Tales from the Palace

An Engaging Places network case study Published: 9 October 2014

Key stage 2
English, history, ICT, art and design, geography

Kensington Palace in central London has a rich and colourful history. King William III died there, Queen Victoria was born there and today’s princes, William and Harry, grew up there. Edward VII referred to the Palace as an ‘aunt heap’ because of the number of royal relatives in residence!

What did the teacher want to achieve? To increase students’: ability to unlock the stories held in historic sites; enthusiasm for visiting and interpreting the built environment; script-writing skills; ICT skills through working with multimedia technology.


St John’s CE Primary School in Friern Barnet was keen to capitalise on this rich historic resource on its doorstep. ‘We make a conscious effort to incorporate visits to London-wide historic buildings in our learning and teaching,’ explains headteacher Graham Gunn. ‘Working with Historic Royal Palaces to learn about events in Kensington Palace’s history offered an exciting opportunity for some fantastic cross-curricular learning.’

Inspired by stories about the building and its inhabitants, year 5 students wrote, performed and directed short films that breathed new life into the past.

Photo of students working together

Students working together © Alys Tomlinson

Story time
The Palace’s education officer took a story-telling approach from the outset. The students were captivated as they listened to dramatic tales of the house’s past and explored the rooms where world-changing events took place. As one commented, ‘I would recommend my teachers to let us get out more and go to different places’.

Back in school, the students dug deeper into the building’s history and found out more about the Palace’s events and characters. Working in small groups, they chose a key episode and worked collaboratively to research the facts and imagine the story.

Where did the event take place? What would it have felt like to have been there? What would the impact have been on different characters? A storytelling workshop prepared them for writing and performing their narratives.

How was the learning organised? Year 5 students: visited Kensington Palace several times; explored key events in the Palace’s history; wrote scripts telling the story of some of these events; performed and filmed their short plays in the Palace grounds.


Lights, camera, action!
With ideas buzzing and stories taking shape, each group planned and wrote a script for a short play to be performed and filmed in the Palace and its grounds. In total they visited the Palace four times, excitement mounting with every trip. As well as learning about history, they honed their writing skills, created artwork and props to support their stories and developed their geographical understanding.

The enthusiasm with which the children took on the challenge of filming and editing their work was particularly impressive. Undaunted by unfamiliar technology, they used hand-held video cameras to film their plays, tackled lighting issues and edited footage using Windows Movie Maker.

What was the impact? The students: responded with creativity, imagination and enthusiasm; developed new historical understanding and writing skills; worked with growing independence; learnt to work confidently with multimedia technology.

To create a permanent record of the project, some of the class worked as a documentary film crew, tracking the project from start to finish. They interviewed classmates to gather their opinions and filmed their experiences throughout the work.

Learning in context
Inevitably, a project of this complexity wasn’t entirely smooth running – the school discovered too late that the chosen video format was incompatible with its software, for example. However, Graham Gunn believes the investment in time and resources has had far-reaching benefits.

‘The finished product – five short films and a documentary – captured the rich learning that took place,’ he said. ‘The cross-curricular nature of the project excited the students’ imagination and the setting of Kensington Palace placed their learning in a context that made sense to them. Often educational visits are used to support learning that takes place within the confines of the classroom. This project has demonstrated how a building or location can be the starting point for an entire project.’

Photo of students holding up face masks

Students holding up their creative face masks © Jenny Wedgbury

Want to do something similar with your class?
We have collated a list of activities, organisations and resources for you to use with your students to inspire their writing through architecture and the built environment.

The Engaging Places network
This case study comes from St John’s CE Primary School in Friern Barnet, north London, who worked with Historic Royal Palaces through the Engaging Places network for 2008/09.

Read more about the and view the Engaging Places videos.

All Engaging Places 2008/09 network case studies

A window on the past – Cardinal Newman Catholic School, key stage 3

Street investigation - Ospringe Primary School, key stage 2

Libraries by design - Thamesview Vocational Centre and Riverview Junior School, key stage 2, C&BE diploma

A new view on design - Graveney School, key stage 3

Grounds for improvement - Barmby on the Marsh Primary School, key stage 1, 2

A 360-degree journey - Dover Grammar School for Girls, key stage 4, AS level

Resurrecting the past – St Pius X Catholic High School, key stage 3

Groundbreaking geography - The Royal Grammar School, key stage 5

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: