Bringing History to Life at Aith Junior School

In May 2015 Scottish Book Trust toured Orkney and Shetland with Martin Brown, illustrator of the hugely popular Horrible Histories series. Mark Balfour, P5-7 teacher at Aith Junior High School in Shetland, shares how teachers at Aith got their pupils excited about history through different cross-curricular projects. 

Pupils at Aith Junior High School were very lucky to receive a visit from Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown. Prior to Martin’s visit, we planned different projects to tie in with our class history topics and get the pupils excited about meeting Martin. 


P5-7 Project: Tudor Newsreaders 

Primary classes 5, 6 and 7 worked together in mixed age-level groups to produce Tudor news broadcasts reporting on the different fates of each of Henry the VIII's wives. The brief was to report what had happened to each queen, why had it happened and what is going to happen next, talking as if the event had occurred the previous day.

Each group was to be their own news company, taking on the roles of researcher, script writer, camera operator, newsreader and director. There was a lot to do and pupils really rose to the occasion, working very hard together on their research to gather facts about the history of each queen. Pupils then used the notes they had taken to create a script for the news report. The script was written out on very large sheets of paper to create a teleprompter for the reporters to read from. They were given iPads to film a 1-minute video broadcast telling the people of Tudor Britain what had happened.

This project was a really great way to make history exciting and engaging.

This lesson was a great success and was a really great way to make a history topic exciting and engaging. All pupils were fully engaged throughout and were keen to get the report done in the time available. Once all of the news reports were completed pupils watched each other’s films and gave really constructive feedback to their classmates.

Check out Nicol and Bobby's Tudor news report:


P3-4 Project: Horrible Histories Illustration

In P3-4 we used illustrations from the Horrible Histories books as inspiration for designing our own book covers depicting Shetland’s very own Slimy Stewart Earl Patrick Stewart. 

Also known as ‘Black Patie’, Earl Patrick was reputed to be a very greedy man and a tyrant of the isles; he was involved in piracy, was the first to prosecute a ‘witch’ in Shetland as well as bullying islanders to work for him without pay. His castle in Scalloway was built using taxes while local folklore tells of the mortar for its walls being a mixture of human hair, blood and eggs.

However pride comes before a fall. Stewart, half brother of Mary, Queen of Scots, was sentenced to death for treason and was beheaded in Edinburgh in 1615. 

Pupils discovered these foul facts about Earl Patrick Stewart through online research and then came together as a class to share what they had learned about this rather unsavoury character. Pupils then looked at Martin Brown’s Horrible Histories illustrations and used his humour and drawing style as inspiration for creating their own Slimy Stewart book covers. Some of the information they had gleaned about Earl Patrick Stewart was then artistically interpreted by pupils – with a good dose of humour thrown in – to create book covers which would inform as well as hopefully amuse the readers.


Horrible History Visitors

One pupil described Martin's visit as 'the best morning ever'!

Because of the work we had done in class, pupils were all brimming with excitement on the day of Martin's visit and couldn't wait to meet Martin and hear him talk about his books. The visit by Martin Brown was a huge hit with pupils; one pupil described the visit as ‘The best morning ever’! Martin showed pupils examples of his work, gave them tips on how to draw in a similar style and looked at examples of art through the ages. The session was very engaging and interactive, covering a range of curriculum areas including maths, art, graphic communication and history, and tied in with the Tudor and Stewart topics we had studied in class. Martin’s visit was great for the pupils’ confidence too in that he emphasised that everyone can draw and that things don’t have to look exactly as they are in real-life. This led to a frenzy of drawing in the days following his visit!

Take a look at the gallery below to see some of the P3-4 pupils’ Slimy Stewart book covers. 

Mark Balfour

Mark Balfour is P5-7 teacher at Aith Junior High School in Shetland.