Number of Players
  • An object that can relay story  (a map, photograph, letter, advertisement, quotation, headline from a newspaper, prop or costume piece, public record, phone message, song, etc.)
What Is It and Why Use It?

Artifact is a strategy that “hooks” students into inquiry through the use of an object. This strategy encourages participants to engage in critical thinking and inferencing skills.


Gather an object or series of objects that connect to the inquiry. Objects can be real or images projected for the class. Invite students to sit in a position where they can easily view the object. Provide context or backstory—real or imagined—about where the object came from that ties it to a larger inquiry or story within the lesson content. This newspaper article was in the New York Times last week. OR Let’s imagine this mysterious object was found at the bottom of trunk in an old house about to be torn down. Next, ask the group: What do you notice about this article/object/etc.? Describe what you see… Invite each student to make an observation about the object. Next, ask students to make interpretations or analyses about the artifact based on their observations. Demonstrate and encourage ways to make connections between observations and their potential meaning as needed. We noticed as a group that this artifact is a book, that it is torn in a few places, and there appears to be writing faded by water and wear on the cover. What might that tell us about the history of the book? Avoid suggesting that an answer is “right;” work to honor all interpretations as potentially valid. So, one interpretation is that the person who owned this book lived in a place with a lot of rain. What else could ‘writing faded by water and wear on the cover’ suggest? Once students have made some predictions about the object's origin, meaning and purpose, relate the sense-making back to the content to transition into the next task. You made some excellent predictions/inferences about this book. Let’s explore, now, what happens when a group who was very interested in its contents found this book and decided to hold a press conference about their discovery…

  • Reflection is embedded throughout the structure of the strategy. Artifact activity ends with a discussion about how the artifact(s) links to the next task.
Possible Side-Coaching
  • What else do you see?
  • What about it makes you say that?
  • What else might it mean? or What is another possible interpretation of that observation?
Possible Variations/Applications
  • Provide multiple copies of the same object in small table groups so a large class can reflect simultaneously on an object for greater participation.
  • Have small groups explore a number of related objects and then share with full group.
  • Create a series of headlines about a specific issue or story. Before exploring that issue/story, introduce the headlines and make predictions about what the story might be about or what the issue might be.
  • Reading/Writing or Social Studies: Create a character bag that contains multiple objects connected to a character or historical figure. Use articles from the newspaper, political cartoons, old maps, masterworks of art related to themes from literature or history, or make an imaginary object like an invitation to join a political action, a diary entry from a main character, or an imagined announcement of a trial.
  • Math: Create a bag of objects that all have similar qualities. For example, all of the objects might have a pattern, or all of the objects might be prisms.
  • Science: Create a bag of objects related to a specific animal and their habitat, or a bag of objects that relates to a specific profession. Share a measuring device like a rainwater gauge, images of weather patterns, masterworks of art that use geometric shapes or a video of a dancework that explores themes about the natural world.
Source Citations

Jonothan Neelands and Tony Goode