See the sites: how to get more of the historic environment into your classroom.


Thanks to Hugh Richards, Head of History at Huntington School in York and member of Secondary Committee for this blogpost!

What do I mean by the ‘Historic Environment?’

At Huntington, we do the OCR B (SHP) GCSE. This includes our choice of historic environment, known as History Around Us, for which we teach a sequence of enquiries that totals about 20 lessons. This has traditionally been grounded in a visit to the site – after all, one major appeal of The OCR B course was choosing and keeping a local site so we could guarantee our students some ‘fieldwork.’ However, in the new GCSEs, the historical environment element has become more mainstream, and therefore this might be of use to a wider audience.

During the pandemic we have been unable to take our students to the site, and so we have had to devise an interactive tour to allow them to ‘visit’ the site from the classroom. Before we go further, I am not offering this as a method to avoid site visits, but rather make more of them when we return to our classrooms. You may have access to other resources, such as those produced by Aaron Wilkes and Carmel Bones, to support teaching the historic environment, but you may equally want to create your own. For example, this method would let you capture a trip to study the medical situation on the Western Front in a way you could later use for revision. 


What is it? 

Essentially I have tried to make a virtual tour of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens, using a combination of recorded presentations and a range of rich visuals. 

I have hosted it on Prezi to allow it to be used in a lot of ways, as listed below, but having used it in the summer term in lessons I am already pleased with how much it is able to bring a sense of the site to the students. 


Main purposes of the Virtual Tour: 

We will use it to: 

  • Replace the live tour this year (although I am planning a trip for September at the moment!) 
  • Support lesson resources in future years and help students ‘re-visit’ areas of the site.
  • Support student’s independent revision. 
  • Help students who join the course late (we visit in Sept of Y10) or for other reasons don’t go on the site visit (we do make sure this is never financial, but illness for example can prevent attendance.) 

Some caveats before we go any further 

  • This is not a normal resource- it’s a real one-off set piece. I don’t do this often and none of my other resources look this pretty.  
  • We will return to visit the site every year, this isn’t a replacement. 
  • I had a lot of help! Helped by photography and filming skills from our schools in house digital media people – Jenny in 2018 and João in 2021. I also was able to draw on the expertise of Emma Manners, the former Education Officer at Fountains Abbey, who did a maternity cover with us in 2019-2020. 
  • Filmed during Covid restrictions (-1OC in March…) so it was easy to get quiet spaces.
  • All errors are mine, although some are deliberate omissions, simplifications and generalisations for curricular reasons. 

Have a look around:

If you’re interested, you’re welcome to explore a couple bits of my tour, to get a sense of how it works. It’s quite difficult to describe the interactivity elements, so this will get you a quick idea along with the screenshots in this blog. If you do anything on medieval monasteries (maybe?) or Georgian water gardens (less likely!) you’re welcome to use it however you like in your resources. 

How to access:

  • Use a laptop or a computer, not a phone.
  • Click the link and click the blue play arrow, then give it 5-10 mins to load. Go make a cuppa… 
  • Click on the “how to use the tour” unless you’re familiar with Prezi already.

Some things I have learned about making a tour of this kind:

  1. Do your homework. I strongly recommend getting hold of old tourist guides. They are often in far more detail than modern ones. There may be books published about your site, it may have a selection in its gift shop. There are also lots of other avenues of research eg books about medieval monasteries in general were useful for us, as were documentaries like Saints and Sinners by Janina Ramirez. 
  1. Select just your core areas to focus on. It will take you longer than you think to film so try to do less than you might on the trip. 
  2. Aim for small filmed chunks to maximise flexibility of use in later lessons. 
  3. If you film, go with a couple people to help you. If your school has an expert in media/filming etc, draw on their expertise! 
  4. You will probably need to seek permission to film from the owners of the site. 
  5. It’s not going to be perfect. There are some stammers, stutters and stumbles in my videos. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. The information is communicated and it was literally freezing cold at the start of March, so re-takes weren’t going to be popular with my colleagues.
  6. Think a lot about your visuals. After Mike Hill’s HA Conference session this year I am going to reconsider the visuals I use in the tour, including how many there are, but different teachers in my team highlight different aspects of site evidence so it’s currently a bit of a catch-all. 
  7. You may need to draw/trace some – all of the drawings in the tour are traced by me, but it was quicker than trying to find the perfect one for a particular job. 
  8. Tracing photos to pick out features as drawings, maps, plans and diagrams can be really helpful in illustrating certain points. 
  9. Take account of the purposes. If you want students to be able to access it independently it will need some explanatory text and supporting resources- I have made a booklet that is attached below that helps students work through the tour independently if needed. 
  10. Use or similar to create a short, accessible link so the students can access it themselves (if you want them too!)
  11. Lean in to the TV historian vibe. I chucked a load of tropes and stylistic bits in there just to entertain the students a bit. I would advise against taking it too seriously!

That’s it really – I think the virtual tour format is a very helpful investment of time, and has already had an impact in my Year 10 lessons last summer. Please do get in touch on Twitter if I can help you plan the creation of your own tour.

You might also like to read this OBHD blogpost for more ideas about filming for students!

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