Organising a FEPOW History Study Day with themed cross-curricular activities

In February 2010 Pensby High School for Girls piloted a whole day curriculum experience on the theme of Far Eastern Prisoners of War (FEPOW) history for all the Year 9 pupils (130 in all). The aim of the day was to introduce FEPOW history to a generation of pupils who had little or no prior knowledge and who had not been formally taught this topic in school. The broad theme for the study day was "Survival".

Here (191kb Word doc) is the schedule used for our Year 9 FEPOW Study Day; this can easily be adapted to suit the needs of an individual school.

The day started with a whole-year assembly-style gathering with a very brief introduction to the purpose of the day and an opportunity to introduce guest speakers. To provide a visual hook there was a brief extract from the film Paradise Road, a dramatisation of day-to-day existence for women and children in internment camp in Sumatra under Japanese control.

After the brief assembly the year group split into smaller groups (detailed on the schedule linked to above) to allow the pupils to make identification badges and be given other information for the day. Following this brief session the groups reconvened in two larger groups of 60 each – one group attended a presentation by the guest, FEPOW Fergus Anckorn (aged 92), and speakers (3 researchers who have studied FEPOW history) who gave some geographical and historical contextual knowledge; the other half split into two smaller groups of 30 each to view another, longer excerpt from the film. They then discussed what they had seen with question prompts focusing on the skill of empathy. These two half-year groups then swapped over.

The third phase of the day gave students the opportunity to explore aspects of the FEPOW experience through a carousel of curriculum subjects. These FEPOW experiences are detailed elsewhere on this website. Three subject areas were chosen – Science, Design Technology and Art & Design. In addition, Media (to record the day), Creative Writing and Drama were also involved in the day's activities.

For the morning workshops pupils were split into 6 groups of approximately 20 pupils (2 classrooms for each subject) and rotated 3 times, so that every student was able to experience a workshop in each discipline. This was done on a relatively quick timescale (30 minutes for each topic); it helped create a sense of the urgency (and secrecy) when pupils were making items.

In Science pupils explored nutrition in reference to the POW diet and the various uses and properties of bamboo. In Design Technology pupils made bamboo picture frames for the product of the Art & Design session when pupils explored the work of FEPOW artist Jack Chalker and produced their own memento, a keepsake of home for an imaginary captivity. They had only charcoal, bamboo sticks and ink to draw with. Pupils had their own “FEPOW learning passport” (180kb Word doc) which they completed after each workshop.

The second half of the day began by exploring through Drama some of the themes touched on in the morning sessions. Staff worked with pupils in small groups of 4 to 6 pupils to create a role-play of imagined life in the camps, and freeze-frames to symbolise captivity. They had to develop ideas and create drama 5 minute productions using prepared scenarios. Some pupils focused on creative writing or poetry to accompany the dramatic presentations.

The final phase of the day saw the whole year group gather once again to collectively celebrate what had been achieved and the small groups to perform their role-plays.

A Teacher's view:

The value of this Year 9 Study Day in educational terms was enormous.

It was an opportunity to explore the cross-curricular links through intrinsically interesting subject matter.

The end of the day was topped off by a presentation of magic performed by Fergus; this was a strategy he had used to great effect in the camps to procure extra food rations.

While future generations of pupils will not have the benefit of an ex-FEPOW as a guest, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s FEPOW Oral History archive (available through this website here) and the video recorded during this study day, can be utilised to great advantage in motivating pupils’ interest.

Pupil quotes:

“I didn’t know anything about the FEPOW experience before today but I know so much more now”


“Today really made me think; it has changed my mind about my attitude to the older generation”.


“It was interesting to understand how they survived and what was important to the prisoners, like their memories”