At the last conference there was a huge celebration of the ways we can utilise London in our teaching of English. Museums are just one area that London has to offer and of course there are many others. We can look to our wide range of formal cultural institutions like the galleries and theatres, but also to the streets, parks and rivers that surround us.
Shared below are some of the fantastic ideas shared by King’s College London PGCE students for how to make the most of our beloved city. As we look to that slightly more relaxed summer term or perhaps make plans for next year these trip suggestions could come in handy. You may well know all about the museums below and assume they have an education programme; however, the students have had time to explore the museums and consider other, creative ways you can build one of these museums into your study of a range of areas of English.
Dickens Museum and 19th Century London
Charlotte, Fahmida, Henna and Mariam explored the Charles Dickens Museum
The activities they came up with were aimed at understanding Dickens’ life and times. The museum offers its own programme of activities exploring Dickens’ texts but here are some ideas that could be used for understanding context in particular. For example you could create freeze frames in each room showing how it would have been used; create found poems using the plaques and extracts from Dickens’ writing; or take a walking tour of the area. They pointed out some of the fantastic apps you can use such as the blue plaque walk around the area.
Foundling museum at Coram Fields and 19th Century non-fiction ideas
Also in the Bloomsbury area is the Foundling Museum. Danielle Ashford, James Gallagher, Caroline Gooden, Zoe Mariner and John Moller visited to see how they could use the museum in the practice. They realised that the museum was potentially useful for a number of modern and Victorian texts such as: Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, An Inspector Calls (the institution was open until well into the 20th century), Coram Boy (the book is based on this specific foundling hospital) and Hetty Feather.
As well as being useful for exploring these literary texts, the museum is also a good base for research and introducing students to non-fiction writing. The following types of writing can be found in relation to the museum, such as testimonials from past residents scattered around the building, but also could be written by students after a visit:
- Newspaper reports on the institution, admissions, the parents, social acceptance of the institution
- Arguments for and against the Foundling Hospital’s establishment (it encouraged wantonness and prostitution)
- Drafting of papers using same style of writing
- Profiles and personal accounts
Responding to war at the IWM
The students who visited the Imperial War Museum had a difficult task in considering how they could students for an emotional trip full of quite gruelling details. They came up with creative ways of helping younger students to enjoy the day and be both informed and engaged with the tricky content of the museum.
They suggested introducing students to war literature before their visit so that they could understand the issues at hand and relate the things in the museum to their work in class. Texts they suggested were common class readers , such as the Boy in Striped Pyjamas or The Diary of Anne Frank as well as more unusual texts like Maus, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich and poems by holocaust and concentration camp victims.
One of the most interesting discoveries they made at the museum was RAF slang used by pilots. Trying to have conversations using the slang and exploring the language of war and battles was something the PGCE students found fun but also fascinating. In order to process some of what they have seen on the day, the students suggested a number of creative writing and discussion activities. Some of the best were: writing a postcard home from different types of people involved in the war and staging a radio show reporting on a key event from a war that they did not know much about before visiting.
The final group to present at our spring conference offered some interesting ways of using the Victoria and Albert Museum when teaching a play text. An important part of their proposed day out was familiarising the students with the museum set up, which is often crucial for students who do not regularly visit museums. For this they suggested a scavenger hunt around three of their personal favourite galleries, however it could be worth tailoring your hunt for interesting objects to the unit you’re studying.
They were particularly engaged with the theatre collection which is organised into different areas. These areas allow students to explore staging, costume, lighting and play scripts with hands on experimentation, dressing up and obviously historical artefacts. They suggested exploring the impact of all these different areas through actually seeing them and trying things out and then, when you get back to school, applying them to the text you are studying.
Things to note
- The Dickens’ Museum is not wheelchair accessible as it is a narrow Georgian Terrace with a lot of stairs.
- The Imperial War Museum will not allow younger students into the Holocaust Exhibition with good reason.
- All the museums do offer their own learning programme but it’s nice to think of ways you can directly link the activities to your own class and their needs and interests.