In any topic involving the changing relations between two factors over time (countries, parties, ideologies or individuals), challenge students to consider how they could move their hands to reflect such things as whether the gap between rich and poor was increasing up or closing down, or the extent to which political parties were drawing together or veering off towards the left and right, and/or whether relationships were becoming more friendly (thumbs up) or hostile (thumbs down or even a closed fist). Combining several of these at once could make for some interesting choreography!

Case Study

In her final speech to the House of Commons, Margaret Thatcher placed her hands one above the other to represent the gap between rich and poor. She then slowly lowered her hands, bringing them closer together as she did so, to illustrate her claim that socialists are quite happy to see both rich and poor get worse off as long as the gap is being closed. She then raised both hands, restoring a larger gap as she did so, to claim that Conservatives instead are happy seeing the gap get bigger, as long as everyone on the whole was seeing a rising standard of living.

Whatever the merits of the politics, the method of illustrating it was undoubtedly effective and the same method can be used in a wide variety of contexts. For example, get students to make fists out of their two hands and hold these in front of them. Tell them that each hand represents a different party or ideology. Next, give them a series of events referring to changes in the policies, membership or actions of each of the two main parties. They then have to decide how to move their fists based on the idea that further away from each other represents diverging views; closer together to reflect closer co-operation and agreement.

To make the activity more challenging, other dimensions can be added. For example, to illustrate the fact that both major UK political parties ‘veered to the left’ in the years immediately following World War Two, the fists could not only move closer together, but could both move to the left. Conversely, the breakdown of ‘consensus’ politics under Thatcher could see both fists not just move wide apart, but one go sharply to the left and the other sharply to the right; whilst the advent of Tony Blair might see the “Labour” fist move towards the right.

As well as using the horizontal axis, the fists could move up and down to represent another measurement such as success or failure, popularity or unpopularity. Consider using different hand shapes at different points in the timeline. A fist could represent aggression; a peace sign, compromise. Your students will probably come up with some other gestures which you may consider more or less appropriate!

Taking it further

Make it a dance competition! Have the key events appear at regular intervals on the board (e.g. by using timed PowerPoint slides) and  students make their moves to match. This works particularly well in groups who have to think carefully about how to synchronize their moves!