Building ‘abstract generalisations’ to help yr 8 write like historians

With yr 8 I’ve moved on to the Industrial Revolution and the first topic on the scheme of work is population and why it rose so rapidly. So after a couple of lessons exploring the main changes in Britain between 1750 and 1900 in areas such as population, industry, education, transport, the vote/democracy and health & medicine we have begun working towards answering the question ‘why did the population of Britain rise so rapidly between 1750 and 1900?’

The main source of information for this is the following grid of factors:


Drawing on the work of Jim Carroll at #WLFShistory and in order to move towards getting the pupils writing like historians in response to this question I focused today’s lesson on using this grid to build abstract generalisations. These will then be used as the factors that explain why there was an increase in the birth rate and a decrease in the death rate, which in turn of course led to the rise in population.

I began by asking pupils to identify which of the entries in the grid related to rising birth rate and which to falling death rate. I then asked them to see if they could group any together that were related, and give the groups names. They saw that there were factors relating to health care and medicine, cleanliness/hygiene and food and drink, which we combined into the single word ‘diet’.

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We then began to extend these categories into the abstract generalisations that Jim talked about. The thing that Carroll really emphasised was that this generalisation needed to include some sense of change – in order to be causing something, something has to change. I developed the first couple, explaining to pupils my thought process – turning health and medicine into ‘improvements in medicine and medical care’ and cleanliness/hygiene into ‘better hygiene’ – before asking the pupils both to identify the noun around which the phrase was built and also the word that implied change. We then developed the rest of them together, with me attempting to help less and less as we went through them. Here are the finished articles (we later changed the final one to ‘greater employment of children in factories’):

The key in the next lesson will be to introduce to pupils the ‘lexico-grammatical chunks’ Carroll talks about to ‘bridge the gap’ as it were between the abstract generalisations we have built and the details they drew on from the grid to show causal relationships without resorting to clunky ‘connectives’ like ‘led to’, ‘so’ and ‘therefore’.

Watch this space…

3 thoughts on “Building ‘abstract generalisations’ to help yr 8 write like historians

  1. Hi Lee, I really like the sound of this. I’ve been doing a lot of work in teaching my students to nominalise their adjectives and verbs into abstract nouns which has clearly improved their historical writing, but I really love the way that this has potential to improve their historical thinking. Looking forward to the next post.


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