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Focus question 2: Which symbols represent our democratic nation?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Symbols of state (30 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Symbols of the nation (60 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Flags and emblems (60 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Symbols of Australian democracy
(45 min, in small groups)
ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Information sharing (30 min) ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Anthems and pledges (60 min) ESL Activity 6
Activity 7: The Australian national anthem (30 min) ESL Activity 7
Activity 8: Symbols collage (45 min) ESL Activity 8
Activity 9: Forum on symbols (30 min) ESL Activity 9
Assessment ESL Assessment

Activity 1: Symbols of state (30 min)

Handout 1

Revisit Handout 1. Examine the Commonwealth Coat of Arms without revealing what it is.
Ask students where else they might have seen this symbol. Consider:

  • its meaning, asking students whether they can identify any of the components
  • when it was first used
  • when it is used today.

Activity 2: Symbols of the nation (60 min)

Australia does not have an official faunal emblem.

2a Explain to students that the Commonwealth Coat of Arms is one of a group of symbols used specifically to represent the Australian nation. Discuss the difference between symbols of state and those used for trade, cultural or sporting groups. Look at the classification chart from Focus question 1, Activity 5 and circle any similar symbols. Students identify symbols that are used to represent Australian democracy. Look at the Australian flag, the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and Australia's floral emblem (the wattle) and ask students to add any other Australian symbols they know. Discuss with students who uses or needs these symbols.

Internet Handout 2
Parliament at Work Parliament at Work

2b Investigate these symbols using the information and layout from Handout 2 (OHT). Colour versions and additional information are available on the Parliament@Work website and on the Parliament at Work CD ROM.

2c As a model for students, prepare a large chart of the symbols in full colour. Each part of the symbol should be illustrated with appropriate captions.

2d Discuss the meanings of these symbols. Explain that a competition was held to design the Australian flag and that changes were made to the Commonwealth Coat of Arms after a few years. (Students will look at pictures of these later in the unit.) Consider these questions:

  • What do the symbols say about Australia?
  • Why are they important?
  • Do they represent all Australians today?

Students now work in small groups on either Activity 3 or Activity 4.

Activity 3: Flags and emblems (60 min)

Poster Handout 2

3a Give each group a symbol to investigate from the following: State and Territory flags or coats of arms, the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or Eureka flags. Give out Cards 1 and 2, and look again at Handout 2. Groups will need chart paper and art materials. Each group should prepare a written, visual or oral presentation on their symbol. They will need to explain:

  • the components of the symbol
  • what they mean, and why they may have been chosen
  • when the symbol was designed.

Information about flags and emblems is available on the Parliament@Work website, and the Internet site Ausflag. Some difficult words might need explaining.

3b Groups compare their items and discuss:

  • components that are the same in several flags or coats of arms
  • why those symbols were chosen by several groups
  • what this tells us about those groups of people
  • whether the symbols are still used
  • whether they are still relevant.

Activity 4: Symbols of Australian democracy
(45 min, in small groups)

4a Students research symbols of parliament using the Parliament at Work CD ROM. Students, in pairs or trios, should complete the 'Explore Parliament House' interactive to investigate the range of symbols used in the Commonwealth Parliament. This may need to be done on a rotational basis while other classroom activities take place.

4b Groups select one of the symbols from parliament such as the Mace, Black Rod or Speaker's Chair. They should create a poster showing their items, adding captions to explain what each item is called, what it is used for, and some information about its history. Each group gives a short presentation, explaining their item to other class members. Encourage questions from other students and ask them to consider questions such as:

Information on parliamentary symbols is available in the Parliament Pack Kit in most schools or from the Internet at http://www.aph.gov.au.

  • Where did most of the parliamentary symbols come from?
  • Why do you think they were chosen for our parliament?
  • Why are they still used?

Activity 5: Information sharing (30 min)

5a When each group has completed their task, divide them into two sub-groups: explorers and explainers. Explorers visit the other groups to hear about their symbol. Explainers stay with their work to explain its meaning to the explorers. Swap the roles of the sub-groups and repeat the exercise.

5b Students write a short paragraph explaining why they think flags and coats of arms are used. Follow with a whole-class discussion, summarising the role of flags and emblems of groups of Australians. Draw out generalisations such as 'Flags and emblems are pictures of things that groups believe are important to them. They show other people what they believe in.'

5c Students design a new state flag in their notebooks, with captions to explain what the symbols represent and why they were chosen.

Activity 6: Anthems and pledges (60 min)

6a Establish the meaning of anthem. Explain to students that a national anthem or song is another way countries use to express their identity, eg the bicentennial song 'We Are One'. Ask them to suggest when national songs are played to represent the nation (remind them of the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, school assemblies or big sporting events). Identify the songs.Handout 3, 4

6b Display Handout 3 (OHT) and read through the lyrics of the Australian national anthem. Compare it with the American anthem on Handout 4 (OHT).

6c Discuss the anthems with the students, explaining any difficult words or phrases. Ask students to rule columns in their notebooks for each anthem and list what is said about:

Anthems of other countries are available from the here

  • the people
  • their wishes for the future
  • their feelings
  • the country.

Activity 7: The Australian national anthem (30 min)

These anthems are on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM.

7a Ask what defines a 'good' anthem. Develop criteria for judging a 'good' anthem and list them on a chart. Explain that there was a competition and polls for a national anthem in the 1970s. Display an OHT of 'Waltzing Matilda' and 'Song of Australia' and discuss the lyrics of these two proposed national songs. Explain difficult words or phrases.

7b Divide students into small groups and give them time to analyse and answer the following discussion questions. It will be the group's responsibility to ensure that each member is ready to respond to each question. Stories of Democracy

  • What does this song tell you about Australia?
  • If you were asked to draw a picture of Australia from your song, which ideas would you choose? Why?
  • What ideas are mentioned?
  • Are there any ideas that don't give an accurate image of Australians today?
  • Why do you think those ideas are there? Do they have another purpose?
  • Is it a good anthem? Why? Why not?

Handout 57c Call the class back together and put discussion questions to a variety of students. (The discussion questions could also be given in written form as part of the assessment.) Distribute Handout 5 (one between two students), which contains an explanation of the competition and polls conducted in the 1970s. Read it and discuss the results. Discuss why 'God Save the Queen' is played when the Queen is present.

7d List the competition entries on the board and add some other suggestions from the students, eg 'We Are One'. Hold a class vote. Compare the results of the vote with the 1977 results.
Information and some entries on the 1901 flag competition are provided on the One Destiny! CD ROM.

Activity 8: Symbols collage (45 min)

Students create a collage or poster using the symbols of state to represent modern-day Australia. Elements of the symbols and extracts from the anthems can be used. Students then explain their design, orally or in writing, describing what is included and why.

One Destiny

Activity 9: Forum on symbols (30 min)

List the following questions on the board and invite students to give their opinions.

  • If all your knowledge of Australia were from viewing or hearing these symbols, what would you be able to say about the nation?
  • Has anyone or anything been left out?
  • What would you add or change to represent Australia in the future?


Collect student collages and assess their explanations using the following criteria. The student can:

  • describe flags, emblems and parliamentary symbols used by Australians, and what they symbolise
  • describe some of the sentiments expressed in the anthems
  • identify components of flags and emblems and describe some parliamentary symbols
  • make personal comments about the relevance of symbols of state, supported by reasons.

ESL activities

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