History at key stages 1 and 2 (Year 3/4) Section 3

Section 3. What can local buildings or sites tell us about the past?


Children should learn:

  • that there are different sources of information for their area in the past
  • to develop skills of accurate observation and recording
  • to make deductions from physical evidence
  • to recognise that some questions can be answered by looking at buildings and others cannot


Arrange a visit to a local building, for example Queens Road Chocolate Works. Ask the children to observe and record information to help answer questions such as:
“What does it look like?”
“How big is it?”
“What is it made of?”
“What is it used for now?”
“What was it used for in the past?”
“Has it always been used for this?”
“Is there anything unusual about it?”
“Have parts of the building been demolished?”
“What are the surroundings like?”
“Why do you think it was built here?”
Remember to look at the Tale Of Toffee Town book and elsewhere on this website.
Lead a discussion on what sort of people the children think might have lived/worked/visited here. Ask them to look at size, number of rooms, decorative features and layout as clues to its use. Encourage them to ask questions about the place as it was in the past – even if it is not possible to find the answers!
Back in the classroom, ask the children to use reference materials, eg books, ICT to help them find out what it might have been like to have lived and worked in that building in the past.



  • identify some features of a building through observation and asking and answering questions
  • record their observations by annotating drawings or by labelling and completing a prepared outline

  • write a short, accurate description of the place suggesting who might have used it

Points to note

Teachers need to select reference materials that are accessible and relevant to the chosen locality.
Focus on what is special about the building. Develop a storyline for the investigation, and keep it in mind as sources are introduced and questioned.
This activity could be focused around a case study of a particular family or group of people linked with a house or workplace in the area; or on an interesting character who lived locally in the past; or on an event from the past, eg. How did the First World War affect people in the local area? Study the work that John Mackintosh did to support soldiers and also the families of those who didn’t return from the war.