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Focus question 3: How do we commemorate significant events and lives in Australia?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Meaning of 'commemoration' (40-60 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Research on special days (60 min + homework) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Commemoration of significant Australian lives
(15 min)
ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Research on Australian lives (60 min) ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Biography (60 min + homework) ESL Activity 5
Further activities ESL Further activities


Activity 1: Meaning of 'commemoration' (40-60 min)

1a View the Discovering Democracy Primary Video 'We Remember' segment, Part 1. List the types of events shown on the board and discuss why they are special. Explain to the students that they are going to be looking at the way Australians commemorate important things that happen in our country.
Councils and cultural groups would be useful sources of information here.

Write a simple definition of the word commemorate and discuss the meaning, eg: 'Commemorate means to take notice of, or remember, someone's achievements'. This might involve having a special ceremony, building a memorial, putting a person's picture or name on something (eg, a street, a stamp or a banknote or coin) or giving them an award.

Discuss the differences between festivals, celebrations and commemorations. Briefly discuss common celebrations such as Christmas Day, Australia Day or birthdays. Mention that sometimes towns or cities have festivals with singing, dancing, parades and costumes, and ask students to suggest some local events. Add these to your list. Handout 6

1b Distribute the pages of a calendar to the class. Ask what other special days students can find on their month that are commemorated by Australians with special activities? Are they connected with particular people or groups? (This is an opportunity to introduce the concept of citizenship pledges, discussing who, what, when, where and why people make such pledges. The words of Australia's citizenship pledge are on Handout 6.)

Write the names of any special days that are suggested by students on the board. Include examples of national celebrations in other countries and cultures such as Bastille Day in France, Independence Movement Day in Korea, or the King's Birthday in Thailand.

Activity 2: Research on special days (60 min + homework)

Handout 6-8 Video

2a Put poster paper up around the room, with headings for each special day (or week), eg Anzac Day, Australia Day, Labour Day, Queen's Birthday and NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Observance Committee) Week.

Divide the class into five groups and distribute Handouts 6, 7, and 8 to the appropriate groups. Provide each group with markers, and station them at one chart to sort and record information about these days. Instruct the students to write or draw their responses to the following questions and any other responses they may have:
The Internet is a good source of additional information. Both ATSIC and the Australia Day Committee have sites.

  • What activities take place on this special day/week?
  • When is it commemorated?
  • Who celebrates?
  • Why do you think this day is important to the people who celebrate it?

Every few minutes move the groups on, until each group has added ideas to each chart. Suggest that the names of any similar days be added at the bottom of each chart (eg Armistice Day to Anzac Day, Foundation Day in South Australia to Australia Day). Review the video segment if necessary.

2b Ask students to find out extra information about what happens on these days and which people are connected with them, either as a homework exercise, or classroom or library research.

2c Have each student draw up a data sheet like the one below classifying some of the information about significant national days.

Figure 2
Data sheet on significant national days.
Australia Day
Anzac Day
When 26 January 25 April
Who Many Australians and immigrants Many Australians, especially those connected with members of the armed forces
What Parades, speeches, awards, citizenship ceremonies, fireworks Parades, speeches, flags,
wreaths, silence
Why To celebrate the colonisation of Australia by Europeans To remember those who died in wars

2d Discuss with students whether they think these days should be the ones celebrated and why/why not.

Activity 3: Commemoration of significant Australian lives
(15 min)

Handout 9-10
Handout 11

Explain that certain people have made important contributions to significant national days and other parts of Australian life, and that we have other ways of commemorating their achievements. Display Handout 9 (OHT). As a class, discuss the various types of commemoration illustrated, and any examples that the students are already familiar with. Consider issues such as how the people are chosen, who selects them, and the criteria used for selection. Distribute Handout 10 and discuss the information about how some significant lives are commemorated in Australia. If possible, show the children a biographical video or read them a short biography to spark their interest.

Activity 4: Research on Australian lives (60 min)

4a Display Handout 11 (OHT), the names of significant Australians, or choose local identities where relevant. Choose one person from the list and model the process for the students.

Figure 3
Data sheet on significant Australians
Early 1900s
Who Sir Douglas Mawson Vida Goldstein
Achievement Explored Antarctica First woman in Australia to stand for election to the Commonwealth Parliament
Commemoration Portrait on banknote, suburb and Antarctic base named after him Federal electorate named after her
Why Students' answers will vary Students' answers will vary
Internet Stories of Democracy Handout 12

Ask students to select a person from the list and write down briefly, as a retrieval chart in their notebooks, any information they know about their person. Distribute resources and arrange a roster for use of the Stories of Democracy CD ROM and biographies on the Discovering Democracy website. Display resources on well-known Australians around the room. Handout 12 has a proforma for students to use if desired.
Biographies of local identities could be swapped with other schools, particularly if interviews are filmed on video.

4b In pairs, students swap information. Ask them to consider any similarities in the lives and achievements of their subjects. Then group the pairs into groups of four and then eight to repeat the data collection and comparisons. Finally, draw the whole class together and briefly fill in any gaps in information.

4c Next, divide them into the following categories, without giving any clues as to how groups are chosen. Sit the groups together and ask them to work out why they are linked. Examine the idea that different groups of people are commemorated in different ways. On the board list the forms of commemoration used in this activity: Australians of the Year, Members of the Order of Australia, people represented on banknotes and stamps, and those giving names to streets, suburbs or settlements.
The students could paste the names in order of year of birth on a chart to practise making a timeline, and as a reference.

4d Discuss the appropriateness of the various forms, and ask for suggestions of other people who could belong in each group. Ask students to justify their suggestions:

  • What do these people have in common?
  • Why is this so?
  • Which groups do you think are the most important for our country?
  • Is being well-known the same as being an important member of society?

Activity 5: Biography (60 min + homework)

Handout 10

5a Look at Handout 10 again, indicating the criteria for Australian honours. Students must choose a person to fit one of the categories and prepare a biography to present to the class. Give students a choice of ways in which they will present their research such as a poster for a Hall of Fame or a 'This Is Your Life' segment to be presented by a small group, or as a mini-project. Students should each research a new person to broaden their knowledge.

5b Students work on their biographies for display.

Further activities

Visit the Australian War Memorial via the Internet to collect information.
  • Hold an excursion to a nearby historical site or memorial. Take photographs and make notes and drawings as a record.
  • Points to consider: Who is this a memorial for? What is written on it? What carvings or pictures does it have? Why was this person important for Australia? Do any special celebrations take place here? When? What actually happens? (This is particularly relevant for war memorials.)
  • Contact the local library, historical society, council and tourist bureau and request any further information they may have. Prepare an information pack for another school. Consider holding your own re-enactment of events in the life of a notable local identity. Encourage participation by students and their families. Look at the information students have collected and ask them to identify the most significant items for inclusion. Present this at a school assembly, or videotape it for later viewing. Students who are not confident actors can be involved in script writing, building sets and behind the scenes production. Parents could be involved in preparation of costumes, home practice of lines and final filming.

ESL activities

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