National Museum of Ireland

Bronze Age Handling Box

Strategies for Learning through Objects

Resources for Teachers

How to create learning opportunities through the use of objects

Using an open-ended approach to questioning can encourage discussion, speculation and develop an understanding that there may be more than one possible answer. This can encourage young people to understand that evidence can be incomplete. This also enables young people to observe, discuss, speculate and hypothesise and helps stimulate the development of their thinking skills.

Collaborative group and whole class enquiry-based approaches foster the best backdrop for investigating objects. This provides a fertile environment for young people to develop analytical and deductive reasoning through discussion and speculation amongst their peers. It has been argued that having an enquiry-based, dialogical approach to examining artefacts promotes learning and can help to make that learning more accessible to all young people, regardless of achievement levels.

There are a variety of strategies that can be used when learning through objects.

  • Using Questions

    Questions should be actively encouraged from the class. They should be open-ended rather than closed. At the beginning of an investigation, young people could write down all of the questions they have about the object. The questions could be annotated with a sketch or a photograph of the object. They could then sort the objects according to different criteria e.g. theme, or according to which questions can be most readily answered.

  • Facilitating Discussion

    Discussion should be an integral part of investigating the objects. It is the most effective tool for developing students' analytical and cognitive skills.

  • Using Enquiry Frames

    Using Enquiry Frames stimulate young people’s analyses of objects. Frames where young people can respond to short prompts or open-ended questions assist in ordering their thoughts and recording their findings. Enquiry Frames should support young people’s thinking but should not involve the use of closed questions or take a worksheet approach. There are many examples of Enquiry Frames in the pack, including the Synthesis Template which can be used with each object to draw together and synthesise the young people’s learning after they have engaged in their investigations through the suggested activities.

  • Brainstorming

    Brainstorming is used to generate a multitude of ideas quickly. Typically, a group will be asked an open-ended question or given a problem to solve. All responses are recorded despite how unlikely they may seem. Young people should be encouraged to base their ideas on the evidence before them. When all the ideas have been recorded, similiar ideas can be grouped together and clarification can be sought. Brainstorming can be conducted in a variety of ways to good effect.

  • Snowball Brainstorming

    In snowball brainstorms participants can begin as individuals, then join together with a partner. Pairs then combine to become groups of four. Groups of eight could then be formed before the whole class comes together. Each stage is given a defined time, which can increase as the group increases to allow a continuous building of ideas. Snowball brainstorms can also be implemented in a whole class context as a chain process where each student builds on the contribution of the previous one.

  • Time Travel Brainstorm

    In a time travel brainstorm, participants brainstorm in role as people from the time in which the artefact was produced. Thinking about and discussing how that might be different raises many interesting issues for discussion and provides a context for thinking about world view.

  • Sketching and Photographing

    Sketching and photographing an object can improve young people’s observation of objects and support their analysis. This can be conducted from different perspectives e.g. front view, side view, aerial view, focusing on specific parts of object etc. The same approach can be taken with regard to taking digital photographs. These images (sketches and photographs) can then be used for further analysis through annotation and through asking questions.

  • Annotation

    Annotation can also be used as a way of encouraging analysis of an object. Using a sketch or a photograph of the object, the young people write comments around the margins e.g. this edge is sharp / there could be a piece missing here. Annotations help young people to observe objects closely and in detail. For example, a child who observed that ‘this edge is sharp’ may then go on to conclude that ‘it could have been used for cutting’. Annotation takes practice and when young people begin this process they may only write a single word. It works well as a group process or in a round robin, with each child contributing a new annotation.

  • Using Stories

    Creating stories around objects can help young people to put the objects into a real life context and examine concepts like time and chronology. Creating narratives can also help young people to understand concepts like causation and develop empathy. Linking objects from the same period using a narrative approach aids in the understanding of the broader themes and concepts of a historical period.

  • Reconstructing Objects in Different Media

    Reconstruction of objects in clay, plasticene, plaster, Lego, building materials, fabric etc. will help develop young people’s thinking about the objects, improve their observation and help them to focus on how the object was designed and constructed.

  • Using Mystery Objects

    The traditional ‘Kim’s game’ involves putting the object in a bag which is then passed from child to child. Each child feels the object through the bag and suggests ideas about it. These ideas can include characteristics of the object like its feel and texture. Other ways of exploring mystery objects include putting a screen between two young people with the mystery object on one side of the screen. The child/student without the object asks questions of the second child/student and creates a drawing of the object based on the answers. A variation of this is where a group passes the object from one to the other out of sight of one member of the group who is nominated to be the ‘drawer’; each child/student says one thing about the object. The drawer has to sketch the object based on the description of the group. The onus is on the group to give clear instructions. They are not allowed to say what the object is or what it is used for.

  • Using Concepts Maps and Spidergrams

    Concept Maps and Spidergrams are diagrammatic tools that enable connections to be made between concepts. In the case of Concept Maps, the concepts to be linked are identified, though open spaces can be left for participants to identify additional concepts. Participants create links and articulate the relationship between the concepts linked. A Spidergram is a mindmap generated around a central concept. Both Concept Maps and Spidergrams vary in their level of structure. Concept Maps should be created by groups rather than individuals to promote creative thinking. All of the concept maps in this pack can also be done as whole class activities using interactive whiteboards or overhead projectors.

  • Card Sorts

    Card Sorts are used to explore concepts such as cause and effect, to classify and sort, to distinguish between true and false, fact and opinion, to recognise significance etc. In a Card Sort, cards with text (single words, phrases, sentences) are grouped, sorted, ranked according to particular criteria. Cards can be sorted according to themes e.g. cards that offer explanations of processes and cards that offer descriptions, concepts such as significance, facts, time, probability, usefulness etc. Card Sorts can take the form of a game such as ‘Odd One Out’ or ‘Tops and Tails’ (matching the top half and the bottom half of an idea or piece of information together). This can help young people to make connections and to understand basic characteristics of objects, places, events, processes. By having the text on cards, young people can move them around, group them and then change their minds. This approach promotes discussion and collaborative learning.

  • Using Mysteries and Dilemmas

    In Mysteries and Dilemmas, students are given 16 – 30 pieces of card with key information on them. The cards are used to create an answer to a central question which is presented in the form of a mystery or dilemma (choice). This is a Card Sort activity. Generally, the question has no single answer, and some of the information is less relevant and / or ambiguous. The information as presented is in discrete pieces of information which the students have to put together in order to make sense of the key question. Students will manipulate the cards, sort them, move them around, as they try to find their answer. Mysteries and Dilemmas are group activities. They generate discussion and debate. They develop students' skills in sorting relevant information, interpreting information, making links, creating hypothesis and articulating an argument. At the end, the groups put their viewpoint to the class and defend their decision based on the information on the cards.

The Bronze Age Handling Box Resource Project was developed by: