Sharing the study of ancient history with pupils across Bolton

Posted on: 15 Mar 2024
Posted by: Gemma Ball

Gemma Ball, Classics teacher at Bolton School Girls’ Division, talks about how she has brought the subject to life through teaching workshops and Greek theatre, sharing her passion for the ancient world with BSGD pupils and local partner schools.

I first fell in love with the ancient world at primary school. When we were studying the ancient Greeks, our teacher built the entire curriculum around them. I remember fondly the robotic Minotaur we built out of LEGO in technology sessions and can still sing the choral ode for Aristophanes’ Clouds we wrote in music. The Greek and Roman topics have so much potential to inspire and I wanted to help primary teachers, few of whom will have a background in Classics, to tap into that for their students.

The first workshop I devised was on Greek theatre. I discussed my ideas with a teacher from a local primary and designed the workshop to build upon their scheme of work. Greek theatre ties in perfectly with the study of Greek myths and it also offers opportunities to explore religion and ideas about democracy and society – the big ideas which are a key component to the KS2 history curriculum. Greek theatre continues to have an influence on modern culture and so I think it is important and highly relevant to engage children with it. The session was very successful: even the teachers said they learned a lot and they were keen to invite me back to do it again this year.

I then developed a Roman army workshop so that I was able to offer a choice of Greek or Roman workshops to our partner schools and several were keen to invite us to share them.

Our workshops consist of two hour-long sessions that are split into three main activities: teaching some content with questions and answers; a craft activity such as theatre masks or Roman shields; and a physical activity, performing a choral ode or Roman army drills. The workshops are designed to encourage creativity, collaboration, and confidence, as well as to build on knowledge and enable them to draw cultural connections with the past. My hope is that pupils will love learning about the ancient world and want to explore it further.

Towards the end of the spring term, I emailed around 50 local schools hoping to fill five slots in the summer term. I was inundated with requests. The whole department got involved in offering the workshops and we delivered up to two or three a week in the final summer term. Even then, we were unable to visit every school that requested it. I decided to offer a CPD day for teachers in lieu of a workshop to those schools we had had to turn down. We invited them into our school and delivered the workshops to them, exploring how they could be adapted and built on in their settings and providing a bank of resources to support them. We were joined by the charity Classics for All who told teachers about the support they could provide for teaching Classics.

Over the course of the year, we worked with around 30 schools and delivered 17 workshops to groups of 30 to 60 pupils – including two workshops for groups of 90 pupils that were led by our Year 10 students. Overall, we partnered with around 90 primary teachers and TAs and over 1,000 pupils.

We now have four different Classics workshops that we offer to schools, we are building a programme of CPD events and developing support to encourage local schools to introduce an ancient language to their KS2 curriculum. Plans have begun for a Greek theatre festival where primary schools can visit us to showcase their work on the Greeks.

Greek theatre is a passion of mine, and I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing that with pupils and their teachers but I have to admit, I really do enjoy the Roman workshops; trying to coordinate 60 8-year-olds into a workable testudo formation is some of the most fun I have ever had on a school playground!

About Gemma Ball

Gemma Ball is a Classics teacher at Bolton School Girls’ Division.