Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers' Notes

Learning resource funded by a QR Grant from the University of Nottingham.


Created by Dr Rebecca Senior and Dr Rebecca Wade.


This multi-purpose learning resource uses art from the Leeds Museums and Galleries Collection as the basis for developing learner’s critical thinking around empire. It has been designed to enable KS2, and KS3/KS4 learners to:

  • develop their historical enquiry skills by exploring primary and secondary sources connected to the British Empire from Leeds Museums and Galleries collections
  • develop use of the historical term empire and understand its varying applications
  • understand how our knowledge of the past is constructed from a range of sources
  • devise historically valid questions about change, cause, similarity and difference
  • use discussion and activity ideas around bias and propaganda to open up some PSHE discussions.


Curriculum Links

  • KS2 History: a study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066
  • KS2 PHSE: Living in the wider world
    KS2 Geography: Use world maps to identify countries
  • KS3/KS4 History: the development of Church, state and society in Britain 1509-1745
  • .KS3/KS4 History: ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901
  • KS3/KS4 PSHE: About the unacceptability of all forms of discrimination, and how to challenge it, prejudice and bigotry in the wider community including the workplace
  • KS4 History: Britain - Migration
  • KS4 History: British Empire


KS2 Discussion Ideas

NOTE: These discussion ideas and activities focus on the 'Building Blocks Approach' - developing KS2 learning around key themes relating to transatlantic slavery such as trade, transport, manufacture, labour, to prepare students to learn about the difficult and traumatic history in more depth in KS3/4.

  • Ask learners to identify a piece of furniture in the classroom, and then break it down into types of materials used.
  • To get a sense of distance and scale of empire, ask learners to work out how many times they would have had to walk round the school or classroom to get to where the wood came from.

KS2 Activities

  • To understand the manufacturing process and raw materials, ask students to identify what their shoes are made from. Then trace the origins of the raw materials made to make them on a map and identify the different countries they came from.
  • Longer activity:

    1) Show an image of the mahogany chest of drawers to the learners and ask them to generate questions about the object. What is it? What is it made from? Who used it? Was it for rich or poor people? What does it tell us about the person who owned it?

    2) Ask learners to think of answers to their question and why they came up with them. For example if they think it was used by a rich person, why do they think this?

    3) Use the interactive image to reveal more information and evidence about the table and present this to the learners. Ask learners to reflect on the answers to their first questions and expand using the new information they have learned.

    4) Ask if there are any other questions they want to ask, now they know a bit more about the object.
  •  Use the downloadable activity sheet to interrogate an object from the (Leeds Museums and Galleries) collection.

KS3/4 Discussion Ideas

  • Identify which parts of the painting 'Retribution' symbolise parts of the empire.
  • What claims does the painting make about the British empire? What were the motivations for creating this image of empire?
  • How does the painting represent the British empire. What elements does it leave out?
  • How do you think the message of the painting might have changed when it was transferred from Leeds Town Hall to Leeds Art Gallery?
  • Do you think a painting could be more persuasive than a newspaper article in this context and why?


KS3/4 Activities

  • Ask students to think of a piece of propaganda they have seen recently (or provide them with a selection of advertisement posters). Have students write a list of the ways in which its visual appearance works to persuade them to think in a certain way and present to the group.
  • Ask students to create a PMI (plus, minus, interesting) table to assess how the artwork 'Retribution' represents the British empire.
  • Ask the students if they feel it is possible to provide a more accurate account of the effects of empire on the various colonies than the painting.
  • Ask students to research other images of the Indian Rebellion and ask them to compare the ways in which the events are depicted and how this changes their interpretation.
  • Write two new labels for the painting, one from the British perspective and one from the Indian perspective at the time of the Indian Rebellion.
  • Before they have learnt anything about the painting and the events it depicts, ask students to interpret the picture using the available visual evidence.
  •  Use the downloadable activity sheet to interrogate an object from the (Leeds Museums and Galleries) collection.