When introducing students to a particular historical time and place, get them to research different geographical locations associated with it. The class should then produce a travel brochure designed to persuade holidaymakers about all the wonderful things to expect if they take a time-travelling vacation. The teacher, in role as a prospective customer, then hears from each team and declares an overall winner. As and added twist, get them to ‘sell’ their holiday to different ‘target markets’ over several rounds. As a follow-up activity to force students to assess the period from a negative perspective, ask them to write a dramatic complaint letter outlining all the horrible sights, sounds and smells they experienced.

Case Study: Ancient Rome

Arrange the class into teams and outline the essential task, which will be to market an appealing “time travel” holiday to the place and period we are studying. They will need to make the holiday as appealing as possible to different target audiences, which I summarise as follows:

  1. A “Fun” holiday for teenagers on a relaxing summer break before starting university;
  2. A “Relaxing” holiday for a group of working mothers eager for quality time with friends;
  3. An “Interesting” holiday for a group of retired teachers eager for a cultural experience.

Next, provide the class with a list of places associated with the topic in question. For example, in a study of the Roman Empire, the list might look something like this:

Roman Forums • Forum of Trajan Arches • Arch of Septimius Severus
• Forum of Caesar • Arch of Titus
• Forum of Augustus • Arch of Constantine
• Forum of Peace • Arch of Tiberius
Shrines and Temples • The Pantheon Sports and Leisure • Theatre of Pompey
• Shrine of Cloacina • Stadium of Domitian
• Temple of Romulus Divisus • Theatre of Marcellus
• Temple of Saturn • Circus Maximus
• Temple of Vesta • Colosseum
• Temple of Concord • Baths of Diocletian

If there is sufficient time, each team should be given the opportunity to conduct some initial research to determine which sites would be particularly appealing to the different target markets, as the ultimate objective is to produce a package which has elements of ‘fun’, ‘relaxation’ and ‘interest’ within it.

Each member of each team should then choose, or be allocated one or two sites from different categories in this list to research further (depending on the size of the class, the time available and the amount of sites available to research). As far as possible, each site should be chosen by only one person in the class if this the size of the class makes this possible. In this way, each team will propose a completely different holiday package and the whole class will get to hear about as many sites as possible without undue repetition.

Next, each student should investigate their chosen sites using any sources available to them and use this research to complete a template which looks like this:

Your name
Name of Place
This place is …

(shade one, two or all three in yellow)

Interesting Fun Relaxing

(explain clearly)

When the students have finished their research, they should use this to produce a group presentation piece on a large sheet of sugar paper. They should include images of the sites, and organise them under the three key headings of “Interesting!”, “Fun!” and “Relaxing!”. This could be arranged in the format of a Venn diagram.

The teacher should then take the role of a representative for the first group of prospective customers – for example, the teenagers looking for a ‘fun’ holiday. Each team should have a strictly limited amount of time to explain how their holiday package is clearly ‘fun’. The teacher then declares an overall winning team, and perhaps awards each member a couple of sweets (with members of the runner-up team getting one sweet each). The process should then be repeated for the ‘interesting’ and ‘relaxing’ holiday.

Whilst the presentations are taking place, each group needs to be taking notes on the various sites. After the exercise is completed, Students could then individually produce a piece of work selecting the best sites. For example, they could choose three sites for each of the three categories, then arrange then in an overall “Triangle 9” diagram.

Taking it further

Get each team to come up with a name for their company and a logo as per “The Apprentice” format.

Instead of the same teacher acting as the representative for the three different groups, use an older student who has a free period to judge the ‘teenager’ round, and colleagues to represent the other two groups.

As a follow-up exercise, get students to consider all of the negatives rather than the positives. Do this by asking them to produce letters of complaint as if they have already been on the trip and it was a “holiday from hell”. The class could be organised into three teams for this to represent each of the three groups as identified in the earlier activity. Students could also be paired together to produce a dramatised dialogue – the holidaymaker could storm into the travel agent demanding a refund by explaining the things which had gone wrong, whilst the travel agent would stress all the positive experiences which are either being omitted in the account or which provide a more rounded view of the situation / period in question.

In this example, after playing the Middle Ages Time Machine Adventure at activehistory.co.uk, Sidney wrote a complaint letter to the Time Travel Holiday Agent about her experiences: