Back in the Classroom

Have students vote on a final exhibition theme.
Ask students to share any exhibition ideas that their trip to the museum inspired. Discuss the pros and possible cons of each of the top exhibition themes, then have students vote on a final theme. Also have them suggest exhibition titles.

Have each student bring in one or more objects for the exhibition.
Put the students' objects on a table. Give everyone a chance to observe the goods, then have the students break into groups of four or five to find ways of organizing the objects for display. Have the groups address the following questions:

  • Based on the objects students brought in, should the theme be revised or changed in any way?
  • Which objects are similar, and how are they similar? (Also consider any similarities among the reasons people chose certain objects.)
  • Which objects should be the first ones viewers see? Why?
  • Which objects should be the last ones viewers see? Why?

Based on their answers to these questions, and on any other ideas that they discuss, have the groups write up a list of recommendations of how the exhibition should be set up.

Have students write labels for their objects.
Explain that, in museums, the word "label" refers to the panels of printed information in an exhibition. Then tell the students that they'll be responsible for writing labels for their own objects. List the following guidelines where everyone can see them. (If you were able to get a copy of an exhibition script, put it where the students can refer to it for ideas.)

  • Identify the object. (You might also want to state when it was created, if you know this information.)
  • Explain what it's made of.
  • State who owns the object. (You can also include why the object is important to the owner or to other people.)
  • Point out any particular parts that the viewer should pay attention to and explain why they matter.
  • Keep your label short. (Remember that exhibition visitors don't want to spend all their time reading. Also keep in mind that exhibition space is limited.)

Explain that research is often an important part of setting up an exhibition. Curators try to find out as much as they can about the objects they're working with, in part so they can effectively interpret the objects (in the form of written labels, lectures, and so on) to exhibition visitors. Encourage the students to do any additional research, as necessary, on their objects. For example, if the object a student brings in belongs to a grandparent, perhaps the student could talk to the grandparent to find out more about the object.

Have students revise their labels.
After the students finish writing, divide them into pairs or small groups and have them exchange the labels they've written. Tell them to try to read each others' work from the point of view of someone visiting the future exhibition and, if necessary, to comment on how the labels could be made clearer, more informative, and livelier. Then have the students revise their labels and copy them onto poster board for the exhibition. (Remind the students to write neatly or, if they are using computer-generated labels, to use clear fonts. Have them make their type large enough to be seen from several feet away.)

Have students work in groups to set up the exhibition.
Assign each group a different task to complete in getting the exhibition ready for visitors. (Explain that in museums, exhibitions are usually the result of teamwork.) Here are some suggestions for group tasks:

Floor Plan Group Designs the overall plan for the exhibition. Point out that traffic flow is one of the most crucial elements to keep in mind. Have students give the recommendations they generated in step 2 to the members of this group. Encourage the group to consider the recommendations as they design the floor plan.

Graphics Group Makes all the large signs for the exhibition; writes final copy for introductory label (telling visitors what to expect) and final label (summarizing the entire exhibition) as well as any additional labels for various areas within the exhibit.

Construction Group Arranges tables and shelves and puts all objects into place. To provide ideas for how to arrange labels and objects, place any photos you were able to get from the museum exhibition in an area where everyone can refer to them. (Depending on time and materials, you might also want to suggest that the students build simple display cases.)

Publicity Group Writes, edits, and distributes announcements and brochures about exhibition. If the exhibition is accessible to the public, have the students write announcements and send them to local newspapers or radio stations.

Exhibition Guide Group Writes, edits, and illustrates a brochure describing the exhibition's objects and theme. Provides any additional information that isn't included in panels. (Provide students with examples of such brochures, which many museums produce.) Have students put completed brochures in a prominent location near the beginning of the exhibition.

Invite visitors to come to the exhibition.
In addition to parents, school staff, and other students, you might want to consider inviting people from a local museum or historical society. Also consider having the students give tours of the exhibition, using narrations they've written themselves.

Revise the exhibition, as necessary.
Give students time to observe visitors in the exhibition. Explain that, while they're observing, they should try to keep in mind whether the exhibition seems to be serving visitors' needs and getting across the information students intended. For example, can visitors easily see displayed objects? Are labels positioned so that, to the extent possible, people who are reading them aren't obstructing other people's views? Suggest that students ask visitors for their feedback on the exhibition, then have the students work in groups to come up with any recommendations for improving the exhibition. If such improvements are feasible, have the students make the necessary changes.

Last Modified September 19, 1997