Talks & Workshops

World history author Christopher Lloyd and What on Earth? workshop facilitator John Gordon-Reid offer a wide range of highly educational and stimulating cross-curricular talks for schools, home education groups, literary festivals, businesses, societies, clubs and universities, tailored to suit all ages from 5 to adult. The range of talks includes school workshops, INSET days, speech days and parents' evenings


Magna Carta and the
Physics of Freedom

World history author Christopher Lloyd’s new talk takes a giant perspective on 800 years in the fight for freedoms and liberties

Freedom and liberty are words that have been bounded around by politicians for centuries but what do they actually mean? How can we know if we are personally free? To what extent do we live in a truly free society? 

Join Christopher Lloyd on an epic ride through 800 years in the fight for freedoms and liberties from the sealing of Magna Carta by King John in 1215 to the present day.

Using a giant 8m-long timeline, specially commissioned by the Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Committee, and a coat of many pockets containing key objects that serve as mnemonics, Christopher will stop off at 10 key moments in the last 800 years showing how today’s ideas of freedom and liberty have evolved through time.

In his characteristic cross-curricular style, Christopher will also explain his ‘Physics of Freedom Test’ that anyone can use to measure to what extent they are truly free or live in a genuinely free society, using the molecular mechanics of an everyday balloon as a metaphor.

The talk, which lasts 45 – 90 mins (depending on time available), can be tailored to suit a wide range of audiences and events including Adults (literary festivals), Teachers (INSET talks for citizenship strand), Schools (Primary or secondary – KS 2 to A level) and Family & Home Education (festivals, societies, education groups).

Christopher Lloyd’s talk coincides with the launch of The Magna Carta Chronicle: A Young Person’s Guide to 800 years in the Fight for Freedom which will be published on April 20th, 2015, by What on Earth Publishing and the Magna Carta 800th Trust priced at £8.99 (ISBN 9780993019913).SealsMagna

Key stage
KS 3 upwards
Magna Carta, Black Death, Peasants Revolt, Reformation, American Independence, Banning of Slavery, Suffragettes, Human Rightts

A History of the World in 20 Objects

Take the ultimate cross-curricular journey stopping off at 20 key moments in the history of planet, life and people.

Using a series of everyday objects, picked from a coat of many pockets by the audience, the story of 13.7 billion years is threaded together into a single sweeping narrative with a giant edition of the the What on Earth? Wallbook as a stunning backdrop.

This talk was first given at The Royal Institution in London in 2008 at the launch of world history book What on Earth Happened?.

Topics covered: Cosmology, Planet formation, Photosynthesis, Cambrian Explosion, Dinosaurs, Mammal diversification, Human origins, Fire, Agriculture, Writing, Ancient civilisations, Islamic conquests, European expansion, Industrial revolution, Climate change, Population growth.


1066 and All That…..

Choose ten key moments in the story of British history from 1066 to the present day and what would they be?

See how foreign forces shaped the early development of our island culture with the arrival of plague, paper and gunpowder. Then see British power steadily increase until the rise of Germany and two devastating world wars. Using a long perspective, British history is best understood when connected with the history of the world. This talk was first given at the Chalke Valley History Festival in June 2013.

Topics covered: Norman Conquest, Islamic conquests, Black Death, Printing, Reformation, Patents, Maritime Exploration, Industrial Revolution, Rise of Germany, Financial Deregulation, Present day issue

Key stage
Can be customised to suit from Year 1 to A -Level / Adult
As listed above

I have been besieged this morning by teachers who have come into the library to say how much their classes had enjoyed the workshops

Rachel Johnston, Manor Lodge School, Shenley

The Story of Science & Engineering from Abstract to Infinity

Question: what distinguishes humans from their closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees? Answer: they have much bigger brains for problem solving (science) and freely available hands for making things (engineering).

The story of how humans have reshaped the world over the last 10,000 years is the story of science & engineering.

This giant narrative takes in 14 of the most significant discoveries covering the complete scientific spectrum from maths (abstract) to astronomy (infinity). The talk, accompanied by a coat of many pockets and a giant edition of the Wallbook of Science & Engineering, also gets students to think about the unintended consequences of scientific endeavour. Ideal for cross-curricular integration, science, maths and history departments.

This talk was first given at The Science Museum and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in October 2013.

Key stage
Year 6 to A -Level / Adult audiences
Maths & Measurement, Physics & Chemistry, Biology & Medicine, Earth & Land, Building & Invention, Transport and Communication, Sky & Space

Brings a whole new perspective to communicating science

Jonathan Newby, Chief Operating Office, the Science Museum

Why do people play sport?

Pupils who think history is just about kings, queens and battles are in for a shock with this mind-boggling journey through 3 million years asking the simple, but intriguing question: why do people play sport?

Our quest begins millions of years ago in the Stone Ages with the first human ancestors who learned to walk on two feet, giving them freely available hands – essential for playing sport. The story then covers a dizzying array of cultures from hunter-gatherer cave people to the Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Tudors, Victorians and ending with the revival of the modern Olympics and London 2012. First given at City Hall, London in May 2012.

Key stage
Year 1 to A -Level / Adult audiences
Stone ages, Hunter-gathering, Ancient Greece, Roman Empire, Islamic conquests, Aztecs, Tudors, Victorian, Modern Olympic movement

We have never had a speaker who was so successful at engaging everyone

Stratford-Upon-Avon, Home Education group

The 4 billion-year story of life on Earth

A spectacular voyage through the 4-billion year story of life on Earth stopping off at 14 of the most significant evolutionary episodes that have most shaped the development of life on our planet.

Using a coat of 14 pockets, a series of everyday objects and a giant edition of the What on Earth? Wallbook of Natural History (developed in partnership with the Natural History Museum) as a backdrop, this talk is ideal for Science departments or non-fiction workshops.

First given at The Natural History Museum in October 2012.


Does Biodiversity Matter?

100 Species that Changed the World

Why don’t humans just cultivate and grow the species that suit them and not bother about everything else? In some ways that’s the reality of the modern world, but does it matter?

Christopher Lloyd takes a deep history look at some of his 100 Species that have Changed the World, from his book What on Earth Evolved? It’s a fun-packed ride explaining how nature works when there are no humans and then moves on to showing how humans have changed the rules for survival since the dawn of agriculture. He ends with a metaphor for the importance of biodiversity using a railway track, a candle and two plastic champagne glasses. Intrigued? You should be!

The lecture was first give at The Royal Institution in London in 2009

Key stage
Year 1 to A -Level / Adult audiences
Origin of life, Bacteria, Photosynthesis, Endosymbiosis, Sexual reproduction, Fossil record, Adaptation, Amphibians & Reptiles, Fungi, Pollination, Biodiversity, Mass extinctions, Rock formation, Plate tectonics, Climate change, Ice Ages, Human evolution, Anthropocene

We find it difficult to articulate in a short email just what an incredibly positive impact your talks have had on Charlotte over the years (well...she's 5!). Perhaps it will be enough to say that you have made a significant contribution to her huge enthusiasm for learning.

Catherine and Louis Flutsch

Big History, Visualisation and the Brain

Christopher Lloyd, author of best-selling world history book What on Earth Happened? presents a 60 minute lecture on the making of his book and his pioneering techniques for communicating the deep chronology of the story of science and history over billions of years to an everyday audience.

During his journey he will discuss and demonstrate a wide range of diverse communication strategies for conveying a long chronological perspective including the lost art of rhetoric and memory from ancient Greece, the use of medieval visual timelines and modern insights into hard-wired evolutionary learning pathways taken from the latest research in neuroscience.

Key stage
Teachers, educators, IB / A Level students, literary festival audiences

I just wanted to drop you a line to say how much my husband and I enjoyed your brilliant talk at Thomas's Fulham speech day yesterday. I can genuinely say your talk was definitely the most impressive talk / speech day I have ever been to, so much so I felt the need to write and say so to you.

Katie Cowell, Parent, St Thomas', Fulham

Why a Big History approach to learning is so important!

ALLOWING natural curiosity to flow in the classroom can be a real challenge for teachers following a prescribed curriculum and working within specific learning frameworks. However, if natural learning pathways are ignored the result can often become disengagement and, worst of all, boredom. A bored child cannot learn effectively.

As part of the What on Earth? offering we regularly provide INSET workshops for schools interested in developing a more interconnected, curiosity-driven strategy for their schools – curiosity being the antidote for boredom.

The workshop begins with an overview of the latest research in neuroscience – the premise being that as educators we need to understand how the brain has evolved to learn if we are to maximise our chances of achieving pupil engagement in the classroom. The seminar then looks at what the evolution of the brain can tell us about the most naturally functional relationship between the left and right hemispheres and suggests strategies for allowing curiosity to flow between subjects using timelines and everyday objects.

Inset Workshop

Making Connections: how craft, visualisation and narrative context promote curiosity-led learning

Christopher Lloyd explores the latest research on neuroscience and how the brain has evolved to learn – valuable for understanding how to address young minds in the classroom. He then discusses the dangers of an over-dependence on learning exclusively through abstractions such as words and numbers before exploring the memory learning techniques of ancient Greece in a world where pens and paper had not yet been invented.

Next, Christopher demonstrates how the curriculum can be integrated using artwork, timelines and a narrative approach to the past. Staff divide into groups and choose an everyday object as a lynchpin around which to construct their own narratives that connect with all parts of the curriculum.

Finally, staff are taken on a whistlestop journey through 13.7 billion years covering every subject in the curriculum using a series of everyday objects. The talk demonstrates how the ‘ordinary’ world around us can be used to tell the most ‘extraordinary’ story of planet, life and people in a way that will engage even the most reluctant learner using no more than the power of natural curiosity.

INSET workshops can be designed around a school’s individual timescales and requirements. Details on request. Duration: from half day to full day (depending on audience / requirements). Suitable for teachers, librarians and learning support assistants of all subjects from Reception level to Key Stage 4 and beyond.

Key stage
Suitable for teachers from Reception level to Key Stage 3 and beyond
Neuroscience, memory skills, cross-curricular integration, use of timelines, use of everyday objects, use of IT, storytelling, engaging reluctant readers

I just wanted to thank you so much for coming to visit us today and giving us a series of the most wonderful entertaining and educational talks. I don’t think it mattered what age your audience was – whether adults or littlies – you inspired them all!

Denise Reed, Assistant Librarian, Ardingly School

Science Vs Religion – Where Do You Stand?

Scientists and religious leaders have been rubbing each other up the wrong way for years. During this talk we tackle their rival views of existence head on, starting at the beginning of time – the Big Bang. Our journey then stops off at ten mysteries, all of which remain largely unaccounted for by modern science.

The workshop ends with a horizontal line drawn on a flip chart and pupils are asked to decide where their own personal beliefs reside on the line. Are they on the athiest random luck end, in the middle with some kind of divine architect or do they believe in an intervening God or gods as the most credible explanation? This talk was first given at Shireland Academy, Birmingham, in November 2013.

Key stage
Year 3 to A -Level / Adult audiences
Asymmetry between matter and anti-matter following the Big Bang; Collision of Earth & Theia to make the Moon; Giant bombardment of comets brings water to Earth; Proximity of Earth to Sun allowing liquid water for life to thrive, Origin of life in the seas; Oxidation of atmosphere by cyanobacteria leading to ozone layer; Emergence of complex life; Origins and purpose of sexual reproduction; plate tectonics.

Renewed thanks for everything - You were definitely the hero of the Schools Festival

Jane Pleydell-Bouverie, Director of the Chalke Valley History Festival 2013

An Introduction to Shakespeare

What’s the best way of introducing a young audience to the thrill of Shakespeare? Our answer is not to study one play or one scene but to engage with ALL the plays and allow people who have never explored the plays of Shakespeare to experience all of them visually using their natural curiosity.

How many plays did Shakespeare write? Which feature ghosts? Which are non-fiction and which are made up? Using the new What on Earth? Wallbook of Shakespeare, published in collaboration with The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, this talk explores the world of human emotion using different coloured pockets in an all-new coat to represent jealousy (green), anger (red), riches (gold), love (purple), terror (white) and magic (black).

Using a series of props hidden inside the pockets, pupils explore the world of Shakespeare as a gateway to the entire spectrum of human nature.

Key stage
Reception to A -Level / Adult audiences
Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, The Tempest, Titus Andronicus, Pericles, Richard III, Merchant of Venice, Julius Casear, Henry V, Othello, Antony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus

Also, just wanted to say Christopher Lloyd was fab the other night and Izzy was just buzzing from meeting him. After he talked about his Shakespeare book, we ended up spending the Friday in Stratford at her insistence on seeing where Shakespeare came from!

Olivia Smith, Teacher

Upcoming Events

Date Event Location Type Host
04/04/15 Edinburgh Science Festival Public Edinburgh Market / Fair John
14/04/15 Newstead Wood School Orpington School Lecture Chris
16/04/15 Woodstock Home Ed Group Woodstock Home Ed Group Chris
22/04/15 Huntley C of E Primary School Gloucester School Lecture John
23/04/15 Charlton Park Academy London School Lecture Chris
24/04/15 Newark on Trent Home Ed Group Newark on Trent Home Ed Group Chris
28/04/15 Riddlesdown Collegiate London School Lecture John
01/05/15 Stratford-upon-Avon Home Ed Group Snitterfield Home Ed Group Chris
10/05/15 Luton Hoo Kids Festival Public Luton Hoo Literary Festival Chris
13/05/15 Milton Keynes Home Ed Group Milton Keynes - Eco Hub - Magna Carta, Shakespeare & Nature Home Ed Group Chris
25/05/15–31/05/15 Hay Literary Festival Public Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival Chris
05/06/15 Surbiton Home Ed Group Surbiton - Sport & Shakespeare Home Ed Group Chris
08/06/15 Hereford Cathedral School Hereford School Lecture Chris
09/06/15 Lanesborough School Surrey School Lecture Chris
14/06/15 Royal Holloway Public London Public Lecture Chris
15/06/15 Magna Carta Celebration Day! Public Runnymede Public Lecture Chris and Stephen Tomlinson
17/06/15 Newhall School Chelmsford School Lecture Chris
18/06/15–19/06/15 Wellington Festival of Education Public Berkshire Market / Fair Chris
22/06/15–23/06/15 Chalke Valley History Festival Public Chalke Valley Market / Fair Chris
25/06/15 St Michael’s Prep School Otford School Lecture Chris
30/06/15 The Big Bang Fair South East South of England Showground, Sussex Market / Fair Chris