4. Bringing your exhibition to life

This section helps you work together to organise your exhibition and bring it to life for your visitors. Parents are bound to find their children’s work fascinating, but what about younger brothers and sisters, other children in the school, governors or other invited guests? The activities below will help students hook visitors in to all the fascinating information they have discovered and keep them interested and engaged as they explore the displays.

More ideas and information can be found in the Digital activities guide.

Bringing their exhibition to life provides a wealth of learning opportunities for students across the curriculum including:

  • Organising and presenting historical information in creative ways for different audiences
  • Modelling and communicating their ideas through a range of media
  • Evaluating and modifying their ideas
  • Drafting, proof-reading and producing accurate text for public display
  • Précising longer text into concise, ‘bitesize’ labels and instructions
  • Developing and using descriptive and technical vocabulary
  • Writing active sentences, using adjectives, prepositions, verbs or other grammatical elements

Museums put a great deal of thought into creating titles for their exhibitions. The title you give your exhibition is important. Not only does it tell your visitors what the exhibition will be about, it is also the hook that will stimulate their curiosity and make them want to explore your exhibition to find out more.

Show students examples of titles on the exhibition posters and leaflets in the Inspiration gallery’s ‘Publicising’ theme. There are more titles in the list below. Talk about what the exhibitions might be about and who might want to go to them. Make a class list of as many words as students can think of to do with your chosen theme. Use this to brainstorm ideas for the exhibition title. Try:

  • Having fun with alliteration: Town in Time; Tees Tracks
  • Exploring ways of relating the theme to the students using possessive adjectives and object pronouns: Our War; Middlesbrough and Me, Colours of our Lives
  • Making a list of adjectives that might describe your chosen theme and playing with them to add flavour to your title: e.g. Intrepid Tees Valley explorers; Our amazing railway; The extraordinary Gertrude Bell

Hold a class vote to choose the most popular title.

Colours of our lives
The First World War: national memory, local stories
What’s the First World War got to do with me?
Tees tracks
Change in trains
Kirkleatham: the story of a village
Beauty and the beach
The extraordinary Gertrude Bell
Discover Dresser
The Linthorpe pottery
Town in time
Iron valley
20th century women
Black chronicles
Face to Face: portraits past and present
Learning the ropes: painting a picture of Captain Cook and his young apprentice
Walkabout: Australian Aboriginal life and legend

Work with the students to discuss and decide how the exhibition should be organised. Look at the ‘Displays’ themed images in the Inspiration Gallery. Think about and discuss:

  • Who are your audience and what do you want them to find out?
  • How much space will you have?
  • Will you have different sections?
  • What might the headings be?
  • Will they be arranged chronologically?
  • What will be included in each section?

Students might also like to think about how they will make their exhibition accessible - by leaving plenty of space for wheelchairs and buggies for example, or including voice recordings and descriptions of written work and displays for people who are visually impaired. Students could act as exhibition designers and create labelled floorplans or layouts.

Labels are a common and useful way for visitors to find out information about objects in an exhibition, but keeping the information interesting can be a real challenge. Show students the examples of exhibition labels in the Inspiration Gallery’s ‘Labels’ filter. Use the Label template to write object labels for your exhibition. Students can try using these tips and ideas:

  • Keep it brief and to the point. Use short sentences. It can be difficult to read long pieces of text when you are standing in a noisy and busy exhibition.
  • Include simple pictures or diagrams if useful
  • Stick to a specific word count – this can be harder than it looks
  • Include a fascinating ‘Did you know…?’ fact
  • Be creative: write a story, poetry or haiku label, or ‘personify’ the object by writing from the object’s perspective.

Remind students to always keep the reader in mind. What information do they really need to know? What might they find interesting?

Include activities and games in your exhibition to help bring the information to life and make finding out about your theme memorable and engaging for visitors. Show students the examples in the Inspiration Gallery’s ‘Exhibition activities’ filter. Students can create these activities or think of their own:

  • True or False game – this could be based on students’ ‘Did you know…?’ facts
  • Who/what am I? Invite visitors to guess what the mystery object/who the mystery person is
  • Print out and cut up a historical portrait or scene from the Image Gallery and turn it into a jigsaw
  • Past pairs: match the image to the description (of different types of transport for example, roles working on the Stockton & Darlington Railway, historical figures etc)
  • Exhibition treasure hunt: challenge visitors to find five specific things that feature somewhere in the exhibition
  • Archaeological dig: use a sand box to bury ‘artefacts’ from the past. Give visitors brushes to carefully reveal models or images of objects. Note: Museum objects should never be used for this activity
  • Create a storytelling area
  • Create a dressing up area
  • Exhibition quiz: how many questions can visitors answer about your theme?

Students can act as expert exhibition guides for a particular section of the exhibition, answering visitors’ questions and prompting them to engage in activities or look closer at objects. They could do this in role as a character related to their chosen theme, welcoming visitors with train tickets in role as a Stockton & Darlington Railway train guard, or explaining what it’s like to work in the Loftus mine for example. Show students the images in the Inspiration gallery’s ‘Characters and guides’ filter to spark ideas.

Collecting visitor feedback is an important part of the process for museums and galleries, to make sure they continue to produce high quality exhibitions that attract plenty of visitors. The ‘Visitor feedback’ filter in the Inspiration gallery shows some examples of different ways this can be collected. Feedback could be gathered through:

  • Evaluation forms and comment books
  • Feedback walls – invite visitors to draw or write a response to a question, e.g. ‘What does the Tees Valley mean to me’, ‘My Tees Valley memory…’ ‘What did I learn from the exhibition?’ to add to a feedback wall or giant piece of paper
  • Exit surveys conducted by students as visitors leave
  • School social media page.

Talk about the responses with the students and discuss what worked well and what they would change. Students can write an evaluation report or compile visitor responses into graphs and charts.

Inspiration gallery

Filter objectsSelected tag:Characters and guides (8)

Kirkleatham Museum exhibition guide

© Redcar and Cleveland Council Cultural Service, Kirkleatham Museum

Edward Pease and George Stephenson Exhibition characters

© Head of Steam - Darlington Railway Museum

Fireman Exhibition character

© Head of Steam - Darlington Railway Museum

Preston Park Museum exhibition guide

© Preston Park Museum and Grounds