects or units of study;
  • assess pupils’ developing understanding at the end of a lesson.

What questions should I ask during an artefact handling session?

The type of question you ask will depend on what you are using the artefacts for. The questions below should help you get the most out of using the artefacts.

Questions about the physical characteristics of an object

  • What does it look, feel, smell and sound like?
  • How big is it?
  • What shape is it?
  • What colour is it?
  • How heavy is it?
  • Does it have any marks that show us how it was made, used and cared for?
  • What is it made of?
  • Is it mass-produced or unique?
  • Is it complete or part of an object?
  • Is it in good condition or worn/used?
  • Has it been altered, adapted, repaired or changed?

Questions about the design and construction of an object

  • What materials is it made of?
  • Why were these materials chosen?
  • Could different materials have been used?
  • Is it attractive to look at?
  • When and where might it have been made?
  • Was it made by hand or machine?
  • Who might have made it?
  • Is it made in one piece or made up of different parts?
  • Can it be taken apart?
  • How is it put together?
  • How might the object work?
  • Is it decorated or plain?
  • Are there any marks/images on the object?
  • What do these tell us about the people who made the object or owned the object, and about the period we are studying?

Questions about the importance and value of an object

  • What difference did the object make to people’s lives?
  • How important was the object to: the people who made it; the people who used it or owned it; people today?
  • What does the object tell us about the people who owned it?
  • Is it mass-produced, rare or unique?
  • Is the object financially/sentimentally/culturally/historically valuable?
  • In what way is the object important today?

Questions about the function of an object

  • What is it?
  • Why was it made?
  • How might it have been used?
  • Who might have used it?
  • What skills were needed to use it?
  • What would it have been like to use it?
  • Where might it have been used?
  • Might it have been used with other objects?
  • Has its use changed?

Teaching with objects – some approaches

Many of the approaches detailed below can also be used when interrogating documents, prints and paintings with pupils.

Visual stimulus

Objects can be used to stimulate discussion at the beginning of a lesson. The same objects can be used to recap what pupils have learned and to see if any of their ideas and understandings have changed in the course of the lesson.

Historical inquiry

A selection of objects can be used by pupils for an exercise in historical inquiry – obtaining information from sources. Allow time for pupils to look at the object carefully before exploring some of the following questions:

  • What is it made of?
  • What tools or techniques were needed to make it?
  • Who might have made it?
  • Did making it require specialist skills?
  • Is it decorated? How?
  • Who might have used it?
  • What was it used for?
  • Did it have a practical function, or was it used in other ways?
  • How large or heavy is it?
  • Is it a valuable or rare object?

Drawing comparisons and relating objects to each other

Use two objects or images side by side and ask pupils to draw comparisons, exploring the similarities and differences. Use groups of objects and talk about the relationships between them.

Representations and interpretation

Some artefacts may show evidence of a particular viewpoint or bias. Who created the object and for what purpose? Is it an item of propaganda? Does it tell the whole story? What doesn’t it tell?

Other activities using objects include

Prediction activities – show pupils an object and ask them to work out which period of history it relates to.

Case study – pupils can use a single object or group of objects to build up a case study, for example, life in West Africa before the slave trade.

Groupings – pupils can group objects into sets that have particular things in common (such as the materials they are made from, the country they originated from, how they were used). Pupils can consider how to curate a museum display by grouping objects in different ways.

Caption or label writing – pupils can write their own captions or exhibition labels, either from a modern viewpoint or as if they were writing at the time the object was made.

Emotional intelligence – pupils can list adjectives that describe how they feel about an object, demonstrating empathy as well as understanding.

Creative responses – pupils can respond to an object through creative writing, drama or art.

Which subjects can benefit from using artefacts?

Learning from objects is beneficial to subjects across the curriculum:

  • History: sense of chronology, empathy and key skills.
  • Science: properties of materials, observation, comparing, classification and questioning skills.
  • English: asking and answering questions, contextual materials.
  • Drama: stimulus materials, developing empathy.
  • Art and Design: stimulus materials, contextual materials, still-life drawing.

Here are some pictures of Ghanaian artefacts to stimulate thinking.

Resource 2: My artefact

Pupil use