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Teaching Primary History: Anglo-Saxons & Vikings for Key Stage 2

>>>MEDIUM-TERM PLANNERS on Anglo-Saxon Britain (August 2014) and Vikings (January 2014) available to subscribers in Planning Section.

The following Key Stage 2 history lessons have all been judged to be outstanding according to OFSTED criteria. There is a wide variety of teaching and learning activities as well as a rich array of teaching resources including PowerPoint® presentations. New lessons will be regularly added to meet the demands of the changing primary curriculum.

Outstanding KS2 Lessons

  • How effective was Anglo-Saxon justice: what should we do with Edgar? (October 2013)  Pupils work in groups to create a series of short dramatic enactments, illustrating ways of keeping law and order / punishments in Saxon times. They are then told the real-life case of Edgar for them to decide how he should be punished. By way of stretch and challenge, pupils are asked to think of the different principles that underlay the punishments: revenge, loyalty etc. They conclude by designing an illustrated double-page spread for a school textbook and deciding which methods of keeping law and order were most effective.

  • Just how great was Alfred? Can we beat the BBC website? (September 2013) This lesson is 2014-ready and matches the new curriculum requirements.  In this outstanding lesson, pupils are asked to critique and then improve the BBC children’s website entry for Alfred. But first they need to see how history has commemorated Alfred and then carry out some research for themselves. This lesson offers plenty of opportunities to develop two key concepts: interpretations and significance. Pupils learn that historians have to be careful when using sources: some deliberately exaggerate and have been written for a particular purpose.

  • The mystery of the empty Saxon grave. Pupils are put in the role of detectives to investigate the Sutton Hoo bodiless ship burial.  Having looked at the clues they then use their deductive power to work out which of 4 suspects is most likely to have been the owner.

  • How do we know where the Saxons settled? Literally bells and whistles: testing a simple hypothesis about where the early Anglo-Saxons lived and how we know.

  • Vikings: What were they like? Starting with a fun reconstruction relay about Viking ships.

Smart Tasks



Teaching the new 2014 curriculum

My strong advice is to teach this as one longer unit combining Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, as there is so much overlap.  Teaching them separately would lead to unwelcome repetition.

As you will have noticed the new curriculum pays far greater attention to the Saxons and Vikings.  The statutory elements are:

1. Britain’s settlement by Anglo-Saxons and Scots (covers the period before King Alfred)
This could include: Roman withdrawal from Britain in c. AD 410 and the fall of the western Roman Empire, Scots invasions from Ireland to north Britain (now Scotland), Anglo-Saxon invasions, settlements and kingdoms: place names and village life, Anglo-Saxon art and culture, Christian conversion – Canterbury, Iona and Lindisfarne.

2. Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England to the time of Edward the Confessor
This could include:- Viking raids and invasion - resistance by Alfred the Great and Athelstan, first king of England – further Viking invasions and Danegeld - Anglo-Saxon laws and justice - Edward the Confessor and his death in 1066.

There are several points that need to been borne in mind when considering your planning. Firstly, both Saxons and Vikings as depth studies are now compulsory in a way they were not in the 2000 curriculum.  So there will be work to do.  Even schools who have taught the Saxons before will not have done so in this detail.  Few will have taught about the Scots.

The most important point to consider is not the content alone but how it provides a context for developing key historical skills. Many of the outstanding lessons featured do just that.  Evidence-based enquiry work centres on the cremation urn evidence for Saxons settlement in which pupils test historical hypotheses. The problem-solving Sutton Hoo ship burial detective work lesson really helps pupils to think like historians.  Interpretations are well provided for with Has history been fair to the Vikings?  Work on causes is dealt with in the push v pull activity on the Saxons.

Teaching Britain's settlement by Anglo-Saxons and Scots

Although the first part of this requirement poses few problems, the second is highly contentious.  It may well be that the Gaels on the Scottish west coast were actually part of the same group as those in Northern Ireland.  Where is the evidence of a Scottish invasion?  Anyway the whole idea is, as one historian recently put it, 'way, way too complex for Y3 and 4'.  so my advice is, don't agonise on this point.  Mention and move on.

Resourcing your Anglo-Saxon and Viking topics

A great place to start looking for material ion the Anglo-Saxons is the 24 hour museum site for children called showme. You will be helped to explore an Anglo-Saxon village and 3D artefacts as well as seeing video clips of a recent archaeological dig.

The same site can also be a a great starting point for checking out which museums offer pupils the opportunity to get involved in some problem-solving activities using Viking finds.

In the News October 2011: Vikings, raiders or traders? The latest evidence

The discovery of the first fully intact Viking burial site in the UK (October 20th 2011) - on the Ardnamurchan peninsula in Scotland provides a great opportunity for de-bunking some well known Viking myths. The 16ft-long grave containing the remains of a “high-status Viking” who was buried with an axe, a sword and a spear might suggest the typical Viking warrior image. About 200 rivets - the remains of the boat he was laid in - were also found.  Previously, boat burials in such a condition have been excavated at sites on Orkney.  Until now mainland excavations were only partially successful and had been carried out before more careful and accurate methods were introduced.

Other finds in the 5m-long (16ft) grave in Ardnamurchan included a knife, what could be the tip of a bronze drinking horn, a whetstone from Norway, a ring pin from Ireland and Viking pottery. These finds question the stereotypical image about the Viking helmeted warriors pillaging the land at will.

5 good reasons for thinking the Vikings were more traders than raiders.

  • Viking warriors were homemakers who couldn’t wait to ship their wives over to settle the lands they had conquered.
  • More than a thousand years after the first Viking longships landed on British shores, a study has shown the blood of the Norse warriors still flows through the veins of swathes of the population.
  • The Viking genetic marker - M17 - is also present in the Western Isles in large numbers. Clan names are a visible relic; MacIvors were originally the sons of Ivar, MacSween, the sons of Swein.
  • The Viking world stretched from Newfoundland to the Middle East and beyond. Objects moved over thousands of miles across a great network. Not all of the objects survive (silk, spices, etc) but others tell of great adventures. There have even been finds of coins and jewellery from as far away as Baghdad, Samarkand and Tashkent - many in areas now argued to be rural and far from modern trade routes.
  • While they undoubtedly struck fear into the natives on their arrival, the Vikings settled in Scotland for around 300 years. They were farmers who kept a variety of animals, including sheep, cattle, and pigs, and grew crops such as barley and oats. They also collected plants for medicinal purposes.


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Challenging a stereotypical view of the Vikings

Realising where the evidence comes from and then evaluating it.

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