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20 October 2014
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The Beauty of Maps - Serio-Comic War Map

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Lesson plans

BBC links

Full details, including credits and location for the maps featured can be found on the BBC Four site.

Aims and objectives

  • Consider the changes to geographical understanding.
  • Consider the reliability of maps.
  • Understand the empires of Europe that existed in the second half of the 19th Century.
  • Consider Victorian education.

Resources required for this lesson

The lesson plan


  1. Split the class into pairs.
  2. Ask them to draw a spider diagram of all the topics that are covered by 'current affairs'.
  3. Feedback and draw a class diagram on the IWB.
  4. Discuss as a class how we find out about current affairs including sources such as newspapers, the television and radio and the internet.
  5. Explain that in the 19th Century newspapers often used maps as part of political cartoons to explain current affairs because it appealed to people of all classes. If you could not read well you may well have known the images. By the latter half of the 19th Century more people had been to school and had been taught some kind of geography which was increasingly fashionable. This is because everyone was taught about the British Empire which by 1900 made up ¼ of the world as show in the map in Primary History's Children of Victorian Britain: An Introduction.

Activity 1

  1. Tell the class to imagine that they are Victorian school children and make this activity teacher led and individual work with no talking to each other etc. Look the map on the IWB and watch the video. Tell them they will have to complete a comprehension task after watching it.
  2. After the video ask the class the questions below. Explain that they should write one word answers on the mini-white board and then hold up the board.
    • Which country is shown as an Octopus?
    • Which two countries are linked together?
    • Which country wants revenge?
    • Which county is show lying down?
    • Which country had its arm up to protect itself?
    • Make a list of the countries in Europe that the map shows?
    • What are the main reasons all these countries are arguing?

Activity 2

  1. Split the class into 7 groups.
  2. Tell them to imagine that they are spies sent by the British government to investigate the claims made in the map. They have to report back and decide if the map exaggerated the political situation in order to mock the county and make people laugh.
  3. Handout spy dossiers on Serio worksheet 1. Tell the class that they have to read the dossier they have been given and prepare a presentation to give to the Foreign Secretary and Prime minister when they return.
  4. Groups are to make their presentations to the class. Tell the class they have to listen carefully because they will use the information in the next activity.

Activity 3

  1. Split the class into different groups of 3-4 pupils. It would be good if each group can have ICT with publishing software available.
  2. Ask each group to imagine that they are newspaper reporters who are working for the press agency Reuters, who had moved its HQ to London from Germany in 1851. The founder Paul Julius Reuter had been awarded the title of Baron in 1871. You may want to show the class an example of a Victorian newspaper.
  3. Tell the pupils/journalists that they have been given a secret copy of the minutes taken at a meeting when the spies made their reports to the ministers. They have to prepare a newspaper article stating where they think European wars might break out and who is most likely to be involved.
  4. This should be done in a time limit and then passed around each group so they can consider what Victorians would have learned about current affairs from the newspaper.

Activity 4

  1. As a class make a list of contemporary European and international events.
  2. Ask pupils to select their own current event and design a political map/cartoon to illustrate the event.
  3. You could link this to a recent election debate and look at the types of political cartoons that have been published as part of the campaign or link to finding out about another major current event of the day.


  1. Tell pupils that Victorian children did not always have books and writing materials available so they were taught rhymes to help them remember facts. The first letter of the rhyme referred to the first letter of the event. For example, to remember Britain, Russia, Austria, Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Turkey. You could have "Boys run and hunt. Girls fly in special trains."
  2. Split pupils into pairs and ask them to make up a rhyme in order to remember the states of Europe that are referred to in the map followed by a sentence about the tensions between countries in Europe in the Victorian Era.


  1. Complete further research into the lives of Victorian Children at the Primary History: Victorian Britian site.
  2. Find out more about the map at the BBC Four: Beauty of Maps site
  3. Look at the causes of World War One.

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