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Problems of Interpretation

Educational Objective

Students explore the influence of interpretation and the information available on medical diagnoses, and relate this to the interpretation of historical evidence

Classroom activity

Prepare a list of 10 ‘symptoms’ of a well know illness e.g. a common cold or flu. Using these 10 symptoms, create 6 cards, each with a random selection of the 10 symptoms.

Divide students into small groups and give each group one card and tell them it lists some medical symptoms that a patient is experiencing.  Don’t tell the groups that their cards are different.

Ask the groups to discuss what disease these symptoms might suggest the patient has – ask them to list all the possibilities and to decide as a group on a final diagnosis.

Bring the groups together and ask them to read out the symptoms on their card, and to report back on their ideas.
Facilitate a discussion about how having different information affected their understanding of the problem

Extension ideas

Do the same activity with a range of sources on a particular topic that you are studying, asking students to use the evidence to work out what was happening at this time. This helps to reinforce the idea that ‘knowledge’ about history is only as good as the range of evidence available.