A good starting point for using objects in art and design education, in particular, is to use them to draw from. This allows a different engagement and investigation of the object than other forms of note-taking, such as writing down label information or taking photographs.
When using objects in such a way a number of things need to be considered:
If you are working from a formal display, such as in a museum exhibition, a still life has already been set up for you by a curator. Try to encourage students to find their own perspective and not necessarily go for the ‘obvious’ frontal view. Encourage students to use sketches not to necessarily replicate what they see (this they could do much more effectively with a photograph, if photography is allowed), but rather to try to capture other aspects of the objects, like their context, details they particularly like, etc.
If you are working in a collection where the objects can be handled, you and the students can play with the setting up yourself. How would it differ if this was a museum display set up or a shop display? What would be an authentic context? Being able to handle objects often also means that you will have access to views of the objects that might not be on show in a museum, for example the back, bottom or inside – take advantage of that in your exploration.
Also take into account the different contexts of the sketching, students often lack the confidence to explore something in a museum, where other visitors might come up and look over their shoulders, possibly even comment on their work, so sketches here could be used as starting points for future, more elaborate drawings. If on the other hand, it is possible to have a drawing session that is private, this can lead to an informal discussed amongst the students, which starts the investigative process.