What I did with this: Losing your head

[Original post, plus some great follow up comments can be found here]

Meet my friend, the crop button. Or, if you’re lucky enough to be using Keynote, his cousin the mask button.

The picture is actually quite engaging in itself, but there’s still a good chance that a good percentage of students will tune about before we get to grips with what’s being shown here. So, when they come in to my class for this lesson they get this.

Slide 1

Which is followed, once everyone’s settled with this.

The question here is important. It’s not ‘what is going on here’, but what do you think is going on here’. And in those three little words we move from a right / wrong / “I’m not going to get involved in case I don’t get it right” situation to one in which every opinion is welcomed, valued and open to challenge. “Why do you think that?” “Does anyone else agree?” “What other evidence is there for that?” “What evidence is there that suggests this is wrong?”

The object of the exercise is not to work out what is going on in the picture (although every class I’ve used this with does), the point is to talk about what could be happening based on limited evidence.

Once the conversation has run it’s course, they get the full picture and the second key element to the lesson – a story.

History is full of stories, but they’re often overlooked for ‘facts’. A story needs to contain the little juicy bits that keep people hooked. Things like that on that cold January morning, Charles Stuart wore two shirts, so as not to be seen to shiver and be thought to be afraid. After the axe had fallen, it is said that those at the front of the crowd rushed forward to dip their hankies in the blood of the man many believed to have been divinely appointed. [1. Although this itself open up another interesting side line. ‘It is said’ covers a multitude of sins, and in this case it is worth noting that none of the eye witnesses appear to have recorded this. The story only emerged after the restoration.] Speaking of the axe, the executioner struck the deal of anonymity with Parliament, so to this no one knows for sure who swung the axe. Slightly oddly, Cromwell agreed that the King’s head should be sewn back on after the execution, and he was quietly buried in Windsor Castle.

Hopefully the next stage is to garner questions, one of which will be ‘why did this happen’, and then we’re off, either into an exploration of the Civil Wars, or into the trial and execution itself.

Alternatives and Variations

This approach (of only revealing part of a picture) can also be adapted by given students half of an image and asking them to draw in what they think might be in the second half. I do that with the image below for example, as an introduction to Civil Rights in the US for year 10. (All the more shocking for it being a postcard)

It also works well with images like the one on this page for studying witchcraft.

So that’s what I’d do with it. There’s already been some great ideas over the comments to the original post, particularly looking at where you could take the enquiry after this initial activity. Now, let me know how you’d do it differently, or call me up on anything below.

Image credits:

The execution portrait was taken from a school textbook. I’ve been unable to work out who owns the copyright for the orginal image, but if anyone has a problem, please contact me and I’ll remove it.

The lynching image is public domain via wikimedia

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