Step By Step Guide

A man hanging a ‘good luck Bulldogs’ sign on a shop awning in1956 – they won!
A man hanging a ‘good luck Bulldogs’ sign on a shop awning in 1956 – they won!
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria collections, MM 008528

This guide has been developed for teachers and project leaders working with school and community participants. It provides information and activities to assist groups to:

  1. Establish project goals
  2. Develop activity timeline and log book format
  3. Introduce collection and research processes
  4. Begin fieldwork including site visits
  5. Register participation
  6. Plan exhibition/publication strategy and format
  7. Publish your research project

1. Establish project goals

Each Small Object Big Story project will have its own individual identity. The following list of questions is provided as a guide for establishing project goals:
  • What is being researched?
  • What is the purpose/desired outcome of the research?
  • If the project is part of a school syllabus…
    • Where does the project fit in the school curriculum?
    • Is it a year level, sub school or class project?
    • Who is the responsible staff member?
  • How much time will be allocated to the project?
  • What sort of research will participants undertake?
  • Will the research be undertaken individually or in groups?
  • What will the format of the final product be – an installation/exhibition, an online exhibition, a publication, an online or digital copy?
  • Will there be partners in the project? If so, how will those relationships be developed?
  • If the project is part of a community learning activity who will manage the project?
  • What sort of evaluation procedures will be employed?
  • How will successful completion of the project be identified?

2. Develop activity timeline and log book format

Once the project goals have been identified, establish a timeline to plot the key activities associated with research, investigation and publication of research.

Participants can create a log for their research in journal or diary format. For students, a wiki site can provide an effective means of documenting, monitoring and sharing information while meeting ICT learning outcomes at the same time.

3. Introduce collection and research processes

Participants may require an introduction to the concepts and techniques used in this project.


Historians use a range of primary source materials such as: oral histories, documents, objects, artworks, photographs, film/videos and archaeological findings.

Historians interpret these primary source materials and construct a story using a range of perspectives and information, including secondary source materials from other historical accounts.

Everyone has a family history, a story they can tell. Primary sources, particularly an interesting object, can provide a tangible and visual means of telling this story. A Small Object Big Story project assists participants to create their own histories by using these same techniques.

The following activities can provide a useful introduction:

Orientation activity 1: Object

Ask participants to select an object that means something to them, and describe it to the group. Ask them to construct a story that explains the significance of the object to their life story or family history.

Reflection/discussion: What was the process used in constructing this story?

Orientation activity 2: Guest speaker

Invite a guest speaker to bring in an important object and tell its story. Encourage participants to ask questions about the object and the owner. (For class groups, a 'twenty questions' approach where students are given hints and attempt to guess what the object is, might precede the story telling).

Orientation activity 3: Site visit

Visit a local museum, the Immigration Museum or Melbourne Museum to see how historical stories are constructed, using primary and secondary sources.

Brainstorming history - personal and community histories

Ask participants to find out about their family history:

  • Has your family researched your family tree?
  • How far back can you trace your family history?
  • Is your family history a story of immigration?
  • If yes, when did your family come to Australia?
  • Where did they come from?
  • Do you have anything from that country?
  • Do you still have anything they brought with them?
  • Does anyone else in your family have anything you could look at?


  • Does your family history in Australia predate European invasion/settlement?
  • If yes, how is that history recorded or documented?
  • Are there any objects, photos, documents or stories in your family that reflect that history?
  • What sorts of primary sources would you need to tell that story?

Teachers: Adapt the Parent permission form (PDF, 27KB) to suit the needs of your class.

Community history

There are important places in every community – perhaps a town hall, courthouse, school, mechanics institute, church, public gardens or memorial. Information about the place may be found in local memories, council records, regional libraries and online.

Students can learn about history by researching the history of their school.

  • Does the school have objects that tell the story of its history?
  • Are there people in the school who have been there a long time?
  • Has a history of the school already been written?
  • Can objects be sourced from archives or past students?

For example, a Ballarat High school story links the history of the school to world history.

Do old photographs exist of the place/school? Others like those in the image gallery at the top of this page may be found online in The Biggest Family Album in Australia, Museum Victoria collections and State Library of Victoria picture collections. (The State Library manuscript collection holds around 700 school histories created for a jubilee exhibition held in 1922 to celebrate 50 years of compulsory education in Victoria.)  

Local organisations often have a rich and varied history. Participants can research the history of a local community organisation, eg. does the local fire brigade or sports club keep objects that reflect their past? Local historical societies can also provide a window on the past.

4. Begin fieldwork including site visits

Fieldwork provides participants with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the process of learning how historical stories can be constructed through the examination of objects.

The group's starting point could be a visit to the Immigration Museum, Melbourne Museum, a local history museum, a local historical site such as a memorial, a heritage building, a site of significance for Aboriginal Australians, or a community centre or organisation.

Participants can also seek out objects, photographs or documents that might help them to tell a story about their family or community. Remind the group that history involves a lot of detective work. Viewing topical documentaries or films may provide background information and/or inspiration about a past time or culture, available online at:

5. Register participation

Contact the Humanities Programs Coordinators at Immigration Museum or Melbourne Museum to register your group's participation in a Small Object Big Story project:

6. Plan exhibition/publication strategy and format

Outcomes are best achieved if planning of the final product occurs early. Participants should be involved in making decisions about all stages of the project. Team work and negotiation can enrich social elements and enhance learning.

Some schools have used the Victorian Government’s Advance program funding to enable students to participate in innovative community research. A key aim of this program is to facilitate engagement with the community, and for students to take responsibility for the final outcome of their work. This model suits all kinds of learners.

Publication of the research can take many different forms. Final products can range from a two page printed report to a website and/or an exhibition in a gallery or community centre. For further information about developing an exhibition, see Planning an Exhibition and My Story, Your Story Exhibition 2008 in the Hands On History Showcase.

7. Publish your research project

All products should be presented with some form of celebration, public acknowledgement and dissemination of the work undertaken.

Project leaders are invited to submit their product for publication on the Small Object Big Story website.

Image Gallery

Students in a school laboratory with chemistry equipment and microscopes, circa 1955. City of Melbourne Building Society Scrip issued in 1886; the society's building still stands at the corner of Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets. 1939 Maths class at Merton Hall, Melbourne Girls Grammar School in South Yarra. Sunday morning Country Fire Authority fire drill practice in Lilydale, about 1959. Children in a parade celebrating the Centenary of Templestowe State School, circa 1974. Portrait of the State Savings bank of Victoria football team at Brighton Beach in 1947. Fire fighter holding canvas fire hose, Williamstown Fire Brigade 1930. Wood-work class at Central Brunswick State School in 1915. Firemen with a running cart in front of Donald Fire Brigade Station, 1890.