History Year 5/6

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Adapted Unit Who were the ancient Greeks: War with Troy

Year 5/6

About the unit
This unit centres on one of the first epic stories of European history and literature, Homer’s Iliad. The Iliad tells the tale of the siege of Troy by a Greek army, in revenge for the abduction of the Greek Princess Helen. Our re-telling is structured around a 12-episode story on 3 CDs, entitled ‘War With Troy: the story of Achilles’. Children experience a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad, in 10-15 minute episodes, alongside other important stories from Greek mythology. The unit offers children the chance to know more about Greek stories, beliefs and culture, and to research ancient Greek cities, warfare and ways of life. It links with learning in the KS2 National Literacy Framework and NC English, PSHE and Citizenship – for which a teacher’s guide has been produced (see resources below).

Where the unit fits in

This adapted unit builds on learning that children had done in Year 3, using unit 14 ‘Who Were The Ancient Greeks?’ in the QCA scheme of work for history. It also links with Year 5 term 2 of the NLS, in which children are expected to study myths, legends and storytelling. The school in which this unit was developed has used War with Troy for Year 6 children in one instance (during term 3), and Year 5 children in another instance (term 2). This adapted unit of work can be used anywhere in Year 5 or Year 6. It is particularly designed to help children think about history and how historical storytelling links with English, Art, PSHE and Citizenship. It can be used specifically to motivate and excite boys to an interest in history and story, although the materials appeal to boys and girls. Because the materials centre on a CD recording of an oral re-telling, told from memory and not from a script, the Unit also heightens awareness of ‘speaking and listening’ as an important art form (the oral tradition), as well as a personal skill. Because this unit is built around an epic story linking with Year 5/6 NC English and NLS objectives, it is not easily adapted for Year 3/4: though it has been used successfully with Year 4/5 mixed classes.

At the end of this unit most pupils will:

describe features of the more important Greek gods and goddesses; explain some of the beliefs of the ancient Greeks and why they held them; understand some aspects and the importance of war in ancient Greek society; retell and interpret War With Troy from one perspective, whilst showing an appreciation of other possible interpretations; select and combine information from spoken, written and visual sources; be able to describe some features of storytelling within the oral tradition.
some pupils will not have made so much progress and will:

know that the ancient Greeks lived a long time ago; describe some features of life in ancient Greece; know some of the ancient Greek gods, and what they represented; be able to re-tell key aspects of the War With Troy.

some pupils will have progressed further and will:

compare aspects of ancient Greek civilisation and society today; compare different interpretations of War With Troy over time and give reasons for some differences; understand strengths of and similarities between different sources of information; select and combine information to produce extended descriptions of aspects of life in the story, such as warfare or belief; compare media and storytelling methods as used in ancient and modern times.

Prior learning

It is helpful if the children have:

  • learnt about the way of life of people from different cultures who lived in the distant past, including their myths, stories and artistic achievements

  • considered some of the attitudes and values of people living in the distant past, their motives and the results of their actions

  • experienced some Greek myths e.g. Perseus and the Gorgon

  • used stories, legends, artefacts and pictures as sources of historical information

some knowledge of the Greek gods and their particular influences e.g. Athene, goddess

of war and wisdom

Language for learning

Through the activities in this unit pupils will be able to understand, use and spell correctly:

  • words describing the ancient Greek world, e.g. Aegean, Sparta, Troy, city, palace, walls, warrior, high king, king, prince, slave, voyage

  • words describing ancient Greek ideas and beliefs, e.g. the names of gods and goddesses, nymph, temple, immortal, urn, oracle, blessing, curse, fate

  • phrases or descriptive techniques associated with epic poetry and oral tradition, e.g. metaphors, similes, epithets, repetitions, formulae, intonation, alliteration


Resources include:

  • three CD set telling War With Troy: The story of Achilles in 12 episodes, including an interview with the storytellers. Available from the Cambridge Schools Classic Project telephone 01223 361458

  • a website supporting the above offers free downloadable visual materials for use in classrooms and additional planning and teacher material: www.cambridgescp.com

  • postcards, posters or pictures of ancient Greek pottery and statues

  • stories of Greek myths and legends including references to Troy and the Trojan horse

  • a range of reference books about ancient Greek cities, people, gods and goddesses, warfare and trade

  • pictures and photographs of modern day celebrities and representations of the Greek gods

Section 1 How and why were ‘heroes’ important in Ancient Greece?

  • to question why ancient Greeks created stories about heroes, heroines, gods and goddesses

  • to consider ‘what is a hero?’ by discussing the qualities of human characters in War with Troy, comparing and contrasting these to modern day heroes and heroines

  • to reason about how and why modern and ancient societies need heroes, and how characteristics of heroes and heroines differ

After hearing the first three episodes of War with Troy, ask children to list important characters. Which are immortals (gods and goddesses), mortals (human) and what are the differences?

Discuss which of the story’s mortal characters might become heroes. What are their different qualities? Revisit ‘heroic’ characters (e.g. Achilles, Hector) as the story unfolds.
Ask children to discuss/define their idea of ‘a hero’, building a model by referring to qualities from historical and modern examples of ‘real people’ seen as ‘heroic’.
How does modern ‘celebrity’ (e.g. sports or pop stars) seem similar or different to ancient Greek or other ages’ ‘heroism’?
Children collect photographs of modern heroes, select one and write an explanatory comment for how that person might be seen in a hundred years’ time.

  • list and describe important mortal and divine characters in this story

  • be able to create and explain a display comparing modern and Ancient Greek heroes

  • define a hero (or heroine) and recognize the qualities that s/he possesses

  • show an understanding that concepts such as honour, heroism and celebrity exist in different historical periods.

Children can also be asked to write modern newspaper articles about events in the story e.g. the grand wedding of Peleus and Thetis, or a birth announcement for Achilles.

The display about heroes can be added to as the story progresses, since views about Achilles (the central ‘hero’) are likely to change.
There are opportunities to link this work with the QCA Scheme of Work for PSHE & Citizenship (QCA unit 11 In the media What’s the news?)

Section 2 What does this story tell us about how the Ancient Greeks lived?

  • about ancient Greek trading, by using books and other sources

  • to recognize differences between the lives of men and women in ancient Greece

  • about the armour and weapons that were used in warfare

  • about some of the manufactured things that ancient Greeks considered beautiful and /or valuable

Review the extract (episode 3) where Odysseus tricks Achilles out of hiding. List the goods Odysseus sells to the ‘women’ (e.g. cloth, rugs, mirrors, jewels, food, wine). Using research and imagination, list other objects that Odysseus could have traded, around 3000 years ago.

Episode 3 describes Helen in Sparta then in Troy. Read or listen again, as a source for describing how noble women like Helen lived. What goods did nobles possess, and how did they get them?
How many ‘ordinary’ people appear in this story? Discuss with children why ‘ordinary’ people do not show up (it is ‘heroic’). Using reference books, ask children to research and describe (with dates) ‘ordinary’ people from any period of ancient Greece. Later these can be placed on a timeline.
Using visual reference sources research details of Bronze Age ships, armour

and weapons. Ask children to imagine planning an attack using these. What

else would they need?

  • make observations and inferences about factual information in a fictional story

  • ask and answer questions about objects traded in ancient Greece

  • show that they can compare the lives of different groups of people and that they can make deductions about similarities and differences

  • show by drawings and written description that they know about items of a warrior’s equipment

Children can compare highly valued items ‘then and now, either to link knowledge from different periods of history or as a prompt for discussion in PSHE.
Further questions are ‘what do we mean by ordinary?’ This builds on previous discussions ‘what is a hero?’
Also ‘how do ideas about right and wrong influence how people in this story are behaving?’ (e.g. Paris running away with Helen, the Greek kings keeping their promise to bring her back).
What ideas about ‘right and wrong’ have children come across from other historical periods (e.g. transportation for stealing or the existence and abolition of slavery in Victorian times, executions for religious reasons in Tudor times)

Section 3 Why was Troy worth fighting for?

  • to look at history from different perspectives

  • how to structure and contribute to a formal debate

  • to recognize the most important characteristics of an ancient city and to understand why they were built

  • to begin to make links within and across different times and between different civilizations

  • that we can use different sources and methods to investigate the past

After hearing at least half of War with Troy, divide the class into Greeks and Trojans. Each group lists their reasons for going to war.

In pairs (Greeks or Trojans), children devise a propaganda pamphlet or speech, encouraging citizens to support the war. A possible stimulus is Mark Anthony’s speech to the people, after the death of Caesar in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This shows the power of words to persuade crowds.
Following this work on ‘reasons’ and ‘persuasion’, divide the class again for a formal debate in which children try to blame the ‘other’ side for starting the war.
Using a range of reference books, and CD-ROM or internet sources, research ancient towns and cities (e.g. Knossos, Athens, Alexandria, Rome,). For each write a ‘factfile’ describing location, age, fortifications, population etc.

    From examples above, deduce and list vital elements of an ancient city. Put these in order of importance (e.g. walls, freshwater, roads, harbour, market, temples, river, hill, food supply, rulers).

  • participate in a formal debate, and describe what a ‘debate’ is

  • offer different reasons for the Greeks and Trojans ‘going to war’

  • ask and answer questions about ancient cities using a wide range of information sources

  • can express their knowledge about ancient cities through text, illustrations, a timeline and talk

S Section 4 How does this story help us to understand what the ancient Greeks believed and why

  • to explain a display of gods/goddesses and understand how some were related e.g. Poseidon and Zeus

  • how in this story gods and goddesses prevail, even when mortals try to act of their own free will

  • that all ancient and modern societies develop beliefs, laws and customs – though these may be very different

  • to compare laws and customs from different periods, places and societies

How do gods and goddesses behave in this story? Children describe this through text and illustration, possibly using other reference sources (e.g. books, websites).

Give six groups two different episodes, to hear again or read. What can these reveal about ancient Greek laws and customs (e.g. the importance of marriage, of prophecy, Achilles’ obedience to his mother, allegiance to kings, belief in divine intervention, the heroic code etc.)
Compare and contrast the above with laws and customs from a modern or other historical society. List or illustrate. How are they the same, or different?
From an ancient perspective, ask children to write an ‘eyewitness account’ of events in episode 5, during which Paris offers Menelaus single combat. Emphasise this as imaginary writing: no such eyewitness accounts exist.
Discuss Achilles’ argument with Agamemnon (episode 7). What does the behaviour of Achilles reveal about himself – or ancient Greeks in general?

  • are able to name important gods and goddesses and define their qualities

  • show that they understand ancient Greek beliefs in the power of the gods to influence human events

  • note some similarities and differences between ancient and modern civilizations

  • ask and answer questions about how and why societies develop beliefs, laws and customs

  • write an imaginary account that shows an awareness of historical period

Both modern and ancient European societies have enslaved people, produced tyrants and fought wars – as well as valuing science, art and philosophy. But try to avoid over-simplifying children’s images of ancient Greece. Most of their city-states were not ‘democratic’ in a modern sense; yet neither were they part of the ‘make-believe’ land portrayed in many Greek myths. The reality was one of communities farming, fighting and trading to make a difficult living.

Some children will be able to compare and contrast the beliefs, laws and customs of the ancient Greeks to those of another society (e.g. Victorian Britain, Aztec society).

Section 5 How far can we trust this story? How much of it might be history?

  • about differences between factual recounts (led by information) and fictional descriptions (led by imagination)

  • about how historical information and imagination are both necessary to represent the past

  • that history can be represented and interpreted in different ways and why this happens

Write 10-15 sentences about information in War with Troy: some ‘fact’ (e.g. ancient Greeks worshipped different gods), some ‘fiction’ (e.g. river water protected Achilles), and some ‘fact or fiction’ (e.g. Agamemnon existed). Pairs of children put sentences into groups and explain.

    Teacher stages an ‘incident’ that children witness. One group of children write accounts of this, another describe it orally. Compare written/oral accounts.

    Discuss filming one scene of War with Troy, children list items and knowledge needed for historical authenticity (e.g. clothes, weapons, backgrounds). Can they produce sequenced, accurate drawings of the scene?

    What ‘other’ films, TV programmes or novels do children know that describe events in the past? Place examples on a timeline, with comments and reviews about historical aspects of the story.

    With an example from above discuss ‘how can we tell the difference between fact and fiction in historical stories?’

  • can explain how fact and fiction originate and are expressed, by referring to details of texts, films etc.

  • can write about or re-tell an incident as a witness and discuss strengths and weaknesses of methods of re-call

  • learn about interpretation in modern media sources and in historical fiction

  • learn to use reference sources such as books and the internet for a specific purpose and for detailed research

  • understand how historical accuracy is ensured and why it is desirable in different genres

This question prompts children to consider the reliability of information and to explore differences between primary and secondary sources, information and imagination, or fact and fiction.

If staging ‘an incident’ some care is needed –Year 5 and 6 children can be upset or misled if inappropriate actions look too convincing.
Encourage children to research different ways in which ‘the past’ is shown in popular media– e.g. television, comics or computer games.
Discuss how ‘war’ is represented in historical fact and fiction. How ‘realistic’ are these views of violence – or of the boredom of a soldier’s life? (See W.H.Auden’s poem ‘Roman Wall Blues’).

Section 6 When did the story of War With Troy start, and how have people re-told it over time?

  • to select and organise historical information and to place events into the correct periods of time

  • about how this historical story has been used by different societies to inform and entertain people

  • about historical story telling in different art forms and media

  • about the importance to history of factual research and accurate information

Make a time-line showing the Trojan war and other conflicts children are aware of (e.g. WW2, Roman invasion of Britain, 1066)

Children research what ‘Bronze Age’ or ‘Iron Age’ means and look for an historical site in Britain from circa 1500-500 B.C. – how would it have compared to Troy, Knossos or Mycenae? Children write about or illustrate a British ‘place’ to compare with Troy.
Collect different written, spoken, musical, filmed or painted interpretations of Homer’s characters and story (see www.cambridgescp.com for a list of ‘versions’). Put in order this collection from the earliest to the latest. Which do children prefer and why? What new ‘versions’ could they imagine? Can they be put on the time-line?
Child or teacher recounts an incident from War with Troy deliberately mixing fact, fiction and anachronism. Can children spot which is which, and explain why?

  • create a time-line from around 1500 BC to the present. On this children post knowledge of other conflicts and societies; and of retellings, characters or incidents from the story of War with Troy.

  • experience ‘other’ extracts, characterisations or versions of this story in different genres and from different times (e.g. historical fiction, film, opera, paintings, cartoons)

  • can use the terms fact, fiction and anachronism in a discussion about a representation of history.

Many previous pieces of children’s work in this unit can be placed on this timeline.

The second activity offers a chance to link with local history and local archaeological sites. The most famous British Bronze Age site is probably Stonehenge.
Care should be taken when collecting adult versions of the story since some aspects may be unsuitable for children.

The importance to European music and art of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and other Greek myths and legends, gives children the chance to explore aspects of art, music and history with some confidence – if they have enjoyed and responded emotionally to War with Troy.

© QCA 2004

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