Assessing History orally – is this possible?

Last year a colleague and I took our Year 8 gifted and talented group to take part in a history debate on the positive or negative impact of war at Bristol University. During the debate it was surprising how well some students performed, giving answers that outshone anything they had done in writing in class. This led us wonder whether it would be possible to create a History assessment that was purely oral.

Nearly a year later we have just finished the first set of Year 8 Medieval assessments that did not involve a single written word so I thought I would blog about it!


First things first this took ages to plan. We wanted to have a class debate that could be peer assessed. We wanted to create an environment where everyone could talk happily, without being dominated by others but where the group size was large enough for actual debate to take place. After umming and arring about whether this could be done on a whole class level but getting stuck on the logistics we decided to steal the idea of a ‘goldfish bowl’ debate (as used by our SLT in the interview process) whereby a small group would discuss a topic surrounded by the same number of people who all observe a single person. This would be the culmination of our new Medieval scheme of work (see previous post) so we considered all the content planned and devised two questions that would mean the class did not have to replicate debates (and therefore avoid copying of answers). The PowerPoint presentation we used and the marking grid we gave to kids is attached below.

In action

It went really well. One teacher was the guinea pig and then we tweaked the ideas after her lesson. Following her advice debates were limited to 10 minutes which seemed the natural limit anyway. Kids were explicitly told to observe only one person and SEN students were put in a group where the LSA assessed them, giving them a chance to debate both questions and therefore have more opportunity to get their point across. Some very informal student voice was extremely positive, with kids saying they could get across their full argument, something they found difficult in writing.

What would I change?

The marking of this assessment was always going to be very tricky. Peer assessment is never perfect and some students gave out Level 8s willy nilly. In order to tweak this I think the introduction of recorders may scare kids enough to be accurate and plus provide a back up for moderation. Additionally the questions we devised were good, but if we had added “How far…” at the start they would have been better. Finally, it might have been fun to give the high ability pupils a specific standpoint to argue from, maybe the controversial one, as this would have created more actual debate, rather than discussion.

Medieval Assessment MarkScheme FINAL

Lesson 10 ASSESSMENT (PowerPoint)

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One Response to Assessing History orally – is this possible?

  1. Pingback: New Marking Methods #2 | High Dive Teaching

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