For Teachers: Using Online Collections

A 3D image of a black cap covered in extracted teeth.

Street Dentists Cap

© The Cuming Museum

    • Museums are full of objects which can reveal much about the past or inspire fantastic, creative ideas. If you ask the right questions, you can unlock an object’s secrets and stories. Most museums now have high-resolution images of their collections online that can be printed, used on whiteboards or added to programmes and applications.

      Here on Show Me you can find a wide collection of online resources from museums and galleries which we are constantly updating. Some museums have produced 3D images of their objects like these ancient Egyptian artefacts from the Petrie Museum. The British Museum has developed a set of objects which can not only be explored in 3D, but produced using a 3D printer.

      Here are some ways of using online collections:

      1.    Historical enquiry

      Search online for images of different primary sources – objects, paintings, manuscripts, photographs - to find out about the past and as evidence to support your ideas or theories about what may have happened. The great thing about searching online is that you have collections from all over the world to draw on. If this proves too much scope, it may be useful to home in on a specific museum that covers your chosen topic or theme and use the search tool.

      Once you have completed your investigation, import the images into a presentation programme or App like Powerpoint or Notability to help illustrate and explain your discoveries.

      2.    Creative starters
      Museums are full of weird, wonderful, mysterious and captivating things to ignite creative imaginations. Using digital images has the added advantage of allowing you to ‘play’ with an object and use it – or bits of it – in your final creation. You may be inspired to sample patterns or shapes, cut out particular people or buildings, or create a composite, collage or animation from a variety of sources. Play with different tablet apps to manipulate and develop your designs and ideas or try recreating your favourite painting with VanGoYourself.

      Have a look at our dedicated page for how to use museums as creative starters.

      3.    Supporting a museum visit
      Using online collections is also a great way to prepare for and follow up a museum visit back in the classroom.

      Familiarising pupils with some of the key objects they will see during a visit will foster a sense of excitement and relevance and deepen engagement when they encounter the real thing. Inevitably, it will be bigger, smaller or have brighter colours than expected, leading to comparisons and helping to make the experience more memorable.

      Using online collections in the classroom to revisit some of the key objects seen will promote discussion and cement learning.

      Useful links to online collections

      There are some great examples of interesting and intriguing collections on Show Me. Some useful online collections to support work across the curriculum can be found below. This is a tiny example of the kinds of amazing stuff that you can find in museums and galleries. Have fun searching for more to support your themes and ideas.


      Natural History Museum

      Explore some of the Natural History Museum’s 80 million specimens – the most important natural history collection in the world, ranging from microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons.

      Science Museum

      Hundreds of thousands of objects representing all things science from aircraft to microchips.

      British Museum

      Explore the British Museum’s vast collection of cultures from around the world, their online collection is one of the biggest in the world with over 2 million records.

      The V&A

      Unrivalled collections of contemporary and historic art and design: architecture, fashion, photography, theatre and performance, sculpture, contemporary design, ceramics, Asian art and design, furniture, textiles, jewellery, metalwork and much more.

      National Maritime Museum

      All things shipshape from fearsome pirates to intrepid explorers; from Nelson’s jacket and blood-stained stockings to relics from the Titanic and to the largest maritime art collection in the world.

      National Museums Liverpool

      A rich and varied collection including the history of Liverpool; paintings, sculpture and decorative art; sobering and thoughtful collections relating to historic and modern slavery; and a some beautiful botanical images from around the world.

      The Horniman Museum
      Including internationally important collections of anthropology and musical instruments, as well as an acclaimed natural history collection – and you can even have a go at creating your own label.

      The Jewish Museum
      An extraordinary representation of Jewish people, history and culture.

      National Museums Scotland

      The history of Scotland, the wonders of nature and world cultures

      National Museum of Wales
      A fascinating collection representing Welsh history and the people who made it, artworks and specimens

      The National Media Museum

      Including the world's earliest known surviving negative, the earliest television footage and the camera that made the earliest moving pictures in Britain – not to mention some of the first games consoles.

      National Football Museum
      Including a history of the World Cup in 24 objects

      Imperial War Museum
      From the everyday and personal artefacts and letters of those who served to internationally recognised objects like the Egnima machine and the Spitfire


      The Tate collection includes over 70,000 artworks by over 3,000 artists, from Matisse’s Snail to Dali’s Lobster Telephone and Cornelia Parker’s exploded garden shed.

      National Portrait Gallery

      A history of Britain and British culture through this vast collection of portraits of the movers and shakers who shaped it.

      National Gallery
      The National Gallery Collection contains over 2,300 works, representing all major traditions of Western European painting from the artists of late medieval and Renaissance Italy to the French Impressionists.


      The National Archive is the official archive and publisher for the UK government. They are the guardians of some of England and Wales’ most iconic national documents, dating back over 1,000 years from the Domesday book – their oldest item, to the Magna Carta, Guy Fawkes’ signed confession, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen’s wills, Edwards VIII’s signed letter of abdication, even Hitler’s fake passport.

      The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the largest library in the world. The Library's collections include around 14 million books, along with manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC including the original, handwritten version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Captain Scott’s diary and the ancient Indian epic, The Ramayana.

      The Parliamentary Archive holds several million historical records relating to Parliament, dating from 1497 including the death warrant for Charles I signed by Oliver Cromwell and acts which abolished the transatlantic slave trade in Britain.

      The Black Cultural Archive collects, preserves and celebrates the heritage and history of Black people in Britain.

      The Women’s Library at LSE documents all aspects of women’s lives, with a particular emphasis on the lives of women in the UK and the great political, economic and social changes of the past 150 years.

      And here are some more specialist ones:

      Old Bailey Online - containing 197,745 criminal trials, this is the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published.

      Hidden Lives Revealed
      – a virtual archive providing an intriguing encounter with children who were in the care of The Children's Society in late Victorian and early 20th Century Britain.

      John Murray Archive
      -  contains manuscripts, private letters and business papers from authors who shaped the modern world through their writings, including Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

      Roald Dahl Archive
      - a lifetime's worth of letters, early manuscripts – written, famously, in pencil on yellow legal pads - and much, much more.

      You can search for your local archive here.

      Curriculum links

      Museum and gallery collections can enrich and support learning across the curriculum.

      Historical enquiry
      -    Identifying and using useful primary sources
      -    Gathering, selecting, assessing and presenting evidence
      -    Questioning
      -    Assessing reliability and bias
      -    Looking at multiple perspectives – was everyone’s experience the same..?
      -    Thinking about what/which voices might be missing?
      -    Developing and substantiating an answer, argument or narrative

      Creative and critical thinking
      -    Generating ideas
      -    Questioning assumptions and exploring possibilities
      -    Innovating, testing and adapting
      -    Creating

      -    Developing language and vocabulary
      -    Persuading and arguing
      -    Qualifying and justifying
      -    Discussing and debating
      -    Communicating in different forms for different purposes

      -    Effective searching
      -    Analysing
      -    Selecting
      -    Evaluating
      -    Presenting
      -    Repurposing
      -    Combining multiple applications

      Personal development
      -    Working collaboratively
      -    Taking responsibility
      -    Planning

      Searching museum websites:
      The scope of images available online is enormous, and it can sometimes be useful to narrow your search to a particular museum or gallery. Use this clever search tip to find images related to a theme on a specific website using the Google images search tool:

      Type the word ‘site’ followed by a colon and a space, then the web address followed by a space and then the theme you wish to search e.g.

      site: dinosaurs
      site: picasso

      Artsmark and Arts award

      Artsmark is a nationally recognised sign of commitment to high quality arts and cultural education. It enables education settings to evaluate, celebrate and strengthen a quality arts offer and contributes to the cultural aspect of Ofsted’s requirement that a school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Using museums and galleries to support classroom work, or developing you own museum, gallery, archive or exhibition is a great way for your school to gain Artsmark.  Find out more about Artsmark and its impact here.

      Arts Award is a range of unique qualifications inspiring young people to connect with and take part in the wider world of arts, heritage and culture through different challenges at different levels. Through Arts Award young people gain a nationally recognised qualification enabling them to progress into further education and employment. Find out more here and learn how museums and galleries can support young people in gaining Arts Award.

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