Case study: West Stow Anglo Saxon Village

Date Posted: 16/09/2015

Discover what happened when St Andrew’s CE Primary School took a History trip to West Stow.

Where: West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk

School: St Andrew’s CE Primary School, Soham, Cambridgeshire

Subject: History

KS: 2

Number of pupils: 55

A group of Cambridgeshire pupils stepped into the past to discover what life was like in Anglo-Saxon times, and the immersive day at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, near Bury St Edmunds, inspired them to produce some of their best descriptive writing of the year.

Following extensive archaeologic surveys, West Stow’s remarkable wooden homes were rebuilt using ancient Anglo-Saxon methods on the exact sites of the original settlement.

Elizabeth Henderson, Year 4 class teacher at St Andrew’s CE Primary School, said: “Our pupils have been studying the Anglo-Saxons this term and we are lucky enough to be close enough to West Stow to make the most of spending a whole day there. Although not recently, our school has visited the village a number of times in the past so knowing the area, which facilities are available and what to expect, was a definite bonus for us. We were also on a tight budget so, factoring in travel costs, the entrance fee of £4.50 per child meant that the cost to parents could be kept to a minimum.”

The whole term’s work had been planned around the history topic, so pupils had a certain amount of background knowledge prior to the trip, which helped them gain more from their experience by being able to contextualise their learning and ask questions throughout the day. An introductory talk and DVD set the scene for the pupils to become history detectives for the day.

Elizabeth explained:  “Each house in the village has a function and the pupils were challenged to find out as much information as they could about them and the people who lived in them 1,500 years ago. To this end, each adult was provided with an ‘instant expert’ folder to guide the children on their quest and to provide information and answers.

“The children were then ‘set loose’ to explore the houses and look through the discovery box in one, which was filled with clues and questions, provided to scaffold the pupils’ enquiry skills and support their understanding. A good amount of time was allotted to this activity and it was needed, so that  they could get over their initial excitement of walking through thresholds that had been crossed by real Anglo-Saxons, and then settle down to investigate the past using the resources provided.”

After lunch in the wooded picnic area, the group visited the museum which contains artefacts found in and around the area.  Another talk focused on the items and their uses, and an engaging game encouraged pupils to consider and prioritise what was important to the original inhabitants.

“The trip was a good mix of short talks followed by the children being able to become history investigators and having sufficient time to explore both the village and the museum,” said Elizabeth.  “Trying on Anglo-Saxon clothing in the museum was a highlight, as was trying on a replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet, something the pupils had previously studied, which brought all their learning together.  In particular, Joe, our team leader, was able to get the children to imagine life in a great hall as described in Beowulf, by playing a replica lyre. it was very was very satisfying to watch the pupils sitting by the fire in an Anglo-Saxon house, weaving and chatting and imagining life in the past.”

Back in the classroom

Subject: English

When the pupils from St Andrew’s returned to school they were tasked with writing their own episode from Beowulf.

“All pupils were inspired by their experience and produced some of the best descriptive writing, demonstrating their learning, of their year so far,” said Elizabeth.

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