Skip to main content

Interpreting sources & writing history essays

Writing History Essays

Suitable for years 11-12. A downloadable information and activity booklet for students that explains:

  • The purposes of writing essays about history;
  • How to understand what the essay question is asking;
  • Tips for effective note-taking;
  • How to develop an original argument;
  • Editing methodology and incorporation of relevant evidence from sources;
  • Polishing the final phrasing of the essay as the last stage in the writing process.

A detailed example of this method of essay construction is given. An activity on the last page can be used by students in conjunction with the enclosed information to identify, understand and correct the problems that they encounter when writing.

Source Analysis

Suitable for years 11-12. A downloadable information sheet for students that includes:

  • An outline of relevant Media Studies theories about textual interpretation, with list of references for further reading;
  • Brief definitions of key terms and concepts to use when interpreting visual and written texts;
  • The APOLLO system for analysing print media texts.

Some of the most influential theories of Media Studies are distilled into a concise format and explained in clear, accessible language. Consideration is given not only to the intended meaning of a text but also to the question of whether audiences accepted this meaning. A detailed example is given of an APOLLO analysis of an Australian political document from World War II.

Cartoon Interpretation

Suitable for years 11-12. A downloadable information sheet for students that summarises and explains:

  • The analogies between political issues and everyday situations that allow readers to understand political cartoons;
  • The roles of details such as facial expressions, bodily gestures, costumes and settings in expressing ideas
  • The use of symbols from history, mythology and popular culture by cartoonists
  • The historical contexts of cartoons, including the contemporary politics and popular beliefs and values that they reflect.

The second page of the sheet includes a detailed, colour-coded example of the application of this method of analysis to a specific World War II cartoon.

Cartoon PD in a Package

Suitable for years 10-12. A freely downloadable resource which assists teachers and students to interpret cartoons. The resource offers:

  • An introduction to the process and terminology used in cartoon interpretation;
  • A comprehensive description of two new techniques for interpreting cartoons –Chunking and Scaffolding.

Political Cartoon Interpretation

Suitable for years 10-12. Based on the resource Aspirations of a Working Class Man which explores how John Curtin used his wartime prime ministership to implement Labor programs in the areas of economic reform, social services and immigration, education, public broadcasting, and foreign policy. Political cartoons provide sharp commentary throughout the resource. The activity offers:

  • 3 cartoons with background notes, guided interpretation activities and sample answers for students;
  • Background notes and instructions for teachers to interpret the 3 cartoons using scaffolding and chunking techniques, along with questions and sample answers.

Homefront Activity (Interpretation of cartoons, posters & photographs)

Suitable for years 10-12. Based on the online exhibition John Curtin, A Man of Peace, A Time of War which explores John Curtin’s life and his role as Australia’s prime minister in World War Two. The activity offers:

  • general questions about the homefront in World War Two;
  • 3 cartoon interpretation questions;
  • a question about interpretating recruitment posters;
  • a photograph interpretation question;
  • Sample answers which can be checked online for all questions.

Crossword Puzzle (Interpretation of photographs)

Suitable for years 8-10. Based on the resource On Track: Curtin’s Railway Journeys which explores John Curtin’s lifelong link with train travel, from 1917 when the trans Australia line first spanned the continent until the mid 1940s.The activity offers:

  • 25 images (mainly photographs) with accompanying information;
  • crossword questions which relate to interpreting the images;
  • A completed crossword which can be checked online.

Look Ever Forward – Post War Reconstruction (Quiz & cartoon interpretation)

Suitable for years 10-12. Based on the online exhibition Shaping the Nation: John Curtin and Australia which follows the development of John Curtin’s political thinking and career while tracing the development of Australia from Federation to full nationhood. The activity offers:

  • general questions about post war reconstruction in Australia;
  • guided questions relating to interpreting 2 cartoons from the early post war period;
  • sample answers which can be checked online for all questions.