English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Exhibits
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Museums
  • Storytelling
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Structure of A Museum Exhibit

    Structure of A Museum Exhibit


    In this lesson, students will consider the ways good museum exhibits break their stories into beginnings, middles, and ends to create flow and engagement. They will also work on their museum exhibit.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • On the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History website, find Camping with the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher. Share it with your students. If you do not have Internet access in the classroom, you can print and distribute the exhibit.
    • Select additional examples of effective storytelling techniques from Camping with the Sioux that you think will be relevant to your students. You can use these examples to supplement the ones provided in the lesson.

    The Beginning

    • Collect students' first annotated article. Review these as soon as possible to make sure that students understand the process outlined in the Independent Research Workflow and give feedback to them before they submit their second annotated article so they can improve their research and annotation skills.
    • Introduce the idea of an exhibit as a type of storytelling and also as a form of argument. An exhibit has to have a theme, a point of view, evidence, and a coherent flow from beginning to end, like a piece of writing.
    • In this step of the lesson and the two that follow it, the students focus on the beginning, middle, and end of the exhibit, respectively. The lesson is also set up to move them toward more independence in the process. If it seems appropriate, walk them through this lesson on beginnings with a lot of support. They'll be doing middles and ends more independently.
    • Use the questions from the student page to guide a brief discussion once they've had a chance to read the foreword and look at the exhibit for a few minutes.


    In your museum exhibit teams, view the online exhibit about Alice Cunningham Fletcher’s time with the Sioux and consider the idea of flow and cohesion in storytelling.

    A good exhibit, like a story, has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    • The beginning draws the audience in and sets the theme and purpose of the exhibit.
    • The middle contains the information and perspectives that make up the main body of the exhibit.
    • The ending sums up the exhibit’s purpose and leaves the reader considering the important issues that the exhibit raises.

    Look at the beginning of the exhibit together and note how it uses the “Foreword” section to set the scene. In the space of a single paragraph, it lets you know what part of history you’re in, where in the world you are, and who the major characters will be. It even gives you some hints as to the exhibit’s purpose.

    Now evaluate the strength of the exhibit’s beginning. With your group, make notes on the following questions:

    • What did the creators do to introduce the exhibit?
    • Does the exhibit engage and orient the audience by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and establishing one or multiple point(s) of view?
      • How does it accomplish that or fail to do so?
    • What artifacts—if any—are involved in creating the beginning of the exhibit?

    Open Notebook

    Share your ideas with the full class.

    The Middle

    • In this stage of the activity, transition students to more independent work. Instead of leading a full class discussion of these questions, move from group to group to suggest examples of good storytelling.
    • The exhibit uses headers to give each section of text a clear role in the story. For example, titling a section “Fieldwork with the Sioux” helps orient the audience by telling them what this section will be about and by connecting back to information from the foreword.

    Work Time

    In your museum exhibit teams, look at the main body of the exhibit and its artifacts. Once the audience is drawn in, you have the middle—the meat—of the story.

    The middle contains the bulk of the information of an exhibit and most of its artifacts. It offers the exhibit creator a chance to show the audience the key information and perspectives of the piece of history the exhibit is meant to share.

    One of the most important aspects of the middle is cohesion. All of the pieces need to fit together in a story that makes sense to the reader, and all of the pieces need to have a clear relationship to the central theme and purpose of the exhibit.

    With your group, discuss the following questions and jot down notes on each one.

    • What storytelling techniques does the exhibit use to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole?
      • How does it accomplish that or fail to do so?
    • Does the exhibit use precise language, well-chosen details, and interesting visuals in order to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and people involved?
      • How does it accomplish that or fail to do so?
      • Find at least two examples from the exhibit to support your point.
    • How will you create a clear progression and structure in your own exhibit?

    Open Notebook

    The Ending

    • Be efficient with time here in order to preserve students' independent work time. They don't have to dig too deeply into the Camping with the Sioux exhibit in order to have a fruitful conversation about how to provide their own exhibit with a strong conclusion.

    Work Time

    Before moving on to independent work, look at the exhibit’s ending. An ending isn’t always a specific point that you lead a reader or audience to.

    However it’s structured, though, the ending needs to leave the audience with a sense of the exhibit’s purpose.

    In your groups, discuss the following questions and take notes on your responses.

    • What does this exhibit do to sum up its purpose and leave the reader considering the important issues that it raises?
    • What will you do in your own exhibit to give it a strong ending?

    Open Notebook

    Work Plan 3

    • Review students' work plans in order to identify those who might need guidance or one-on-one conferencing time.
      • SWD: For students who need additional scaffolding, you can provide a checklist that focuses on the organization of the workflow so they have concrete points to discuss with their group.

    Work Time

    Before you begin work, take 5 minutes to glance at the options in the next task and write a plan about what you will do during the work session in this lesson.

    As you did in previous lessons, make notes on the following questions.

    • Will you work together with other students? Who?
    • What do you plan to accomplish in the work session?
    • What do you think will be the hardest element of the tasks you’re setting for yourself? Why?
    • What do you think will be the easiest element of the tasks you’re setting for yourself? Why?

    Open Notebook

    Share your plan with your teacher.

    Group Exhibit Work

    • Use this time to check in with individual groups. Some students may have difficulty choosing an option and staying focused on it, especially since they haven't yet had much practice in independent work in this unit.
      • SWD: SWDs may require guided practice with the skills necessary to complete this task. Work with students in partnerships or small groups to provide scaffolds (prompts, modeling, and direct instruction) that can be pulled back when appropriate to encourage independence.

    Work Time

    You can use the independent work time in whatever way your group feels is best, but don’t forget that you will have to share your first artifact and its accompanying placard text with your teacher during the next lesson. Here are a few options.

    • You will have one more annotated article due in a few lessons, so you can use the Independent Research Workflow to develop your understanding of the source’s credibility and argument.
    • If you have Internet connectivity, you could explore more museum exhibits to expand your understanding of theme, hook artifacts, and storytelling techniques.
    • You could also find artifacts for your exhibit, plan your exhibit’s structure, write placards for artifacts, or engage in other activities to develop an excellent exhibit. If you haven’t spent much time on artifacts yet, you may wish to choose this option today, since one artifact and its accompanying placard text will be due in the next lesson.

    Open Notebook

    Regardless of what you work on, be sure to coordinate carefully with your group.

    Exhibit Status Update 3

    • These updates will be particularly helpful in identifying groups and students that need more individual attention in the coming lessons.
    • ELL: It can be helpful for some ELLs to have time to discuss and organize their thoughts with a partner before writing their status update. Allow ELLs who share the same primary language to use that language when working together and to use a dictionary (or dictionaries).


    Before the lesson ends, assess your work for the day by answering these questions.

    • Whom did you work with?
    • What did you accomplish during the work session?
    • How accurate was your plan?
      • If you had to adapt and do something other than what you planned, why did you change your plans?
    • What turned out to be the easiest part? Why?
    • What turned out to be the hardest part? Why?
    • What is your top priority for the next work session?

    Open Notebook

    When you finish, share your answers with your teacher.

    Independent Exhibit Work

    • Encourage students to use their homework time effectively and remind them that their artifact and placard are due in the next lesson.
    • Tell students how you want them to submit non-digital artifacts.
      • SWD: Provide multiple options for students to complete this assignment and create their artifacts, including using pencil and paper, tablet, desktop computer, Dragon speak, and so on.


    • Work on any part of your exhibit that is best accomplished outside of class, such as taking photos, conducting interviews, or creating artwork.
    • You’ll submit one artifact and its accompanying placard text in the next lesson, so finish whatever you need before then.