How to: Teach the Primary History Curriculum (KS1 & KS2)

Teaching Primary History

History teaches us empathy, provides perspective on our own lives, and allows us to learn from the successes and failures of others. History is critically important to the development of our society and our children, but how interested people are in history often depends on how engagingly it was taught to them at school.

You have the opportunity to incite a love of history in your pupils, but we know that teaching history can be an overwhelming prospect. Today, we’ll guide you through what the primary history curriculum includes for KS1 and KS2. We’ll then give you some of our top tips and resources to ensure you go into your history lessons with confidence.

If you’re looking for history resources, explore this progressive primary history scheme of work for Years 1-6, created by Clive Davies who has an OBE for services to education, for FREE.


What is the primary history curriculum?

The History National Curriculum is designed to give children a broad overview of historical events and time periods. They’ll learn about cultures different from their own and people of significance so they have a greater understanding of the world around them.


The Key Requirements at KS1

At KS1, children should:

  • Understand changes that have occurred within living memory
  • Learn about significant global and national events across history
  • Learn about significant people in history
  • Learn about local significant people, places, and events


The Key Requirements at KS2

At KS2, children should:

  • Understand how historical events are complex and act like dominos in a chain
  • Be able to identify and talk about patterns in history
  • Discuss change over time
  • Understand the reliability and bias of different sources
  • Be provided with both an overview of time periods, people, and events, as well as studying some in-depth
  • Understand context; how certain events, cultures, religions, and politics changed the way people felt and thought in a specific period
  • Understand the relevance of history in today’s world


What Children Will Learn in KS1 & KS2 History

In KS1, you are not required to teach any one particular time period; you can discuss any relevant events that have happened in living memory or recorded history. Some of the most popular events, people, and places include:

  • Victorian Britain
  • The Gunpowder Plot
  • Kings and Queens
  • First World War
  • Second World War
  • The Battle of Hastings
  • Florence Nightingale
  • The Great Fire
  • The Moon Landing
  • The first aeroplane flight


At KS2, you must teach:

  1. Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age
  2. The Roman Empire and its impact on Britain
  3. Britain’s settlement by Anglo-Saxons and Scots
  4. The Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for England and the time of Edward the Confessor
  5. A local history study
  6. A study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066
  7. The greatest achievements of the earliest civilizations, including when and where they appeared. You can choose any one of the following:
    1. The Indus Valley
    2. Ancient Sumer
    3. Ancient Egypt
    4. The Shang Dynasty of Ancient China
  8. Ancient Greece (their lives, achievements, and impact on the western world)
  9. A non-European society that contrasts with British history. You can choose one of the following:
    1. Early Islamic civilization
    2. A study of Baghdad c. 900 CE
    3. Mayan civilization c. 900 CE
    4. Benin (West Africa) c. 900-1300 CE


How to Teach the Primary History Curriculum

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. This is a lot to cover in a short space of time. Remember that your students do not need to know everything about these topics - the goal of the curriculum is to give them a broad overview of history and how it affected people at that time and now. Here are some of our best tips on how to tackle this curriculum.

  • Teach Contextually

There’s a lot of information to cover here, and you don’t need to move through each time period chronologically if another order will work better for you. However you choose to move through the topics you teach, you need to make sure pupils understand where the events and historical periods take place on the timeline so they know what came before and after the events you’re discussing. By placing the events on a timeline, your pupils can learn how events affect others throughout history.


  • Take a Macro and Micro View of Events

Whenever you’re discussing a time period or event, make sure you discuss how everyday life was for people living through the period. Whether that’s discussing how life was for children in Victorian times or diving into the way Julius Caesar lived, this close-up look into people’s lives will help pupils better connect with the material. Take things a step further by asking your pupils to discuss how the lives of historical people are different from their own.


  • Follow the Story

History is most engaging when there’s a story to follow and that natural desire to find out what happened next is piqued. When choosing which events and topics to cover, choose those that are most engaging by following the drama. For example, pupils always enjoy the Gunpowder Plot, the Great Fire of London, and King Henry VIII.


  • Bring History to Life

If you are a wonderful storyteller you may be able to keep pupils hanging on your every word in a simple lecture-style lesson, but history is best taught when it’s brought to life for students. Try to take trips out to museums or local landmarks, bring antiques or replicas to class for your pupils to handle, act out scenes, and get them to ask their grandparents or even great-grandparents about what life was like during a certain time or event.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to bring history to life, check out our blog on making primary history lessons more engaging.


  • Ask Questions

It can be tempting to teach history as black-and-white events, but history is multi-faceted. Remember that history is often written by the winners or the most powerful people in society, and this bias is something you need to take into account while teaching these subjects. Ask your students questions about how they feel about the events they’re learning about. Ask questions like:

  • Do you think this was the right thing to do?
  • Do you think this account of [event] is accurate?
  • How do you think people felt who were living through this event?

Questions like these give your pupils an opportunity to engage with these topics more deeply and develop their own opinions and understanding of the events they’re learning about.


Resources to Help Teach History at the Primary Level

Since the primary history curriculum is so flexible, lesson planning can be complicated and time-consuming. Following a scheme of work (or unit plans) is the best way to ensure you deliver engaging lessons without spending hours researching these topics before teaching them.

Focus Education on Pango has created units that cover a wide range of time periods. Focus Education has you covered on everything from the Mayans to Grandparents, so your pupils get a well-rounded overview of history. All units contain knowledge organisers which ensure lessons are aligned with the curriculum and build on what pupils learned the previous year.

The Focus Education scheme of work was created by Clive Davies, OBE of Services to Education award winner, and all the schemes focus on progression and enquiry, ensuring pupils learn all key historical skills.

To explore the scheme further and try it for free, start a Pango FREE trial today.

Explore History Schemes of Work