Exploring slavery through Art and History at Key Stage 3

Using a multi-sensory approach enabled pupils to explore a wide range of historical issues and cultural artefacts such as textiles and patterns.

The finished puppets
The finished puppets

Fairmead School caters for students with moderate learning difficulties, aged between four and sixteen years. The school has run several initiatives in the past aimed at challenging pupils’ perceptions of Africa and Africans. In this project, artefacts from Zambia and local historical links were used to learn about the slave trade.

Some of the past learning included an artist from Ghana working with students to create some traditional Ghanaian artwork – so the students already had some knowledge about a country in Africa. The slavery project started in October 2006 (in Black History Month) and concluded just before the end of term in March 2007.

To start off, some background learning was done on the slave trade. Based near Bristol, there were lots of links to local history that pupils could look at. The teacher also challenged some of the pupils’ preconceptions by bringing in artefacts and photos from Zambia to demonstrate the diversity of life styles, looking at housing, transport, shopping etc. The class also studied a book entitled “The Beat of a Drum” based on a true story about an African boy’s capture into slavery.

Main activity

One of the items that the students looked at from Zambia were Chitenges (an item of clothing like saris). The material is decorated with symbols and pictures, some which are abstract and some of which have meanings and tell stories. The teacher showed how chitenges are worn and used traditionally (e.g. as baby carriers or head protection when carrying loads/clothing etc.) as well as showing contemporary uses of the material (for clothing such as shirts and dresses). The class talked about the symbolism of different chitenges designs. Where chitenges designs incorporated everyday items, the teacher showed students the objects – either for real (e.g. musical instruments), or in books/photos (e.g. animals and plants/flowers).

Pupils cutting out patterns
Pupils cutting out patterns

Inspired by the cloth and the symbols, pupils experimented making their own patterns. They were encouraged to choose their favourites images for block printing patterns onto material. For example, one pupil chose an image of a cat, and another an image of a basketball stand, which they incorporated into a design.

The pupils also made their own puppets out of cardboard. To help, they were given the cut out shapes required to make each puppet (i.e. the arms, legs and body etc). The material was used to clothe the puppets. Some children chose to dress their puppets in a traditional Zambian wrap, others used the material to cut out clothes and some made a skirt. The class was thoughtful about the texture of the puppet, using shoelaces for hair and buttons for eyes.

The pupils also talked about emotions, to decide what expression would appear on the puppets face. The school uses Somerset Total Communication (STC), a combination of pictures, signs and speaking to help with communication. STC was used to help the students decide on an emotion for their puppet and add the expression to its face, for example, happy, sad or frustrated.

This project helped students achieve the following…

  • Made pupils think more deeply about Africa and what life is like there – the project helped to break down stereotypical views.
  • Multi-sensory approach to learning allowed pupils to experience multi-sensory techniques/methods.
  • Students were given opportunities for self-expression and reading others’ emotions.

This project also raised the following challenges…

  • Learning to have patience to work through whole process over a long time-period.
  • Learning new skills – making templates, block printing, learning art terminology, e.g. texture.
  • Finding a way to carry students’ learning about the slave trade (i.e. empathising with slaves’ feelings and situation) into everyday life. The class related their learning to experiences they might have had or might know about (e.g. bullying, home/school problems, etc). From this the teacher got pupils to think about how they could make life better for those with problems around them. This idea of peer support is also re-enforced during the school’s Citizenship and PSHE lessons.


Read the pupils’ evaluation of the projects: Evaluation One (PDF) Evaluation Two (PDF)

Find out more

Teaching resources: Find teaching resources around the topic of slavery

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