Exploring Multimodal Texts

2. Text Deconstruction: The Lost Thing

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To investigate the techniques used to make meaning in multimodal texts

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can identify techniques used by authors to highlight key information and link ideas
  • I can interpret gestures, images and sounds in texts

Multimodal texts

  • Plastic poems of Fiona Tinwei Lam (printed poetry)
  • Plasticnic and/or Plastic Poems (digital poetry)
  • ‘The Lost Thing’, by Shaun Tan: picture story book and animation (available on ClickView, access using Department of Education and Training credentials).
  • ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’, by William Joyce: picture story book and animation (optional)

Graphic organisers and planning tools

  • Identifying and exploring modes: docx PDF
  • Name, Describe, Act: docx PDF
  • Planning tool - Developing a multimodal text: docx PDF

This stage examines how visual features create meaning in print and digital texts. ‘The Lost Thing’ by Shaun Tan is used to explore the linguistic and visual techniques authors use to create meaning. If students have not completed stage one of this sequence, ‘Building the field: the purpose and features of non-fiction multimodal texts’, consider providing an explanation of the modes of communication.

Present students with a text that only includes written language. For example, a poem or the text from a picture story book. Suggested poems include the plastic poems of Fiona Tinwei Lam. Lam’s concrete poems invite discussion about the linguistic and spatial features of the text. For example, the written language features include bold font for headings, minimal punctuation to create flow and the repetition of words to highlight importance or salience. The spatial features of the concrete poems create shape, that subtly provides visual meaning to the reader.

Facilitate a discussion about the features of the written text. Question prompts could include:

  • What do you think this text is about?
  • What might be the author’s purpose? What might be their point of view?
  • What are the modes of communication that the author is using?
  • What are some of the things you notice about the language in the text?
  • What are some of the things you notice about how the text is organised on the page?
  • What you think about when you look at how the poem, ‘Quench’ is arranged on the page?

Display an enlarged copy of the selected poem/s, record student responses and annotate the text to highlight particular linguistic and spatial features mentioned in the discussion.

Present the digital poems, Plasticnic and Plastic Poems by Fiona Tinwei Lam. Ask students to observe and list the similarities and differences between the two digital texts as they view the poems. Lead a discussion analysing the purpose and modal features of the texts. Question prompts could include:

  • What was author’s purpose? What might be the message of the poems? Discuss the hybrid nature of the poems and the persuasive techniques used by Tinwei Lam.
  • Why might the author have repeated the word, ‘plastic’ in both texts?
  • What does the title, ‘Plasticnic’ suggest?
  • How was sound used differently in the two poems?
  • Why might the poet have included the sound of gentle waves? How might you describe the tone of voice used in Plasticnic?
  • Why might the poet and designer have used circular shapes in both poems?
  • How was colour used to direct your attention?
  • What meaning was added to the poems by the photographs at the end of the texts?

Introduce and model using the Name, Describe, Act graphic organise, identifying and discussing how some of the linguistic, visual and spatial features of the poem are used to create meaning.


Enable students to explore expression and gestures by presenting ‘Chocolate Cake’, by Michael Rosen. Ask students to consider how Rosen varies the pace and tone of his voice and uses sound effects to create mood. Also draw attention to Rosen’s facial expressions and hand gestures. Encourage students to suggest how these modal features influence the reader and support the poet’s purpose and intentions.

Extend students to understand how spoken language patterns, such as rhythm, pronunciation, and dialect can communicate meaning by exploring the work of Karl Nova. Support students to compare the written version of ‘Poetry?’ to a video of Nova performing the poem. Question prompts could include:

  • What new meaning is presented by Nova’s voice style and gestures.
  • How does the gestural and audio information alter your interpretation of the poem?

‘The Lost Thing’, by Shaun Tan, available as a picture story book and animation (access to this animation is through ClickView, using Department of Education and Training credentials), has been used throughout this section. An alternative text available in print and animation is ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’, by William Joyce.

Read a few pages of text to students without revealing the illustrations. Ask students to write down a word, a phrase and a sentence that they feel might be important or central to the story. Reread the pages and/or continue to read on if students require more listening or thinking time.

Invite students to turn and talk to a partner, explaining their choice of word, phrase and sentence. Provide a platform for students to share their selections. For example, using sticky notes that can be shared with the class, or using a digital tool.

Using a think aloud strategy, elaborate on how the language patterns features of the text create salience (draw our attention to what is important) and cohesion. For example:

  • the repeated reference to the lost thing indicating importance
  • the use of direct speech for emphasis
  • the description of the lost thing is coherently developed throughout the text
  • the language used throughout the text to create mood and theme.

Demonstrate recording the observations on the Name, Describe, Act graphic organiser.

Reread the text, this time displaying the accompanying illustrations, or provide students with a copy of the text to read with a partner. Select two different images from the text and discuss how they visually communicate meaning to the reader.

Consider using the three visual semiotic sub-strands outlined the Literacy Teaching Toolkit as a guide:

  • Expressing and developing ideas in visual texts
  • Comparison and structure of the image
  • Interacting and relating with others through visual text

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit is a useful resource for sourcing both questions and visual metalanguage to guide explicit teaching in this stage of the sequence.

Expressing and developing ideas in visual texts

Suggested metalanguage: Vector, symbol

  • What might this image be about?
  • Who and what is in this image? Who are the main participants – characters, or things/objects – seen?
  • What is happening? What are the different participants/objects doing?
  • Where and when and why is this happening? What information is provided in the image that tells us about the circumstances surrounding these participants and actions?

Composition and structure of the image

Suggested metalanguage: Salience

  • What do you notice first? How has the author drawn your attention to this part of the image? (salience)
  • How is colour used to organise information, and to influence the layout of this image?
  • How do these elements draw the image together as a cohesive whole?
  • If you changed any of these aspects, how would that affect the meaning of this image?

Interacting and relating with others through visual texts

During the modelling process, there should be a focus on the effect of the visual techniques under investigation be maintained. For example, what do the illustrations communicate about the two worlds in the story? What do they communicate about how the lost thing and the narrator feel about their worlds?

Ask students to work with a partner to select and analyse illustrations from the text.  Invite students to look at their chosen page closely and to record their thoughts and their wonderings. Ask students to think about how meaning is being communicated and to record their ideas using the Name, Describe, Act graphic organiser. 

Additional question prompts to support collaborative discussions could include:

  • How are you positioned to see this image as? (focaliser)
  • Is the subject looking directly at you or away from you? (gaze)
  • Identify the vectors (lines) in this image. Do these vectors direct your gaze towards a particular viewing/reading path in the image?
  • How has the author/illustrator used size to provide information about objects and the relationship between characters?
  • How has the author/illustrator used colour to communicate meaning to the reader?
  • How has colour been used to represent the two worlds explored in the story?

Present an animated version of the shared text. Explain that the animation is a digital multimodal text. Ask students to add to the Name, Describe, Act graphic organiser to identify and discuss new information presented in the digital text. Prompt students to observe how the audio and gestural modes of communication are used by the author to add meaning.  


Enable students to identify the multimodal elements in the text by providing a checklist for use while viewing. For example, spoken words could provide information on: emotion, mood, tone, volume, pronunciation and dialect. Audio elements could communicate meaning using: sound effects, music, volume, silence. Gestures such as facial expressions, body movements and demeanour provide information about characters.

Provide the Identifying and exploring modes graphic organiser (available in Materials and texts) to support student observations.

Extend student understanding of visual modes of communication by supporting them to explore the symbolism used in Tan’s artwork. Have students research the artwork of John Brack and Jeffrey Smart. Ask students to compare how Tan and Smart use arrows in their artwork as vectors. Prompt students to discuss how the themes of loneliness and belonging are developed by the written text, imagery and sounds in the texts.

Invite students to refer to their Name, Describe, Act graphic organisers to explain how modal patterns create meaning for the reader and viewer.

Using sentence stems from the text, model creating a short text combining written and visual conventions. For example, use colour, distance and vector to create salience.

Ask the students to plan their own short text. Allow time for students to share and discuss ideas with a partner. Encourage students to explain how they will use visual features. For example, colour to create salience or mood, lines to direct reading path, distance to move from a long shot providing an overview of a setting, compared to a close-up to show emotion or detail.

A planning tool is provided in Materials and Texts with suggested sentence stems. The tool also suggests varying image framing from long, to medium to close-up shots.

Support students to share their work and receive feedback. Consider using a feedback protocol such as Praise, Question, Suggest. (Ask student to note one thing they like about the work, a question they have and a suggestion for improvement.) Provide sentence stems to support structured feedback, for example:

  • "One thing I like about your work is..."
  • "I really like where/when you..."
  • "I wonder..."
  • "One question I have is..."
  • "One change I would make is..."
  • "I suggest..., because..."

Enable students requiring further support by providing feedback and guidance during a guided writing group. Students could also write text to accompany a page of illustrations from a wordless picture story book, such as ‘Flotsam’, by David Wiesner, or ‘The Arrival’, by Shaun Tan.

Extend students by suggesting they develop their storyline from the perspective of an object or participant being found or beginning with a close shot and moving to a long shot.

Brack, J., 1955. Collins St, 5p.m.. [Online] Available at: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/3161/ [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, 20181. About the CLPE Poetry Award (CLiPPA) with 2018 winner Karl Nova. [Online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/280564865 [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Lam, F. T., 2018. plasticpoems: The Goose, vol. 17 , no. 1 , article 35. [Online] Available at: https://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1450&context=thegoose [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Lam, F. T., 2020. Plasticnic. [Online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/387883182 [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Lam, F. T., 2020. Plasticpoems. [Online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/386862235 [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Moonbot Studios, 2012. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=Ad3CMri3hOs [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Nova, K., 2020. Poetry. [Online] Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetryline/poems/poetry [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rosen, M., 2011. Chocolate Cake | POEM | Kids' Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=7BxQLITdOOc [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Smart, J., 1978. First Study for the Arrow Carriers. [Online] Available at: https://www.menziesartbrands.com/items/first-study-arrow-carriers [Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Literacy Teaching Toolkit: Modelling through think alouds. [Online] Available at: https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/teachingresources/discipline/english/literacy/speakinglistening/Pages/teachingpracmodelling.aspx [Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Visual metalanguage for comprehending and composing visual meaning. [Online] Available at: https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/teachingresources/discipline/english/literacy/multimodal/Pages/visualmetalanguage.aspx#link54 [Accessed 15 March 2022].

Tan, S., 2010. The Lost Thing. [Online] Available at: https://online.clickview.com.au/exchange/videos/45157/the-lost-thing [Accessed 15 March 2022].

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