3. Creating the Displays

This section helps students explore their theme, and select and create materials for their exhibition. Creating displays provides rich opportunities for students to:

  • Write for different purposes and audiences
  • Develop skills for writing such as recounting, structuring letters, writing in the first person, writing persuasively or descriptively
  • Explore aspects of the past from different perspectives and points-of-view
  • Find creative ways to present information and ideas
  • Develop and use historical vocabulary

A selection of tried-and-tested activities have been included here but there really is no end to the curriculum-linked work students could do to produce their own materials – models, poems, animations, artworks, letters - to include in the exhibition alongside objects, images and information text.

Once the students have had a chance to research and explore the theme, hold a group or class discussion about what to include in your classroom exhibition. Talk about what is meaningful to the students, how their theme might relate to their own lives, and what and who are important to represent and include. Is there anything that shouldn’t be included? Talk about your target audience. What will they be interested in? How can we make our exhibition interesting and fun for adults and children? Agree and list criteria such as: safe to put on display, interesting, fun, helps visitors understand more about our theme/the history of our local area, helps represent the lives of different people - men and women, rich and poor. Students can include objects, images, memories of local people, their own work – writing, models, artworks, films, soundscapes, animations.

When museums and galleries are creating an exhibition, they create a list of all the items - objects, images, documents, tickets, photographs, books etc - so that everyone working on the exhibition knows what is being included. Each object in a museum or gallery is given a special reference number so that information about it can be easily kept and found when needed. In the National Portrait Gallery for example, each portrait is given a number starting with NPG. The first portrait they ever collected was a portrait of William Shakespeare – its number is NPG1. The Gallery now has over 200,000 portraits, each with its own special number.

Students can use the Exhibition item list template to keep a list of all the items in their exhibition with its own reference number. Remind them to use the same numbers when they create object labels for their display. They might like to begin each number with the initials of your school. Or begin with ‘O’ for object, ‘P’ for photograph etc.

Museums often borrow objects or paintings from other museums, galleries or from individual people to include in an exhibition. When they do this they set out a loan agreement so that a record is kept of where an object is, how it will be looked after and when it will be returned. You may want to borrow objects from your local museum, or people in your school or community to include in your classroom exhibition. Students can use the Loan agreement template to make it official. See the Loans boxes and equipment guide for more information about borrowing items from your local museum.

Timelines are a great way to organise information. They can also serve as a useful introduction to your exhibition. Show students the Making a Mark timeline. Students can create their own illustrated timeline to show how the events of their theme unfolded and/or to place their theme in a wider historical context. They can use their own work, print out images from the Image gallery or create a digital timeline (See the Digital activities guide for more information). Students can also create timelines of objects in their exhibition.

Working in pairs or small groups, students research and role-play interviewing a historical figure. Give the students a portrait of a person from the Image Gallery linked to your exhibition theme. Students devise a list of five key interview questions and research the answers. Encourage them to focus on questions linked to the topic as opposed to their favourite colour or what they had for breakfast! They could use the Making a Mark Image Gallery and accompanying biographies, wider internet searches, their Museum visit, books and other primary and secondary sources to find the answers. They then role-play an interview with their historical character.

The results could be used to create written biographies. Interviews could be filmed with students in role using a simple tablet app like iMovie (see Digital activities for more information). Include these in your exhibition.

Students use what they have learned about their theme to create a series of short, punchy, fascinating ‘Did you know..?’ facts. They should consider what might make a fact truly ‘fascinating’ for someone who knows very little about the theme. Try linking facts to people and their everyday lives, or to something very famous; try expressing weights or distances in forms people can relate to, for example:

  • The Vikings liked to keep themselves clean and tidy – archaeologists have discovered razors, combs and even ear cleaners.
  • The famous arch of Wembley stadium was manufactured on Teesside. Its hollow structure is stuffed with Middlesbrough football shirts.
  • 6.2 million tons of ironstone was mined from Skinningrove – that’s the weight of over 1 million elephants!

Find more examples in each of the Image gallery themes. Include the facts in your exhibition or go to the Bringing your exhibition to life section below for a way to turn them into a fun exhibition game.

Students choose a painting or portrait from the Image gallery, related to their exhibition theme. They explore the images using activities in the Using portraits, paintings and images to find out about the past guide and annotate them with interesting facts. They could use a simple app like Photo label to do this digitally (see Digital activities for more information). Include the annotated images in your exhibition.

Students recreate a portrait, painting or event featured in the Image gallery, relating to their exhibition theme: Edward Pease and George Stephenson discussing steam powered trains, the discovery of the Saxon Princess burial site, Dr Nicholas Patrick posing for his NASA portrait, World War I officers playing cards and listening to a gramophone during a lull in the fighting, for example. Students can take photos or make simple films of the results and include them in their exhibition.

Using a painting or event from the Image gallery as a stimulus, such as the Bombardment of the Hartlepools or the first encounter of Hawaii (surfers and all!) by Captain Cook and his crew, students create newspaper reports as if reporting first-hand. What are the headlines? What might they have seen or heard? What might eye-witnesses have said? They can create a local newspaper front page for their report and include it in their exhibition. They can also literally ‘put themselves in the picture and report ‘live from where it happened’ using a simple Green Screen tablet app (See Digital activities for more information).

Museums often include letters and diary entries in their exhibitions. They are a great way of ‘peopling’ a history and bringing different voices, perspectives and points of view into a story from the past.

Letters could be from a First World War soldier or nurse writing home about their experiences at the Front - what might they be missing about their home in the Tees Valley? They could be letters of protest from concerned residents about the effects of the proposed Stockton & Darlington Railway on the local environment or postcards from Victorian holidaymakers in Saltburn-on-Sea. They could write diary entries from one of Captain Cook’s crew members arriving in Australia for the first time, Nicolas Patrick voyaging to the International Space Station or Gertrude Bell working in the Middle East. Students can bring their work to life by reading their letters or diary entries out loud and recording them using a simple tablet app (See Digital activities for more information). Display the written results in your exhibition. Provide headphones for visitors to listen to the spoken versions.

Use the ideas in the Digital activities guide to produce soundscapes or to literally add a voice to portraits. This will create atmosphere in your exhibition and help immerse your visitors in the time and theme.

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