What is history? (KS2)

Fritz in Nazi bomber, by artist Reginald Mount (INF 3/1421)
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How do historians know what to believe?

This session aims to prepare year 5/6 pupils to study history at secondary school. It will help pupils to understand that different types of sources can be used to find out about the past, and how historians can use these sources as evidence. It will also introduce pupils to the concepts of reliability and usefulness.

The workshop begins with a discussion led by the education officer, considering what types of evidence a historian needs in order to find out about the past, and where they might find this evidence. Pupils will then be asked to think about the types of questions a historian needs to ask when faced with different types of evidence – the education officer will guide pupils to consider the four Ws: who, what, why, and when – key questions about a document and its creation.

For the second part of the workshop, pupils work in groups looking at different types of documents, including a map of London created just after the Great Fire, a Victorian criminal register complete with photographs of child convicts, a Plea Roll taken from the reign of Henry VIII and propaganda posters used during the Second World War. Pupils are given no prior information about any of these documents, but have to use their questioning techniques as historians to try and determine what each document is, when it was made and how it can tell us about the past. Pupils are given a workbook to fill in with the results of their investigation.

For the final part of the workshop, pupils are given the opportunity to feed back on their findings and time to ask the education officer any questions they would like about the documents they have been investigating.

A really useful session, led by experts who were skilled at getting students to analyse documents. All of our students were engaged throughout, and asked lots of relevant and interesting questions. A fantastic foundation for future work in the classroom

KS 2 teacher

This session can be delivered as a workshop, videoconference or virtual classroom. Find out more about the types of session we offer.

Session options

This session is delivered as a:


at The National Archives

2 hours

Virtual classroom

in your classroom

1 hour


in your classroom

1 hour

Available: All year

Cost: Free to UK schools

Suitability: Key stage 2

Request a booking

Contact us

All activities must be booked in advance.

Tel: +44 (0)20 8392 5365

Fax: +44 (0)20 8487 9202

Contact the education team