Student Historian Handbook, Pt II

Presentation (noun. A creative demonstration of ideas and information.)

Now that you have found sources and compiled the relevant information to tell the history as well as to support your thesis statement, you must now make a presentation or write a paper. Some topics are more suited for certain presentations. For example, documentaries and exhibits rely on images to help tell the story.  If your topic has few available images, you may decide to compose a research paper. Each Illinois History Expo category has recommended ways to present information.  However, it is YOUR project, so let the creative juices flow, work hard, and you will proud of your effort!

Presentation Categories

After completing topic selection, locating sources, writing note cards, and writing a thesis statement and outline, it is time to present your research in one of the following categories.
  • Research Paper
  • Exhibit
  • Media Documentary
  • Dramatic Performance
  • Website
Research papers are an individual entry. Exhibits, media documentaries, website, and performance can be an individual effort or a group project with up to 5 students. Having a vision of how you see the best path to achieve your goals will help you decide the important decisions of picking a category and deciding to work alone or in a group.
Presenting Your Topic
After making the most important decision of topic selection, it is time to decide if you should work on your project alone or in a group. If you are working on a paper the decision has been made for you.  However, exhibits, media, and performances can be a group or individual entry.
Working Alone or in a Group
Think of the following points when deciding how to proceed:
Working alone
You know yourself and how you like to approach assignments. One of the five-dollar words many students learn (the hard way) is procrastination. If this word does not describe you and how you approach a task, then maybe working solo on a project is the best choice to make. You make the deadlines and you do all the work. Indeed, if you succeed then the feeling of satisfaction is a rewarding one!
Working in a Group
If you like working in groups and collaborating to accomplish goals, maybe a group project would be more enjoyable. A distinct advantage is work sharing and relying on different skills and strengths to realize the goals of a winning project. Members must also learn to compromise and make decisions for the over-all good of the project. There are some important things to consider when forming a team. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What type of people have I enjoyed working with in the past?
  • What type of people do I enjoy working with?
  • What qualities makes someone a good group member?
  • What traits in people do I want to avoid when picking my partners?
Choosing a Category
This is a important consideration because you want to give yourself the chance to create the best project possible. Things to think about:
  • What category best fits your interests and strengths or those of all the group members?
  • Will you have access to the equipment and materials you need to present your entry?
  • Are you going to able to gather the materials needed to the category (For example is you are going to a medial project can you assemble enough visual material to tell the story?). 
Now you need to check out examples of other projects and presentations to get ideas for your project.
The History Expo Contest Rules
Now that you have picked a topic, decide on a format.  Look over the rules for the contest and also look over the criteria on how to judge projects. Click on Part III of the Student Handbook to the see rules.
Research Paper Category
Researching and writing an historical paper for Illinois History Expo is similar to the writing of research papers and books by college professors. Throughout your years in school, you will be expected to write research papers.
Here are the four basic steps to writing a research paper for Illinois History Expo.
  1. Selecting your topic
  2. Locating sources and collecting relevant information
  3. Organizing your notes
  4. Presenting the topic in a clear and reasoned paper
There are many available resources that will give useful advice on the writing of research papers. Ask your history teacher or language arts teachers if her or she has any preferences on style and guidelines for you to follow.
What is a footnote?
Footnotes inform the paper reader that some of the information contained in the research paper comes from the work of other writers and are not original thoughts or words of the author. The system of footnoting gives credit for the work of  the researchers you used in writing your paper, as well as evidence in support of your ideas. Footnotes normally are used in these situations:
  • Quoting a Primary Source – When you take a direct quote from a speech or interview and insert it directly into your paper, you MUST footnote the source.
  • Quoting a Secondary Source—If you use a direct quote from another book you MUST footnote the source.
  • Paraphrasing a Secondary Source—Even if you do not use the exact words from a book but are paraphrasing the idea in your own words, you MUST still footnote the sources.
How many words and how many pages should the paper be?
Illinois History Expo research papers are 1,500 to 2,500 words in length. Papers must be typed, double spaced. Each word or number in the text counts as one word.  The word limit does not apply to notes, annotated bibliography, illustration captions, and supplemental appendix materials. This works out to approximately 6 to 10 pages of text. Good luck and happy researching!
Exhibit Category     
The purpose of an exhibit is to display information for the viewer in an attractive and easy to understand format. Your exhibit is going to be very similar to the displays you have seen in museums. Striking a balance between well-placed historical information and images is very important; the display must be informative, easy to follow, and visually appealing! Too much text and too few images is not the answer, and indeed, too many pictures without enough text also fail to achieve the right balance. We will examine this in more detail later.
Size Requirements
The overall size of your exhibit when displayed for judging must be no larger than 40 inches wide, 30 inches deep, and six feet high. The table height is not figured into the size of the exhibit.
Three-Panel Exhibit
The most common exhibit format displayed at Illinois History Expo is the three-panel display board. This is an effective and uncomplicated way to visually display the historical information you have collected on your topic. Following these design tips will help the judges discern the subject and the supporting information backing your thesis.
  • Be sure your title is the main focus of the center panel.
  • Also put the thesis or main ideas on the center panel.  The judges now have quickly read the main ideas and can read the supporting material on the side panels.
  • Side panels can be used to tell the story in a chronological format with the beginning on the top left panel and ending with the conclusion on the bottom of the right panel. This is where you will analyze the importance of your topic.
  • Artifacts or other support material may be placed on the table between the side panels
Labeling and Exhibit Design: Orientation, Segmentation, and Explanation
The placement and size of your exhibit labels is very important in directing the viewer’s attention to the right place at the right time. In other words, you want the judges to quickly become acquainted with history fair topic (orientation) and then move to your thesis and general background information. The size of the title and thesis statement labels should be the biggest on the board.
The next portion of your exhibit to be examined by the viewer hopefully will be the section introducing the first part of the story. The exhibit should be segmented into sections that explain the different parts of the story or segmentation of the historical event or person. You may look at the topic this way: first explain the foundation or background and then move to the historic event. The final portion of the display is the conclusion; here you must explain to the viewer how the historic event is significant and how it impacted life then and now.  The labels used to separate the segments will be smaller in size than the labels used for the title of the exhibit. The smallest text is used to tell the story and for photograph captions (explanation).
One way to make sure you titles and captions stand out is to put the text on light color paper and then use a darker color for the background. You can use construction paper, tag board, or mat board. For the text, if you select dark black lettering it will be easier to read. Photographs and other images will stand out if you put them on backgrounds as well.  
There can be a fine balance between too much information and too little on an exhibit. If you add too many illustrations or photographs or too much text, the exhibit board can become confusing and hard to follow. It may be enticing to share all the information you have researched on your exhibit board, however, this in not a good idea. Pick only the most important items for the exhibit. Organization and clarity are very important aspects for a successful Illinois History Expo exhibit!
Media Documentary Projects
Media documentaries allow you to make a ten-minute documentary like you may have seen on PBS or the History Channel. Therefore it is good idea to watch quality documentaries to see for yourself the approach and techniques used by professionals. Here are the most popular formats: Photographic slide presentations, computer-generated slide presentation, and analog or digital video presentations. These are the tips to help you succeed with your production:
  • Get an idea, look, around, talk to people, and think about the topic.
  • Define the topic and write a thesis statement. 
  • Research primary sources and secondary sources and look over notes before writing an outline.
  • Make a storyboard of the types of images you want to use to explain your topic.
  • Collect a large number of images to avoid repetition and to keep the program interesting
  • Appropriate music is important addition to your script. Be careful to keep the volume at a level that does not distract from the narration.
  • Write your script first and then add images.
  • Make sure the script and the images on the screen go together.
  • Be sure that the narration is clear and the pace allows the viewer to hear every work clearly.
  • Use a tripod whenever possible.
  • Preview early and re-edit at least once. 
DVD Presentations
The availability of home video cameras and computer software for digital editing can make producing a documentary much easier for you.  To assemble a great looking DVD, follow these helpful tips
  • Remember a student must operate the camera and editing equipment. 
  • Map out your scenes on a storyboard before you head out to shoot tape.
  • Incorporate a variety of shots in the production: including live interviews, historic photographs, artistic graphics, and live shots of historic places.
  • Keep track in a notebook of the scenes shot and the corresponding number in the tape counter.
  • Clear and well-paced narration is a very important aspects to a superior media documentary.
  • Preview the documentary early to allow enough time for editing.
Performance Category
The performance category allows you to create a play based on an historic event. It is important to have a dramatic appeal in the presentation. Creativity is important when using this format, and using live actors and props helps to tell a convincing story in a compelling fashion.
  • Get an idea, look around, talk to people and think about a topic. 
  • Define the topic and then write a thesis statement.
  • Research primary and secondary sources, and look over notes before writing an outline.
  • Research before thinking about the performance aspect.
  • When you write your script include references to historical material.  You should include information from the best primary sources. This can be accomplished by using direct quotes, or taking excerpts from speeches and reciting them on stage.
  • Do not just recite a oral report on a character or event. You must become the figure by portraying him or her. If you are dramatizing an event, you may have to become multiple characters to tell the whole story.
  • Props can be helpful, however, remember you only have 5 minutes for set-up and take down. Though props may be helpful to tell the story, it is going to be your research, script, and ability to dramatically tell the story that is important.
  • Good costumes help make you convincing, but be sure they are appropriate to your topic. Look at photographs or costume guides if you are unsure about appropriate dress.
  • Practice! Practice! Practice!
  • Have a member of the local theater group critique the performance.
Web Site
The Web site category is the most interactive of all NHD categories. Therefore, a web site should reflect your ability to use web-site-design software and computer technology to communicate the topic’s significance in history. Your historical web site should be a collection of web pages, interconnected by hyperlinks, that presents primary and secondary sources, interactive multimedia, and historical analysis. It should incorporate textual and non-textual (photographs, maps, music, etc.) descriptions, interpretations, and sources to engage and inform viewers. To construct web site project, you must be able to operate, and have access to the Internet, appropriate software, and equipment. 

How Illinois History Projects Are Evaluated

Quality of Analysis:
  • Offers an interpretation or argument 
  • Uses evidence to prove a conclusion
  • Demonstrates historical argument
  • Explains impact Shows cause and effect
Does your Illinois History Expo project ask and answer a question or questions?  Better projects ask and answer more important questions than who, what, and when.  It asks why.  It answers the question(s) in steps lending to a logical conclusion.  It relates the answers to broad items of interest to many people.  For example, a project about a business’s history will ask:  “Were there others like it elsewhere?  What happened to them and why?  Is there a pattern, or is the project dealing with an isolated event?  Do the facts support the conclusion?
Historical Knowledge:
  • Shows factual accuracy 
  • Uses thorough, balanced and relevant knowledge
  • Places topic in historical context
Does your Illinois History Expo project demonstrate understanding of relevant factual information or does it include unnecessary as well as important information?  Does your entry effectively use important information at all points in the steps of analysis leading to the conclusion
Quality of Sources:
  • Uses depth and range of available primary sources 
  • Uses depth and range of secondary sources
  • Effective use of sources
Are you using a variety of sources (primary documents, secondary accounts, oral interviews, statistics, and illustrations) in your research?  Better projects make use of each of the above.  Weaker projects rely heavily on one source.  Encyclopedia articles may be used for an overview of the topic but not as a main source for the project. Make sure your Internet sources are sound. 
Quality of Presentation:
  • Tells a coherent well organized story 
  • Uses chosen medium effectively
  • Show attention to detail and makes impact
This realm depends exclusively on the look of your project.  Is it neat and orderly, helping the viewer or reader to see and understand the project’s thesis statement and the path to reaching the conclusion? If your project draws the viewer’s attention, for example, to bad spelling, uneven exhibit labels, inaudible narration, a poorly rehearsed presentation, incomplete footnotes, or sloppy typing, it will damage your chance to receive a superior rating!

Evaluation Scorecard