Lesson on 'The Romans in Britain' by Judith Nicholls

Ian Coulson


This lesson uses the poem by Judith Nicholls to look at different interpretations of what it was like living in Roman Britain. The poem presents a standard view of the benefits that Britain enjoyed under the Romans, but was it really such a pleasant time for everyone? The teaching focus is Literacy, History and ICT, and the lesson is suitable for a Y4/5 class.

Previous knowledge:

This activity should come at the end of pupils' work on Roman Britain. Pupils should have enough knowledge to consider whether life in Roman Britain was peaceful and prosperous for everyone, or whether there were downsides to rule from Rome.

Resources needed
  • Poetry Archive recording of 'The Romans in Britain' by Judith Nicholls
  • screen or whiteboard linked to Poetry Archive website, for viewing the text of the poem
  • sort cards

Teaching sequence of activities


Ask the class what they enjoyed about studying the Romans, and record their observations on the board. The aim is to get the pupils thinking about what they have done over the previous few weeks. It encourages pupils to put together a 'big picture' of their study, reminding them of what they have studied, what they remember best and what they think was most important.

Use this as a preamble to the main question: What was it like living in Roman Britain? Was it comfortable for everyone?

This question requires the pupils to make a judgement and review their study of the period.


What was it like living in Roman Britain?

Listen to the poem.

Is this an accurate view of the Romans in Britain?

Explore the poem and its language. What are the features of Roman rule that it mentions? Ask the pupils what sort of impression it gives of Britain under Roman rule. Was it really like this?

Use a set of eight sort cards to consider other aspects of Roman Britain that might give a different view or interpretation of the period. Pupils could be put into groups of three or four to sort the cards. Each card has one of the following statements written on it:

  • The very rich lived in villas
  • The Romans built theatres for plays and poetry readings
  • Towns were built with clean water supplies and sewage systems
  • Each town had public baths that everyone could use
  • In some villas the female children of slaves were killed at birth
  • In the Roman amphitheatres animals and sometimes people were killed for entertainment
  • Roads helped travel and trade
  • Roman roads were built to allow the army to travel quickly to destroy any opposition

Ask the pupils to organise the cards into three groups:

  • FOR: Those that support the view in the poem
  • AGAINST: Those that challenge the view in the poem
  • INTERESTING: Those that they are not sure about

Now listen to the poem again.


Add your own verse that tells the true story about what it was like living in Roman Britain. This could be done as a class, modelled by the teacher, or in groups.

For example:

The Romans were so clever,

but they also were so cruel,

the rich they lived in villas,

but poor they lived on gruel.

They came and conquered Britain,

with their soldiers that were strong,

they killed our Queen Boudicca,

and many of her throng.

Because it is very difficult to assess individual contributions to group work and projects it is worth considering the use of self-evaluation. Ask the pupils to assess their own contribution, achievements and areas for improvement. They could use the following format:

  • My task
  • Who I worked with
  • What I did
  • What went well

Extension Activities

Further Reading

'The Roman Road' by Thomas Hardy

'The Centurion's Song' by Rudyard Kipling

'Roman Wall Blues' by W H Auden (also recorded by Alex Harvey: Roman Wall Blues, 1969 UK Fontana STL 5534

'Boadicea' by Alfred Lord Tennyson

'A Birdoswald Sequence' by Denisa Comanescu

Writing on the Wall

Writing on the Wall is an international Creative Writing and Public Art Project for Hadrian's Wall, which links with the local communities and people along the original line of the wall and its coastal defences from Wallsend and South Shields in the North East, to Bowness-on-Solway and Ravenglass in Cumbria. The project runs from 2001 to 2006 and is funded by One NorthEast, through the Single Regeneration Budget and with match funding from local authorities and other partners. Writing on the Wall has been created by Steve Chettle and is inspired by the 2000 years old Vindolanda Tablets - a diverse range of writings which include a line from Virgil's The Aeneid to a birthday invitation - W H Auden's Roman Wall Blues and a variety of other historical and contemporary writers. Writers from Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Scotland have been involved. Linda France, Kitty Fitzgerald, Robert Forsythe, Bill Herbert, Peter Mortimer, Katrina Porteous have worked with local groups and also produced their own work about subjects that include love potions, Roman herbs, the poetry of buried objects, Industrial Archaeologists and radio reception through the Tyne Tunnel. The project also involves writers from the countries that originally garrisoned the wall - Algeria, Belgium, Bulgaria, South West and Eastern France, North Germany and the Rhineland, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Morocco, Romania, North and North West Spain, Switzerland, European Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, Wales. The first international writers have been Hafsa Bekri-Lamrani, from Morrocco; Denisa Comanescu from Romania and Hashem Shafiq from Iraq. A series of educational and community based workshops have taken place along the route of the wall involving people of all ages and abilities.These workshops have introduced new audiences to the work of quality writing and encouraged and supported new writing from the participants. New works have been created which examine historical and contemporary aspects of the Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site. This has begun the process of making a new portfolio of creative writing about a World Heritage Site which is both ancient and modern - A.D. 122 to the 21st Century.

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