Discovering people

This inquiry unit helps you to explore the role of individuals in the creation of a historical narrative. Students will consider:

  • the contribution of key historical figures to Victoria
  • the experiences of a number of different groups in Victoria’s history
  • the life and experiences of a chosen historical figure.

Download the 'Discovering people' curriculum outcome documents below to see how this unit aligns with AusVELS for levels 5 and 6, and the Australian Curriculum for Years 5 and 6.


  • Show photographs of historic Melbourne identities, or objects that relate to these identities. Search the Library catalogue and explore ergo to find images of historic objects like Ned Kelly’s armour or the diary of John Batman, and of historic identities like Library founder Sir Redmond Barry and Wurundjeri diplomat and story-teller William Barak (please note that the photograph of the latter may be considered culturally sensitive).
  • Brainstorm key people in the history of Melbourne, the state of Victoria, or your own local area. You can find examples of humanitarians, political leaders and sportspeople at the Australian Dictionary of Biography (searchable by profession, location and date of birth or death). The class could also cover notable explorers, farmers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pioneers, artists and writers.  
  • Consider the role of key figures in the creation and ongoing management of the State Library of Victoria's domed La Trobe Reading Room by reading the first-person narratives in the Makers & caretakers section of the Library's Dome Centenary website.
  • Immerse students in historical terms and concepts by creating a word splash of key words for the inquiry and displaying them along with the key inquiry questions around the learning space.
  • As a class, use an affinity diagram to record the historical identities you have brainstormed. What kind of patterns or categories can you identify? Are any groups under-represented? Why do you think this might be?


  • Form groups to investigate the life of a historical person in whom students are interested. Use the question generator to help devise questions for this exploration.
  • Introduce students to the comparing sources activity to help them judge a source's reliability.
  • As a class, watch a clip from The extraordinary tale of William Buckley as a model for the presentation of students' inquiries. (If your school network does not allow access to YouTube, you will need to download the video in advance or access it via Scootle instead.)
  • Discuss the elements that make up a successful historical biography. Together, establish shared success criteria to evaluate students' learning during and at the end of the inquiry.


  • Use William Buckley’s story as a case study to model the process of shared research.
  • Using the make a timeline activity, explain the context of Australia in the 19th and 20th centuries with reference to Federation, the gold rush, bushrangers, exploration, fights for rights and involvement in war.


  • In their inquiry groups, support students to create a film or digital story exploring the life of their chosen identity. Students may share skills and knowledge with each other. Their stories and films can be screened in class or with the school community. The class can use Twitter to play the History Mystery game, tweeting clues about their historical identity to promote the screening of their films and digital stories.


  • As a class, consider how you could share your new knowledge and presentations with a wider audience – particularly online.
  • Reflect on the inquiry process using the success criteria you previously established.