This lesson uses the poem by Judith Nicholls to look at different interpretations of what it was like living in Roman Britain. The poem presents a standard view of the benefits that Britain enjoyed under the Romans, but was it really such a pleasant time for everyone?
The teaching focus is Literacy, History and ICT, and the lesson is suitable for a Y4/5 class.
This activity should come at the end of pupils' work on Roman Britain. Pupils should have enough knowledge to consider whether life in Roman Britain was peaceful and prosperous for everyone, or whether there were downsides to rule from Rome.
Poetry Archive recording of 'The Romans in Britain' by Judith Nicholls
Screen or whiteboard linked to Poetry Archive website, for viewing the text of the poem
Ask the class what they enjoyed about studying the Romans, and record their observations on the board. The aim is to get the pupils thinking about what they have done over the previous few weeks. It encourages pupils to put together a 'big picture' of their study, reminding them of what they have studied, what they remember best and what they think was most important.
Use this as a preamble to the main question: What was it like living in Roman Britain? Was it comfortable for everyone?
This question requires the pupils to make a judgement and review their study of the period.
What was it like living in Roman Britain?
Listen to the poem.
Is this an accurate view of the Romans in Britain?
Explore the poem and its language. What are the features of Roman rule that it mentions? Ask the pupils what sort of impression it gives of Britain under Roman rule. Was it really like this?
Use a set of eight sort cards to consider other aspects of Roman Britain that might give a different view or interpretation of the period. Pupils could be put into groups of three or four to sort the cards. Each card has one of the following statements written on it:
The very rich lived in villas
The Romans built theatres for plays and poetry readings
Towns were built with clean water supplies and sewage systems
Each town had public baths that everyone could use
In some villas the female children of slaves were killed at birth
In the Roman amphitheatres animals and sometimes people were killed for entertainment
Roads helped travel and trade
Roman roads were built to allow the army to travel quickly to destroy any opposition
Ask the pupils to organise the cards into three groups:
FOR: Those that support the view in the poem
AGAINST: Those that challenge the view in the poem
INTERESTING: Those that they are not sure about
Now listen to the poem again.
Add your own verse that tells the true story about what it was like living in Roman Britain. This could be done as a class, modelled by the teacher, or in groups.
The Romans were so clever,
but they also were so cruel,
the rich they lived in villas,
but poor they lived on gruel.
They came and conquered Britain,
with their soldiers that were strong,
they killed our Queen Boudicca,
and many of her throng.
Because it is very difficult to assess individual contributions to group work and projects it is worth considering the use of self-evaluation. Ask the pupils to assess their own contribution, achievements and areas for improvement. They could use the following format:
Who I worked with
What I did
What went well
'The Roman Road' by Thomas Hardy
'The Centurion's Song' by Rudyard Kipling
'Roman Wall Blues' by W H Auden (also recorded by Alex Harvey: Roman Wall Blues, 1969 UK Fontana STL 5534