101 --Fulfilling the NPS Mission
Component: What Interpretation Is
Sample Lesson Plan
Introduction: 5 Minutes - Lecture
- Tell the group what is to be presented is offered
as a tool. This model does not measure interpretation,
nor is it a "how to." Tools such as "Themes, Goals,
Objectives," are separate and very important. This model
attempts to describe effective interpretive products.
Learners are welcome to use or not use this tool as
they see fit.
- Ask participants to "forget" their own descriptions
of interpretation for the duration of the session and
"try this one on for size."
Role of Interpretation: 20 Minutes - Directed
1. - Ask "Why do we have parks at all?" Should receive
a variety of responses such as - "To preserve our heritage,"
"Because they have national significance," "Because
they are special." Instructor should validate these
responses, but challenge participants to go for the
even more fundamental reason - that all parks have meanings.
- Reveal flipchart - "Resource: Possesses Meanings and
- Point out plural in meanings. Ask, "Does any given
park mean the same thing to all people?" The group will
- Are those meanings attached to or inherent in the
place? Do those meanings transcend the place? What does
the place have to do with the meanings? Abraham Lincoln
said it best in the Gettysburg Address:"But in a larger
sense we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we
can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and
dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above
our poor power to add or detract. The world will little
note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never
forget what they did here."
- One could say, according to Lincoln, Gettysburg could
be paved and the sacrifice, tragedy, heroism, and valor
of the men who served there--the meanings of the place--would
not change a bit. Ask "Why then save the place?"
- Resources are icons, portals, platforms, wormholes,
tangible places that help people connect to larger meanings.
One might read all about a battlefield or all about
an ecosystem but will have a singularly different experience
when visiting the resource.
2. - Ask, "Why do people come to parks?" Again, will
receive a variety of responses that represent a continuum
of motivations from those seeking entertainment to those
on a pilgrimage. It should be relatively simple to validate
each and steer to the common definition that the visitor
is seeking something of value for themselves.
- Reveal flipchart - "Visitor: Seeking something of
Value for Themselves--Entertainment to the Sublime."
3. - Ask, "What is the job of interpretation?" Participants
will most likely respond, "To connect the two."
- Reveal flipchart - "Interpretation: Facilitates a
Connection between the Interests of the Visitor and
the Meanings of the Resource."
- Ask, "Do you really believe that?"
- The statement means three things:
- The visitor is sovereign. To be effective, the
interpreter must meet the visitor on their own terms.
- Meanings are more important than information.
Interpreters use information to reveal meanings,
but it is not the goal of interpretation to fill
the visitor's mind with information, facts, or detail.
Interpretation is successful if, no matter the depth
of information provided, the visitor finds significant
meaning in the resource.
- Interpreters must be able to subordinate their
own passion and understandings of the resource so
that visitors can form their own passion and understanding.
- This statement describes the role of interpretation
- When a connection between the interests of the
visitor and the meanings of the resource is made,
care for the resource is cultivated. Visitors must
come to care about a resource before they choose
to support its preservation. The implication is
that if an interpreter preaches preservation without
first facilitating a connection between the resource
and the visitor, most likely the effort will fail.
(Note: As learners discuss interpretation or programs
that rely primarily on information or their own point
of view, it is helpful to remind them that the role
of interpretation is to connect the visitor to the resource--and
that this occurs on the terms of the visitor. The instructor
may want to post the three flipchart pages as a reminder.)
- Place contributions on one of two flipcharts. Tangibles
should go on one and intangibles on the other. Encourage
the list to be quite varied including specific things
from a given resource all the way to general ideas and
values. Some items may fit best on both charts. For
example, "wilderness" might represent a specific place
but also represents an idea. The point is, don't get
hung up on semantics--its an easy trap to fall into.
Let people make definitions that are comfortable for
2. - Ask, "What's the difference between these two charts?"
Of course the answer will be tangibles and intangibles.
- Tell them that all of interpretation is right there.
All of interpretation is taking a tangible resource
and connecting it to its broader meanings or intangible
- When we take a tangible thing, we have an opening
or portal for meaning. If we connect that thing to an
intangible resource, we begin to illuminate the relevance
of the thing.
3. - Draw a horizontal line (x axis) on the flipchart
and label it "Tangible: Information, Narrative, Chronology"
- Ask, "How many interpretive programs stay on this
line?" Can use the example of living history, full of
vibrant tangibles, but often gets bogged down in the
description of buttons and stitch counts. Can also use
the metaphor of blueprints - full of important information,
but will move the soul of very few people.
4. - Draw a vertical line (y axis) to the horizontal
line and label it "Intangible: Meanings"
- How many interpretive programs stay on this line,
full of abstractions and/or emotions that don't connect
to the tangible resource? Can use the example abstract
art--again, speaks to a minority of people.
- Good interpretation requires these to be linked --
can't effectively have one without the other. The tangible/information
provides the hook and the foundation while the intangible/meanings
provide the relevance and source for care.
5. - Ask, "Can you think of any examples of tangible/intangible
links?" Monuments are excellent examples, so are obvious
geologic features. Just cull out or point out a few
to gauge comprehension and begin to deepen the concept.
Model: 5 Minutes
- Present a short interpretive model that clearly illustrates
tangible/intangible linkages. The model could be a talk,
but might be a piece of interpretive media. Short and
clear is best when introducing the concept.
Graph: 10 Minutes - Directed Discussion, Lecture
1. - Have participants identify the tangible used in
the model. It is easy to get confused and focus on tangibles
that are used as interpretive tools or techniques rather
than as the platform or icon of the product. Have participants
identify the intangibles they experienced in the product.
2. - Show pre-drawn chart for interpretive model. Make
sure it is simple and clear. Describe how the chart
assumes the interpretive product is reaching for a cumulative
effect on the audience. The horizontal axis should be
marked "Tangible: Information, Chronology, Narrative"
as well as "Time." The vertical axis should be marked
"Intangible: Meanings" as well as "Relevance to the
Audience." Emphasize the chart describes interpretive
product--it does not measure product, nor does it take
the place of the tools and techniques required to develop
product. This graph is useful for developing interpretive
products only in that it helps describe the vision of
the interpreter. The interpretive product and graph
should grow and change as the product is developed.
3. - Ask audience to describe theme. Some might come
close, but certainly will have a variety of answers.
Ask if the imprecision of answers mean the theme has
failed. Most likely, the participants will answer "no."
Why then have themes? Themes are tools, like many other
tools, needed to develop products. Successful products
do not obviously reveal the tools that make them successful.
4. - Describe how the audience each could have a graph
that plots their reaction to the interpretive product.
Emphasize that differences in charts are not important,
as long as audience members were connected to the meanings
of the resource.
5. - Emphasize that other graphs or graphics might also
describe successful interpretation. A wheel whose hub
is labeled Tangible; whose tire is labeled Intangible;
and whose spokes are labeled Information and Techniques;
might also work.
6. - Make the following points:
- Don't get hung up on the words. They don't have to
be defined precisely. They are meant to be useful tools,
not rules. Some synonyms: things/big ideas, real/conceptual,
- Technically tangible describes something that is three
dimensional. However, one dictionary definition of tangible
states, "Capable of being exactly comprehended." There
are many stories, objects, people from the past, pieces
of information, which are able to be comprehended without
having the tangible or physical presence actually there.
These intangibles can be used in tangible ways.
- Tangible and intangible are two groupings for the
specific resources at a given site. Good interpretation
will require the learner to identify those resources.
Practice: 5 Minutes - Brainstorm
- Have group brainstorm the "meanings" of an ordinary
object like a beer bottle. Encourage as many different
meanings and points of view as possible.
1. - Ask, "Are all tangible/intangible linkages equally
effective? Do all linkages have the same power for the
same people?" They will likely answer "no." Ask why
and try to direct the discussion to the differences
between links that lead to further information, and
those that lead to something more broadly meaningful.
- An example might be helpful. A pottery shard can represent
the entire system of archeology or the entire culture
of a people--or both--depending on how the interpreter
- Some intangibles are more relevant to more people
2. - Introduce Universal Concepts. Universal Concepts
are intangibles that relate to almost everyone in some
way. Family is an excellent example. Family means different
things to almost everyone, but family still is a relevant
concept to almost everyone. An example of a universal
concept from the previous model product would be most
3. - Have participants list additional universal concepts.
Discuss them and place them on the flipchart as they
are suggested. Make sure some challenging ones like
God are included.
- Again, make point that the actual categorization of
universals should not be argued over at this point.
Each interpreter is free to have their own list of universal
concepts--some will simply be more effective than others.
At this point, arguing over categorization will distract
from understanding that some concepts are more relevant
to more people than others.
4. Describe Tilden's principle regarding the need for
relevance. Describe "little r" relevance where the interpreter
refers to some commonly understood object or place in
order to communicate more effectively. Encourage this
as an interpretive technique. Then describe "Big R"
relevance as being the universal concepts described
above. This level of relevance is what Tilden refers
to and is laden with meaning.
5. Suggest participants make lists of tangibles, intangibles,
and universal concepts at their own resource. These
lists can be used during research and site exploration
to cultivate ideas for interpretive products. When the
interpreter finds meaning in the resource, they must
simply identify the tangibles, intangibles, and universal
concepts associated with that discovery. A couple of
examples illustrating this might be helpful.
Objects Exercise - 20-30 Minutes - Small Groups
- Divide into small groups and give each an object.
Have them discuss and identify the tangible/intangible
linkages and possible universal concepts for that object.
- Have the groups report back and open discussion for
additional ideas and linkages.
- Verbally make the assignment and pass out the following.
Tangible/Intangible Linkages: Assignment
- Choose a tangible object that somehow represents you
resource. It might be easiest to focus on a specific
object like a seed or a tree rather than a forest.
- Write down what that object is.
- Identify six linkages that object has to the intangible
resources at your site. At least two of them should
be universal concepts. Your assignment can be typed
or handwritten and should be lengthy enough to communicate
the linkages. Some linkages will be very obvious and
will be understood with a word or two. Others may take
greater description. The whole assignment should not
take more than two pages--probably much less. PLEASE
DO NOT WRITE DOWN A TALK OR PROGRAM.
Conclusion - 2 Minutes - Lecture
- Develop a conclusion that focusses back on the role
of interpretation, meanings, or preservation.
Last website update:April 8, 1999