Trying to make the causes of the First World War engaging and rigorous

For the last six years I’ve done a bog standard “What was the main cause of WW1?” essay as the first assessment in Year 9. It’s achieved solid results and our students have seemingly enjoyed it. But with this being the 100th anniversary I wanted to spice it up a bit, make it a bit more engaging and frankly a bit more rigorous in terms of content.

In the lead up lessons I’ve added more content, looking at Germany in a bit more depth and getting our teeth into the Balkans rather than skirting round the single issue of Franz Ferdinand.

With the assessment I really wanted to get the students to engage in the current debate surrounding the causes, so  instead of an essay the students will write a letter to a historian they disagree with. I hope this will create some more engaging pieces of writing and that the students will like the reality of the task as I genuinely intend on posting the best results off.

Below is a lesson plan and resources if you’d like to steal it.


Starter: WW1 origins news stories

Use clippings from news stories and tweets from professional historians from the last year to show that there is a current and active debate about the origins of the WW1.  Use the Niall Ferguson clip from the BBC 2 debate earlier this year to really illustrate this.


Task 1: Paired discussion

Give each pair of students the opinions of six current historians (these are abbreviated versions of longer text from They need to read the six opinions and sort them from the one they most agree with to the one they least agree with. Share findings as a class. Hopefully you’ll have some difference across the room.


Task 2: Assessment

Note: This will take a significant amount of time. It is envisaged that students will need 50 minutes total to complete, so do this over two lessons.

The students  must write a letter to the historian they most disagree with explaining why they think they are wrong. There is a structured assessment and mark scheme provided.


Plenary: Discussion

Why does any of this matter 100 years later?



Assessment Instructions – full instructions to give to the students including sentence starters

Historians Opinions – cards with the six different historian opinions

Lesson 5&6 ASSESSMENT – the lesson PowerPoint

Mark Scheme NEW – full task specific mark scheme