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Historical significance: Tales of significance

Page 1 – Introduction

A fun and engaging way of teaching historical significance to senior history students is through telling tales of significance.

What is Tales of Significance?

Once a week a group of 2-3 students give a presentation that evaluates the significance of:

  • Something (an event, moment in time)
  • Someone (an individual or group)

Evaluate the significance using Christine Counsell’s 5 R’s of significance.

  1. Remembered: The event/development was important at some stage in history within the collective memory of a group or groups.
  2. Resulting in change: It had consequences for the future.
  3. Revealing: It reveals some other aspect of the past.
  4. Remarkable: The event/development was remarked upon by people at the time and/or since. Could also be unusual, beyond the realm of normal life. Unexpected.
  5. Resonant: People like to make analogies with it; it is possible to connect with experiences, beliefs or situations across time and space.

It is good for the teacher to present the first tale of significance. Then each week a group of students take turns presenting something and someone. To sweeten the deal, they can also bring in kai to feed the class.

Depending on your class, you should consider adapting Counsell’s criteria. At Year 11 it’s good to introduce just three R’s. Year 11 students (and even Year 12 and 13 students) often find the criteria of Resonant and Revealing more abstract and challenging.

Why do Tales of Significance?

Tales of Significance enable students to evaluate past events and people, arguing for or against their relative significance. They also get the chance to find and summarise information and present that information creatively (encourage students to use images/videos – no one enjoys someone reading lots of words off a slide). Finally, they get to bake, and everyone gets to eat!

With junior classes this is an excellent activity for a Friday or an afternoon session. Once a week a group of 2-3 students give a presentation that evaluates the significance of:

  • Something (an event, moment in time)
  • Someone (an individual or group)

With senior classes it is good if you begin these Tales before students have done their .1 research because the topics students choose to present often prompt interest and ideas for individual research.

Example: Someone

Slide 1:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you infer?
  • What questions do you have?

 Bomb damage to the Wanganui Computer Centre, 1982

Alexander Turnbull Library, EP/1982/3990

Slide 2:

Read the intro from this article and watch the 7 minute documentary below. Discuss.

Slide 3:

How significant was Neil Roberts?

Remembered: Not very much, except within some punk and anarchist communities and perhaps some people living in the Whanganui region.

Resulting in change: Not really. In fact, he was unsuccessful in blowing up the supercomputer and since this time surveillance has increased markedly.

Revealing: It reveals the extent to which some people are prepared to go in support of their political beliefs.

Remarkable: Similar to remembered. Newspaper discussion at the time. Some musicians, poets and other artists have recently built work around the person.

Resonant: Could be seen as highly resonant in light of current government/corporate surveillance (Five Eyes; Cambridge Analytica/Facebook). Would you argue that he was prophetic? You could make comparisons to the action of someone like Quang Duc (a Vietnamese Buddhist who immolated himself as a political act)

Example: Something

Slide 1:

People setting up musical instruments in front of tall building

TVNZ rejection letter

Redmer Yska

[Consider putting these images on A4 sheets to hand out with the questions below]

Get students to use LEGIT to help them.

  • What are some important bits of information that help make sense of source(s) like this? 
  • What questions do you have? 
  • What do you think this historical event is about?

Slide 2:

Read the summary to the class from here:

Slide 3: 

How significant was Riot 111’s protest at Avalon studios?

Remembered: Not very well remembered, certainly not widely - perhaps within an aging punk community.

Resulting in change: Not obviously. Their protest action didn’t change anything - it certainly didn’t get their music video played.

Remarkable: Not a lot of mention at the time or since. It does feature in

Revealing: Placed within the context of 1980s NZ, it reveals the rise of the punk movement in Wellington. It could suggest a minor struggle between freedom of speech and censorship and how this played out during the 1980s (pre-internet).

Resonant: The use of music as a form of protest. Pussy Riot comes to mind - public performance that draws attention to political issues.

How to cite this page

Tales of significance, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated