Teaching Resources

Teaching historical writing in Year 6

by Louise Robinson
on October 8, 2015


Our team is made up of experienced classroom teachers, who will be regularly sharing ideas and lessons from their own archives. If you’re looking for more, don’t forget that you can always find daily story-writing prompts for all ages over at Pobble 365.

Teaching report writing, biography, debate, and discussion texts can be a challenge. For some students, it’s not immediately clear how this type of writing is connected to the freer, more obviously “creative” experience of fiction. However, I found the following lesson for upper Ks2 students to be an engaging way to connect them with the real people that lived through historical events.

In this case, I focused on the slave trade and its abolition as a subject for my students. To get my class immediately immersed in the topic, I used a few different pieces of media:

Using the trailer from 12 Years a Slave is a fantastic hook – immediately, the children began questioning, linking the historical facts to their feelings and opinions. They spontaneously began deep discussions about what it must have been like to be in various positions during the time of the slave trade. They questioned who was correct morally, as well as economically. Because they wanted to know everything about the slave system, the opportunity to teach a variety of subjects presented itself easily.

Presentation skills:

To start off, the students chose to research the Triangular Trading System, which they used to focus essays and deliver a presentation on PowerPoint (we all know how Year 6 students love to use the computer). It was great for speaking and listening evidence as children created their own success criteria of what a good presentation would be, and then assessed each other against these. They responded very well to being handed the responsibility of peer assessment.


As a next step, I recommend having a few biographies on hand. I found that my students then wanted to dig deep into learning about life as a slave, so the stories of Solomon Northupp and Mary Prince made for strong choices, since they are both the subjects of the film and fascinating real-life figures as well. Others wanted to know more about the abolitionists, so I gave a quick introduction to Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce as a jumping-off point. The children were so intrigued by the to thm, very strange system of slavery, that it made designing biographical essay assignments easy.

Rhetoric practice:

After all this learning about why slavery existed and who benefitted, as well as how immoral slavery was, it easily created an opening for a great debate. We went back in time and set up a Houses of Parliament. Each pupil was assigned a role: slave, abolitionist, member of the public who was against slavery, slave owners, merchants, farm owners, and so on. They all had to create an argument and debate it. ‘Should slavery be abolished?’

This needed to be scaffolded, and children were in small groups of 8 (4 on each side).

Other children observed the debate and assessed the success of points made, explanations, use of appropriate language and how they responded to opposing an argument.


It’s important that students be given a clear connection between their writing skills and other disciplines, from history to debate and presentation. Ultimately, when we teach non-fiction writing, we’re teaching how to think logically – and also, when tackling some of history’s darker topics, compassionately.