Classroom ideas for teachers and students

This page contains a broad outline as to how the material on the Treaty of Waitangi can be used by teachers and learners in social studies and history. There are many resources available to teachers to help them prepare for teaching themes relating to the Treaty of Waitangi. The material available here is both authoritative and accessible. It is written and organised in such a way as to allow users to quickly find the material most important or relevant to their needs.

We welcome feedback. Please use the comments box at the bottom of this page.

The Treaty of Waitangi

Ever since its signing in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi has continued to make an indelible mark on our national story. Different understandings of the Treaty have long been the subject of debate and from the 1970s especially, many Māori have called for the terms of the Treaty to be honoured.  In gaining a greater understanding of New Zealand history and society an understanding of the Treaty and its associated themes is essential.

The material available here is of great value to teachers and students studying at a variety of levels. It includes:

  • The Treaty in Brief
  • Background to the Treaty
  • Read the Treaty
  • Waitangi Day
  • Maori Language Week
  • Making the Treaty
  • The Treaty in Practice
  • Treaty FAQs
  • Treaty Timeline
  • Treaty biographies

Additional features on Waitangi Day and pre-1840 Contact are also recommended.

Social studies

The Treaty of Waitangi is an integral part of the social studies programme in many schools. The challenge is to avoid what I describe as ‘Treaty fatigue’ which can result from what students see as the repetition of the same information year after year. I would often have Year 9 or 10 students telling me that they had ‘done’ the Treaty of Waitangi. I often asked what ‘doing the Treaty’ meant. Beyond a very basic narrative based on events of February 1840 the answer was not a lot.

Teaching the Treaty in isolation is pretty meaningless. The historical context is important but for many learners starting with what they already know or think may be  a more useful place to start and might help avoid the repetition of basic facts. They may be aware of conversations from around the dinner table or in the media about the Treaty and may have questions that might represent a good place to start.

Think about the age and knowledge of your students and what they might be able to process. For classes below Level 4 the Treaty might be best dealt with as part of study of celebrations and ceremonies. From your diagnostic work you will be aware of what your class can handle but be aware of other curriculum levels and what your students might encounter regarding the Treaty in the following years. This can also help reduce a sense of repetition.

With a new curriculum just around the corner it is perhaps questionable how much time an attention you want to pay to the old achievement objectives but as this is still the official curriculum you might want to continue with the status quo. The new draft curriculum mentions the Treaty of Waitangi specifically at level 5. It talks about how ‘the Treaty of Waitangi is responded to differently by people in different times and places’ and confirms that any study of the Treaty really needs to address the ‘now’ as well as the ‘then’.

Time, Continuity and Change at Level 4 offers an opportunity to look at the Treaty as an event that has shaped the lives of a group of people. Key to this is the examination of cause and effect and how and why people experience this event in different ways. At level 5 this strand develops this thinking further by how an event from the past has influenced the relationships within and between groups of people but more importantly how it continues to influence them. This is where it is important to ensure that our teaching ideas explore the now. Learners need to see how the Treaty is important to them and how it continues to influence New Zealand society. If we keep it as a nineteenth century study we fail to convey the important fact that the Treaty of Waitangi is a living document.

Examining the Treaty settlement process can be really helpful as it starts with the now and works backwards. A case study approach on a settlement allows learners to break the big story down into a more manageable and relevant level.

Te Ara: The encyclopaedia of New Zealand is also a very useful online resource where you can find histories for each iwi that addresses aspects of contact with Europeans. 

For more detail on specific activities relating to this topic go to Social Studies, Treaty of Waitangi activities in the Classroom.  

NCEA History Level 3

For students studying New Zealand in the nineteenth century, the Treaty of Waitangi and its implications is a key part of this broad survey. This material can provide students with a context in which to prepare for:

  • achievement standard 3.4, as the Treaty of Waitangi was clearly a significant decision made by people in history, and one of the key decisions as far as life in nineteenth century New Zealand was concerned.
  • achievement standard 3.3, analyse and evaluate evidence in historical sources, as the different versions of the Treaty have been subject to ongoing debate and analysis.
  • For those schools not studying nineteenth century New Zealand this material could be used to support a research assignment to support achievement standards 3.1 and 3.2.

NCEA History Level 2

For students studying New Zealand history at NCEA Level2, the Treaty of Waitangi is central to a number of topics and the associated achievement standards including:

  • Innovation and Interference: Maori Economic Activity 1816-1875
  • Maori Participation in International Theatres of War in the 20th Century
  • From Colony to Nation: New Zealand Government 1840-1947
  • The Search for Political Unity: Maori Socio-Political structures 1900-1990
  • Maori Leadership of the 19th Century
  • The Growth of New Zealand Identity 1890-1980
  • Tino Rangatiratanga/Sovereignty: New Zealand and the Maori nation 1984-1999
  • this material could also be used to support a research assignment to support achievement standards 2.1 and 2.2.
How to cite this page

'Classroom ideas for teachers and students', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-May-2017