People who changed British history

Jasmine Short

Word on the street is that British culture is set to be a big topic for 2019. What better way to begin the year than sharing an activity from Exploring British Culture, part of the Cambridge Copy Collection. This activity explores people who have changed British history and what it means to be a history maker, developing information search and debate skills.


Ask learners if they can think of famous British ‘history makers’ (either internationally or within the UK). Write their names up on the board. Elicit from the whole group what kind of information they’d like to know about them. Write up some of these questions on the board, e.g. When was this person born? What special thing(s) are they remembered for? What impact did this have on the UK or the world at large? Prompt with a picture of a well-known British person, if required, e.g. He published ‘On the Origin of Species’ outlining his theory of evolution in 1859 (Darwin); She ruled over the British Empire from 1837 (Queen Victoria).


In groups of 4, learners do the balloon debate. They read through the names and descriptions (or research them on the Internet). They discuss who they consider the most important individuals. Each group chooses 1 man and 1 woman in their balloon and they prepare to explain their reasoning to the class. Encourage debate and questions from the rest of the class. Alternatively, each learner can be assigned a figure who they have to represent as the most important.


Learners can research the background of a different person from the suggestions above. Alternatively, learners could research a historic period of time, e.g. the Industrial Revolution; the reign of Henry VIII/Elizabeth I/Charles II/Queen Victoria; World War 1 or 2; the Highland Clearances; the potato famine in Ireland; the Glorious Revolution; the Norman Conquest; the English Civil War; the slave trade.

Download the balloon debate activity and print for students to use in class.

If you’re interested in British Culture you might enjoy our article on throwing your own British Party with free downloads.

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