A guide for teachers

For Key Stage 3…

Why did so many people volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War?

Welcome to the IBMT teaching resource pack. Here you will find a five-lesson unit on the International Brigades aimed at Key Stage 3 (primarily Year 9) students. The unit and resources are designed to be as straightforward and adaptable as possible, so that teachers can modify them to the needs of their own students and curricula.

Download the teaching resources here:

1/ Enquiry: Why did so many people volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War? – a PowerPoint presentation including 62 slides and notes for teachers

2/ A Knowledge Organiser chart with key words, individuals and dates from the PowerPoint presentation above

3/ A 13-page Enquiry Booklet PDF including sources

4/ A 15-page Teacher Reading PDF guide with background on key themes and events

5/ A 4-page Mark Scheme PDF guide.

Artwork for a commemorative plate to remember the International Brigades.

Why teach this topic?

The International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War is an inspiring and engaging topic to teach that allows pupils to explore an oft-overlooked aspect of 20th century history.

Thematically, many curricula neglect working-class history. At the same time, this unit is designed to provide a valuable bridge between topics studied in many schools in Key Stage 3. Most history departments cover the end of the First World War and/or the Russian Revolution, as well as the rise of the Nazis or the road to the Second World War. This unit knits these stories together as well as bolstering vital source skills and exploring the complexity and interconnectedness of historical causation.

Leader of the military rebels, General Franco, with a portrait of Hitler on his desk.

In Lesson 1, students are introduced to the enquiry question ‘Why did so many people volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War?’. Students are challenged to think why at least 35,000 people from over 50 nations would risk life and limb in another country’s civil conflict, as well as being introduced to their first primary source and the key terms and dates of the topic in the knowledge organiser. Frequent recall tasks through the unit are designed to embed this key content knowledge, which, once secure, will allow students to engage fully with the sources and key question of causation.

Each subsequent lesson deals with a different reason why people volunteered to serve in Spain and from Lesson 3 onwards students must analyse a primary source focused on that particular reason. We would advise teachers to take the ‘I-We-You’ approach to scaffolding and modelling this source work over the course of the unit. This will build up the students’ skills and confidence in working with these sources over the course of the five lessons until they are able to demonstrate independent practice by the end.

This 1937 poster produced by the government of the Spanish Republic says: 'All the peoples of the world are in the International Brigades on the side of the Spanish people'.

n Lesson 4, students are faced with the complex web of causation that pulls together all the reasons for volunteering that the unit covers. It is important to emphasise the interconnectedness of these factors and the ways in which causation – and human decision making – is not a simple ‘x leads to y’, but rather an interplay between interlocking causes. Many links between the causes studied are essential as students head into the final lesson in which they have a chance to demonstrate both their source skills and their knowledge and understanding of the central enquiry question.

We sincerely hope that teachers will find these resources useful and that students will be engaged by the unique story of the International Brigades.

This teaching resource pack has been created with the help of a grant from the Lipman-Miliband Trust and individual donations from IBMT members, for which we are very grateful. If you have any queries or comments, please contact

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