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Trying to teach a better lesson on the fall of the Berlin Wall

Now and again I teach a shockingly bad lesson. A real grotty one. One where I realise mid way through that the kids don’t know what they are doing and that I feel ashamed to be teaching it. One that in all honesty I should have planned better.

This happened this week. I was trying to teach my  Year 9 class about the fall of the Berlin Wall. I set up the enquiry Why did the Berlin Wall fall?, showed a little YouTube video, did a bit of teacher talk and gave them a casuality diagram with long term, short term factors and catalysts on it. To aid them to fill it in, I printed various resources for them to read and discuss. In principal this sounds ok but it fell flat on it’s face. The kids were confused, the articles were boring and they walked out having learnt very little.

I went home angry and fed up and resolved to do better. Sitting at home with a coffee I realised there were two problems with the lesson. One it was deadly boring. Two it wasn’t accessible. I needed to replan it as I was due to be teaching the same lesson today to two subsequent groups.

So I spent the next hour and a half (this is PGCE level planning time) replanning it and having just taught it I am a lot happier so I thought I would share what I did.

The fall of the wall is interesting, at least I think so, but I needed a hook. Doing some reading and video watching I remembered the story of Gunter Schabowski, the East German official who accidentally read out the order that the Berlin Wall checkpoint would open immediately. Except he wasn’t meant to say this! I knew the kids would like this – they like a doofus. Hence I came up with a more exciting enquiry:

Berlin Wall Fall

 

I opened the lesson with the Honecker “the wall will stand for 50 years” quote and then explained that less than ten months later Gunter Schabowski enters the scene. Through teacher talk and a video clip of the press conference I explained Gunter’s mistake and then showed images of the scenes following his announcement in Berlin that evening and the next few days: pictures of people stood on the wall outside the Brandenburg Gate etc. I then introduced the enquiry and they were hooked.

The next problem I needed to deal with was making the evidence and narrative accessible. The articles I had found were useless, either too long or too short. As a result I ditched this and went for a tried and trusted card sort. I typed up my own from the reading. Here they are, including the Boss who I couldn’t leave out!:

Berlin Wall Fall

We read through chronologically together as a class and then I set a few simple instructions of things to do with the cards that got progressively more difficult and ensured they engaged with the material.

Berlin Wall Fall

 

This worked really well. It was accessible to all from the lowest to the highest attaining students and the outcomes were solid:

Exemplar 1

Exemplar 2

 

Finally I got them to write a conclusion to the lesson enquiry. I hope you agree this shows that this lesson was a lot more successful than the horrid one yesterday:

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One thought on “Trying to teach a better lesson on the fall of the Berlin Wall

  1. Really like this! I’m never happy with my lessons on the end of the Cold War. We all (myself and the kids) seem to run out of steam a bit. Will definitely try this next year.
    Thanks for sharing.

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