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Free Victorian lesson ideas

Investigating Ice Cream!

(invented 2000 years ago but developed more in Victorian times into the ice cream we know today) 

An easy lesson idea is to have the pupils come up with their own ice cream flavours - you’d be surprised at how wacky some of them will be! Better yet, pick the best ideas and have a go at making them at home for the next day- this site here provides some excellent recipes that can be easily modified.


Of course, the backbone of teaching your class about ice cream is that for the first time, the Victorian era was producing inventions not only of necessity, but of luxury.  This could be the basis for any number of creative writing, drama or art tasks - perhaps your pupils could write a fictional Egyptian’s recipe for an ice cream sand-wich? Or perhaps they can act out how the victims of the black death might have been consoled with some mint choc-chip?

Try Morse Code!

To read about our own workshop telegraph task click here, but in terms of lessons you can do yourself in class, one lesson idea using Morse code is simply pairing up pupils and having them practise sending messages with the code.  Alternatively, either you or a single student could use Morse code to give a message to the entire class, and have a race to see who can decode the message the fastest.

The code can be communicated through sound by speaking in long and short beeps, on paper by writing messages in dashes and dots, or visually through flashing coloured cards for either long or short lengths.  Or you could try mixing these methods to create a class-wide game of Chinese whispers!


Discussion points include military applications of the code, why certain letters have certain numbers of dits and dahs (an interesting chart can be seen here), and why the use of Morse code has declined in recent years.

Play around with photography! (Invented in 1829)

One of the most engaging ways to demonstrate the basic principles of photography is to have your pupils make their own pinhole cameras, or make one yourself and have them experiment with it in the classroom.   A good tutorial for doing this without capturing the image can be found here, but if you want to be a bit more technical, this bbc tutorial will help you create one with photographic paper.

Juicy jelly babies! (Invented in 1864)

Having children design their own sweets could be a fun and creative task- you could even limit them to the outline of a Jelly Baby to give them an extra challenge.

A more mature task, but one that is just as much fun, is to show children the traditional ‘Screaming Jelly Baby’ science experiment- although this is usually restricted to high schools, (not to mention that the chemical Potassium Chlorate is required) there are plenty of youtube videos that show the experiment, which allows you to talk about the amount of energy (i.e. sugar/calories) that the jelly baby contains.  Find out more about the experiment on this wikipedia page here

Make Movies! (Invented in 1895)

Ideas for education on the moving picture industry will depend on your resources- one interesting class exercise, would be to watch a ‘timeline’ of films- from silent and black and white to sound and colour- and to discuss the changes that occurred as technology developed.


Pupils could also script and act out their own silent movie after watching examples from Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and some of the other early Hollywood silent movies.


The history of film also ties closely with the history of animation and you could follow this tutorial to create your own thaumatrope with the class, which is a wonderful illustration of the science behind Muybridge's horse animation.

Learn about Penny Farthings! (Invented in 1871)

The fact that this invention lies at the backbone of Victorian innovation and creativity should get your class thinking- have them draw their own bicycle designs with big wheels, small wheels, twelve wheels, anything they can think of! For older classes, try restricting them to materials they would have had in Victorian times (no hoverbikes) and have them talk about the advantages and disadvantages of their design.


The key is to remember that at the time, the inventors would have had a blank slate on which to experiment- try and get across to your class that although the penny farthing could be seen as a failed experiment, the fact that it pushed boundaries and limitations truly encapsulates the spirit of the Victorian era.


Discussion points can also include why the penny farthing failed, how the masses would react if the design was proposed today, and if they think any other inventions are going to be forgotten in 20 years, like the farthing, or whether the age of innovation is over and we now simply refine existing technology.

Terrific Typewriters! (Invented in 1856)

The typewriter was one of the most competitively designed inventions in the Victorian era.  One lesson that makes use of this knowledge would be to divide your class into groups and have them each research one of the inventors who competed to make their design commercially successful.


The class could then produce a timeline chart to display, and each group could give a presentation on why their chosen inventor’s design should be mass produced (think of a dragon’s den style business pitch - perhaps other children could take on the role of Victorian-era dragons?) Older classes could have more challenging tasks, such as taking on the character of their chosen inventor or having a more in-depth debate with the ‘dragons’ about the pros and cons of their design.

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