Transforming IWM London: WWI galleries and a new learning programme

Date Posted: 25/07/2014

New atrium at IWM London

Subject: History
Venue: Imperial War Museum, London
Key Stages: 2 - 5

The Imperial War Museum London has reopened after a year of closure, following a major redevelopment and creation of its new First World War galleries.

Part of a wider transformation of IWM London, the changes include a newly configured atrium which is now home to iconic large-scale objects and a number of new exhibitions, public spaces, shops and cafes.

Getting out of the trenches

Speaking at the opening event, Nigel Steel, the principal historian at IWM London said: “The aim was to make the museum more relevant and engaging to 21st century visitors; to challenge people and to surprise them.

“The result is not a traditional, didactic gallery, but a series of highlights, of snapshots into global conflict since 1914.”

Professor David Reynolds, author and historical advisor to the IWM said: “These impressive new galleries illuminate the soldiers’ experiences but they also get us out of the trenches to understand the lives of women and children on the home front.”

Learning sessions

IWM has developed a new learning programme as part of the Transforming IWM London project to complement its new galleries and the Truth & Memory: British Art of the First World War exhibition.

Learning sessions for KS2 to 5 use original artefacts, documents, photographs, posters and film from the museum’s collections.

Truth and Memory (KS2-5): Using the gallery students will explore how artists responded to the Great War. Through discussion and practical activities they will investigate themes including shape, colour and sensory responses in paintings and memorials.

In another Truth and Memory Session, students explore and critique a range of World War One artefacts. They investigate a variety of themes including purpose of art in war, new art for a new type of war, authenticity, public commemoration and grief.

Height, weight and eyesight display at IWM London.

Pictured: A height, weight and eyesight interactive exhibit.

Personal Perspectives (KS2-3): Pupils use material from IWM's collections to lead their own investigation into one person's experience of World War One. They then share their findings and reflect on the range of experiences represented.

First World War Creative Responses: Film (KS3-4): Students work with The Battle of the Somme (1916), analysing the techniques used to make the film, the impact on audiences during World War One, and how the film is useful as an historical source.

What can students see in the galleries?

There are over 1,300 World War One objects on display in the new galleries, ranging from weapons, uniform and equipment to diaries and letters.

An atmospheric soundscape accompanies your journey, including a walk through a reconstruction of a trench - complete with a Mark V tank looming above.

There are a number of interactive elements to appeal to school children of all ages. Pupils can find out whether or not they would have been eligible to sign up as a soldier, by testing their height, eyesight and teeth.

State-of-the-art displays invite children to touch virtual boots, cans of food, bandages and so on in order to watch and get involved with wartime processes.

There are also plenty of areas to watch new and archived video footage, plus seated spots to listen to audio commentary and to watch films.

World War One: teachers’ resources

Online material is free for teachers to download and use alongside a self-guided visit (as well as back in the classroom).

For ideas to help you use the sources, there are suggested activities that are located alongside the online material.

The ‘Living in the Trenches’ resource combines aerial photography, art work, clothing, letters and details of trench systems other than those in the Western Front.

An interactive display at IWM London.

Teachers can also download audio and film clips to use when pupils are back in the classroom after a visit to the galleries.

Take part in the IWM’s pilot programme

IWM London's learning team is in the final phase of trialling parts of its new programme to tie in with Transforming IWM London. These sessions will take place in the week beginning 1st September.

If you are a Secondary school teacher and would be interested in taking part in the trials, contact Nic Vanderpeet here.

For further information visit

School Travel Organiser's Guide