1- Ask open-ended questions.
Asking open-ended questions encourages visitors by allowing them to examine and respond to objects and specimens at whatever level of knowledge and awareness they may have. These questions demonstrate what visitors are capable of learning, even with little prior information.
2- Be aware of your audience’s needs.
A lesson must be appropriate for its audience. Such variables as age, grade-level, background, and previous experience should be built into the activities and vocabulary used. Sensitivity to, and accommodations for, such “special needs” as mobility impairments, visual or auditory disabilities, health-related concerns, and mental or emotional challenges are also essential for proper learning to take place.
3- Engage your visitors in active thinking.
Since all visitors learn and retain information better if they are actively engaged in acquiring information, a range of involving activities should be offered. This can be accomplished through questioning, searches, games, and other activities. Listening to stories can also be an active experience, if listeners are enticed to use their imaginations.
4- Offer multi-sensory experiences.
Our five senses are the portals through which information is gathered. Find as many ways to engage senses beyond sight in the learning process. Have samples, reproductions, fabrics, pelts, or other materials available for handling. Incorporate music, or have visitors listen for sounds. Ask for olfactory observations. If sensory experiences beyond the visual are not practical or possible, ask visitors to use their imaginations.
5- Allow for diverse perceptions and responses.
Welcome various points-of-view and perceptions. Remember that there is no single way to look at, or reflect upon, anything. No matter how concrete or finite, objects and specimens can be experienced differently through such variables as themes, academic disciplines, generational differences, previous experiences, personal opinions, perspectives, etc.
6- Relax and have a sense of humor.
If you enjoy your audience and teaching, they will respond in kind. If you are relaxed and having fun, your visitors will, too. If something funny or silly happens during your tour, laugh along with your audience. Learning in museums, historic sites, zoos, parks, gardens, aquariums, etc. is supposed to fun, as well as informative. (Keep in mind, however, that humor should never be at someone else’s expense.)
7- Give demonstrations.
People like to see things happen. Demonstrations, such as using tools and implements, observing chemical reactions, encountering animals, and watching as methods or techniques are used will enhance your visitors’ intellectual involvement and encourage their appreciation.
8- Provide follow-up activities.
To ensure that exploration continues after a tour ends, suggest or offer follow-up activities. Give teachers reading lists for their students. Suggest activities (and provide materials when possible) for making, doing, or experiencing something. Encourage visitors to read maps, make timelines, examine ecosystems, create art works, compare buildings, etc. Activities anchor information to experience and further understanding.
“Eight Ways to ENCOURAGE Exploration and Appreciation,” The Docent Educator 13.1 (Autumn 2003): 6-7.