Teaching the OCR Thematic Unit: Nick Fellows Offers Practical Advice

By Fellows, Nick | History Review, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Teaching the OCR Thematic Unit: Nick Fellows Offers Practical Advice


Fellows, Nick, History Review


When AS and A2 History was introduced many teachers and students believed that the Thematic Unit would be the most challenging. It was not the requirement to write two essays in 90 minutes that caused concern, but rather the demand that these essays should cover a period of approximately 100 years. It was felt by many that this would present students with a serious challenge as they were asked to identify themes, patterns of change and continuity and turning points in a developmental account that covered the whole period. However, in most instances the fears of both students and teachers were groundless and the standard of written answers has often been of the highest quality.

There are, however, a number of strategies that can be employed to boost your grade even further. Although most of the examples I have used are taken from the Early Modern period they can equally be applied to other periods. It is important to note the aims of the paper, as they will prevent you from getting bogged down in excessive detail. You are required to have a broad overview of a period, in other words you need to know a little about a lot. You also need to identify key developments within the period you have studied and be able to explain them. For example, why did the frequency of rebellion decline in the 16th century? Or, why was France more united in 1610 than 1498? In order to explain these developments there will be key events that you will have to explain; it can be an advantage to see these as stepping stones through the period.

Timelines

One of your first tasks must be to identify any patterns that emerge. We have found it very successful to use the timescale provided by the examination board as our starting point. By plotting the dates of all the rebellions on a timeline (as in figure 1 overleaf) a pattern of frequency soon emerges. It is apparent that there are more rebellions in the first half of the period than the second and that there are more rebellions at certain times within the first half of the period. This leads you to ask why this pattern emerges and whether there is an identifiable point after which rebellion declines. This latter point is a useful focus as it is likely to lead to a discussion as to whether Wyatt's rebellion in 1554 or the Northern Earls in 1569 should be seen as the turning point. It will also help you to focus on why rebellion declined under Elizabeth. The plotting of the timeline will also give you a mental picture of the changing pattern, which will be very useful when writing an introduction to an essay.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Graphs

It may be surprising to discover that graphs can also provide you with a very useful means of understanding change over time and the relative importance of factors in that change. It is possible to plot on a graph the relative importance of religion, social and economic factors and political factors in causing each rebellion. It is easy to plot time along the horizontal axis and then the importance of the factor in each rebellion on the vertical. This is a very profitable exercise, as it will force you to assess the importance of the factor in each rebellion. You can use a vertical scale ranging from 'not a cause' to 'major cause'.

As you plot the graph you will see how the importance of each factor changes over time and also the changing relationship between the factors. You will also be able to see how the rate of change varies or whether the importance of the factor you are assessing remains equally important throughout the period. Having achieved this you should then think about the reasons for the pattern. Once again a simple graph will also provide you with a clear mental picture that you can use in your essays when trying to show change and continuity over time. Once again the simple summary that the graph provides will give you an ideal overview. This can be used in the introduction to an essay and provide you with a clear structure that can be explained in the main part of the work as you explain how and why the pattern has developed. …

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