How can I best explain this to you?

Nature and purpose of the enquiry

This is essentially a suggestion for a revision activity that provides an alternative to practice essays. Its intention is to help students to think about how an explanation or argument has been constructed and how it is supported by the use of particular sources. It is perhaps most feasible to use with A-level students, but the essential idea of creating a short explanation of a key event – its causes, consequences and significance – or analysing the meaning and significance of a particular text (or image) could be adapted for GCSE or A-even Key Stage 3.

Films related to this enquiry

Any of the short films on the Stuarts-online site could be used as a model for this enquiry, but you might find the example of ‘The Warming Pan Scandal‘ an interesting example to look at in detail because it traces a series of questions focusing on what the event was and then on its causes and consequences.

Other films such as ‘The Regicide’ focus closely on a single source or image – in that case Eikon Basilike, particularly the frontispiece. This could also be used as a model for students, asked to focus on just one particular documents relevant to particular themes within your exam specification, explaining the meaning of the document and its wider significance.

Contexts for teaching this enquiry

This task is intended essentially as a revision activity when students have a good overview of their particular course. However, if you are tracking different themes across the period, then it could be used in summing up that particular theme or in analysing the most significant developments or turning points within it.


There are no additional resources required for this activity. Many of the films on the website could serve as models for the students and each of them is presented with a transcription that allows students to analyse not only what has been said, but also how the interview format has helped to provide a structure for the explanation or argument. Alongside each film on the website is also a list of the ‘key questions’ that the film sets out to answer.

Suggested structure and sequence of activities

There are a number of different ways of setting up this activity. You might choose to focus together on a particular film, such as ‘The Warming Pan Scandal’, looking in detail at the ‘key questions’ that it was intended to address and also examining how the questions asked by the interviewer help to move the explanation or argument forward. How have these questions helped to make the explanation clearer or signal the introduction of a new issue?

You might also ask students to identify and count the different sources used within the film and to examine the role that they play. Where are they being used essentially to accompany or illustrate what is being said and where are they being used as an essential part of the explanation or argument? You might use this analysis to set particular guidelines or requirements for the students’ own films in terms of the number of sources that they must use. Forcing them to select a very small number of key images or extracts may help them in thinking carefully about the value and weight of particular sources as evidence for particular claims.


The central activity is obviously the creation of the students’ own films. Given the need for an interviewer and an expert and someone to operate the camera, it would be helpful for students to work in groups of three.

The process could be broken into a series of steps, each to be confirmed with you before students move on to the next one. Rather than simply reporting their decisions to you, the students might be asked to present each set of decisions to the rest of the class who effectively take on the role of the production team. On each occasion they need to explain and justify their decisions and respond to challenges or alternative suggestions from the team.

  • What are the key questions that a short film on this topic should address?
  • What images or texts are most useful in answering those questions?
  • What questions will the interviewer ask the expert to provide a structure for the film?

You might ask to see a script before the students begin filming or you might allow them to experiment with working from a set of notes that are intended to guide their answers but that allow for a more relaxed approach.

You could choose to extend the peer review process with the production team reviewing the first version and suggesting improvements.

Obviously you can determine whether the group’s decision-making and actual filming is done within lessons or as an independent activity for homework.

All the films made by the students can be saved and shared online using the school’s own digital platform, making them all available as a revision resource for the rest of the class.

This activity obviously focuses on the process of making a short film on a given topic or particular text. You might extend its range by going back to the process of selecting the most important topics in relation to any given theme/period. This is examined in the lesson plan ‘How do we choose the focus for our films?

In describing this activity as a revision exercise, the audience has been assumed to be other students. You could adapt it by varying the intended audience. How might students explain the issue to younger children (perhaps in Key Stage 3)? How might they have to adapt it for a wider public audience with less prior knowledge? The Stuarts Online site has tried to create films that would be appropriate for schools but also attract a general audience. You might therefore begin by thinking about the sorts of assumptions they make about their audience and how they have tried to take account of them.