Who is your Historical Hero?

World History teaching resources for the high school classroom: lesson plans, worksheets, quizzes and simulation games for KS3, IGCSE, IB and A-Level teachers.

"Who is your Historical Hero?"

An independent research project, adaptable for all year groups!

Through this project, students will:


Stage 1:
Students will choose and investigate a historically important character who serves as a positive role model and inspiration. They will then produce a 'Knowledge Cube' on the character they choose.

Stage 2:
Students will share and compare their findings. Each student will choose a range of the characters discussed to place into a 'Diamond 9' diagram. Each student will then use their diagram to conclude about the sorts of personal qualities and achievements which they regard as being the most admirable and important as a responsible citizen.

Lesson One (60 minutes)

As students enter the room, perhaps be playing a suitably-themed song such as "Heroes" by David Bowie or "Holding out for a hero" by Bonnie Tyler (easily available on YouTube!).
Outline the task (see 'overview' above).
Clarify however that before we can all choose a suitable character, we need to be clear how to define "Historically signficant" and "heroic".

a. How do we measure historical significance?

Discuss ideas with students. The following sorts of ideas might be used to conclude:
Who? - Affects a large amount of people
Where? - Affects a large area
When? - Has an impact over a long period of time

b. How would we define a 'hero'?

• Lead a class brainstorm about which qualities are most admirable in others. They could be guided towarsd the sorts of qualities highlighted in the IB Learner Profile (Inquisitive, Thoughtful, Communicative, Knowledgeable, Risk-Taking, Principled, Caring, Open-Minded, Well -balanced, Reflective, Creative, Resilient).

c. Based on this, who do you think could be described as a "History hero"?

• The class should brainstorm names on the board.

After ideas start to run out, announce the TWIST: These are now the characters they are NOT allowed to choose as their 'History Hero' because the purpose is to try to find out about somebody NEW (note - in my experience, students tend to default at "Nelson Mandela", "Martin Luther King", "Florence Nightingale" and so on not because they've really thought about them but because they are 'default' options):

d. Independent work - Choosing your individual character

Students could start thinking through their ideas by firstly thinking about these questions:

  1. Your interests (e.g. musical, scientific, sporting...)
  2. Qualities you admire in others (Tips: What sorts of personal, rather than professional, qualities do you most admire in other people?)

Then, based on their answers, they can start to search on the web for a character that fits the bill ("most caring scientist of all time", "most determined feminist ever", "most principled footballer in history" etc).

Note: At this points, students might draw some inspiration from the "Great Lives" podcast series on the BBC.

e. Completing the Knowledge Cube (remainder of the first lesson, plus homework).

After settling upon their favourite character, students now have to complete their research piece. This should consist of a cardboard cube (which you can purchase on Amazon here) in the following format:

Lesson Two (60 minutes): Balloon Debate

We then had a balloon debate to determine a whole-class “History hero” for the year.

The format for this was as follows:

Stage 1: Students are divided into groups of 3-4 and given a name (Group A, Group B, ...). Each member of the group takes a couple of minutes to explain why they found their research character so impressive. At the end of the discussion, the group decides on which of the characters they have now learned about should go forward into the debate final. The teacher could lead a class feedback at this stage, focusing particularly on which characters the group rejected, and what they lacked.

Stage 2: The person from each team that researched the chosen finalist comes to the front of the class. The finalist from Group A states the character that his team will be proposing. Group B is then told that their job in a moment will be to find evidence designed to UNDERMINE this character's claim to heroic significance. Then, the finalist from Group B in turn states which character that his team has proposed and group C is told that this is the character they will undermine - and so on, until the final character nominated is the one which Group A will have the job of undermining.

Stage 3: The finalists to another part of the room where their job for the next 10 minutes is to arrange the class set of history cubes into a pyramid, with the more impressive characters placed towards the top, and the most impressive character overall at the summit.

Whilst the finalists are busy at work on the pyramid task, their team-mates should be trying to find evidence against their allocated finalist.

When the debate then proceeds, it can take the format of a finalist stating their case, and then other teams pitching in trying to undermine their case (this could be in the form of questions in the "Is it not true that...?" format).

Once all the finalists have spoken, the class should vote. An important point here is to make sure that each student has two votes: they should raise two hands for their overall favourite, and one hand for the runner-up. In this way it's possible to mitigate against the fact that everyone will vote for the character from their original team.

Lesson 3 / Homework: Conclusions in a Diamond/Triangle 9 Diagram

• Students copy all of the completed templates from the shared area onto their own laptops.
• They take some time to read through all of them individually.
• When they are ready, they select the 9 characters they find most inspirational overall, and rank these in a Diamond 9 digram.
• Different students will take this to different levels:
Level 1: Record the names in the diamond/triangle 9 template.
Level 2: Place one word in brackets against each name to summarise the reason you find them heroic (e.g. "Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Determined").
Level 3: Include further detail in each box to explain your judgement.
• Underneath the template, students should round off by completing the following textbox, which should go underneath the Diamond9 diagram:

Based on these findings, and reflecting on the sorts of talents, achievements and personality traits that I find most inspiring and admirable in other people, my definition of a "Great Life" is as follows:
"A Historical Hero is ..."

Extension / Whole-school kinaesthetic display

Then, I then invited different students (as an extension activity in different classes from different year groups, over several days) to arrange the cubes in a pyramid of their choosing, with the characters towards the top reflecting the people they personally found most impressive.

These photos were placed on display as outlined above, with the cubes left on a table for other students and teachers to do the same thing with at break times:

Once there are a range of photographs of pairs of students with their pyramids, encourage the school to look closely at these rather than just treat them as decoration by placing these sorts of questions around the display:


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