Learning Through Story: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

4. Modelling and Co-Constructing Poetry

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To recognise that vocabulary choices contribute to the specificity, abstraction and style of texts
  • To build understanding of vocabulary, text structures and language features to aid in the comprehension of texts

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can identity the effect of vocabulary choices in a text
  • I can select vocabulary with the intention of creating a particular effect
  • I can explain how language features can be used for different purposes and effects
  • Before you use this sequence: guidance: docx PDF
  • ‘Growing up Aboriginal in Australia’ (2018) edited by Anita Heiss
  • Listening: Ten Times Two’ routine
  • Musical stimulus (Corresponding to themes in ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’)
  • ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’ teaching notes
  • A range of poetic stimuli (suggestions below)
  • Sample poem annotation: structure: docx PDF
  • Sample poem annotation: vocabulary: docx PDF
  • Sample prose to poetry task: jpeg
  • Prose to poetry planner: jpeg
  • Prose to poetry scaffold: png
  • Found poem sample 'Battling the anthem': docx PDF
  • Poetry planner: jpeg
  • Drafting and refining poetry handout: png
  • Poetic vocabulary list: jpeg

This multi-part stage focuses on modelling the text structures and language features used in poetry, and on the co-construction and then independent construction of a poetic text.  

If you have used Stage Three of this sequence ‘Identifying themes in a text’, invite students to revise the themes that have emerged thus far from their reading.  If students have yet to explore the themes raised in the text, it is strongly recommended that time is spent on this task before proceeding. The ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’ teaching notes provide a table that organises the essays in the anthology by theme. 

It is strongly recommended that teachers view all suggested stimulus texts prior to their use to ensure their cultural appropriateness and to enable rich, respectful discussion. For guidance on text selection refer to the Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy.

In addition, it is suggested that teachers refer to the guidelines around establishing a safe & culturally respectful classroom in the ‘Before you use this sequence’ section of the resource.

Consider creating a modified Ways Things Can Be Complex concept map for your class before commencing this stage or sequence, which can be revisited as appropriate. The map encourages the consolidation of critical thinking as students’ knowledge of a topic develops.

Engaging with poetic texts

Using a thinking routine like ‘Listening: Ten Times Two’, ask students to record their responses to a piece of music like Briggs’ The Children Came Back ft. Gurrumul & Dewayne Everettsmith or Archie Roach’s ‘Took the Children Away’. The Human Rights Commission has also curated a variety of songs telling stories connected to the Stolen Generations.

Consider adapting the listening routine to enable students to identify 10 words or observations from within the work as well as about it. For example, students might notice particular words from a song, describe its beat as ‘driving’, note the tone of the music, or identify an instrument. 

Once students have recorded their 20 words, invite them to engage in a double ‘think, pair, share’ activity. Each student should share their 20 words with a partner, then find another pair to share their ideas with. Ask each group to:

  • Choose ten words from the group’s pool that they agree are evocative, powerful, interesting, moving or confusing
  • Consider the question: ‘how do the words you have recorded relate to the ideas or themes you have explored through the essays in Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’?

Ask a spokesperson from each group to share their ten words and their response to the question with the class, drawing out prior knowledge about the use of figurative language, imagery, poetic structure, rhythm, and tone.

1. Exploring and discussing structure

Introduce a selection of poetry by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors to your class, for example Alison Whittaker’s ‘A love like Dorothea’s’ or ‘Murrispacetime’, Kirli Saunder’s Disconnection, Alice Eather’s Yuya Karrabura, Stephen Oliver’s ‘I’m a Blackfella’ (mild language warning), Tony Birch’s ‘Scenes of domestic life’ (p34) or an extract from ‘Sister Heart’ by Sally Morgan.

If you are using video or audio recording of a poem that you intend to use for analysis, ensure that a written transcript is also available. If you choose poetry that does not have an accompanying video or reading, use a variety of techniques to enable students to participate in the reading, for example:

  • Divide the class in half and read alternating lines, stanzas or parts
  • Invite individuals, pairs and trios to read
  • Offer whole-class opportunities to participate
  • Invite students to read the poem aloud in a variety of paces and tones (for example cheerful, annoyed, angry, amused).

Provide students with a copy of one of the poems that has been read and draw attention to its structural elements. Guide students in a discussion about the poem, assessing prior knowledge of structural features. For example: 

As you work through the poem with the class, clarify terms on the board or add them to an anchor chart

Lead students in a discussion about the poem’s structure, considering how altering a line break, inserting a space or changing the grouping of a stanza might affect the meaning of the poem. 

A sample annotation of a poem focusing on structure can be found in the resources section.

Invite students to select a passage of prose from one of the essays in ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’ to arrange in a poetic form. Ask students to use a graphic organiser to plan how to highlight the key idea or emotion of the prose by arranging it in stanzas. Invite students to reflect on how the choices they make about structure help to convey meaning. An example can be found here. 

Students should not amend the author’s original words or add additional words themselves. The aim of this task is to experiment with language structures to explore the ways in which emphasis can be brought to the key ideas in a text. 

Enable students to engage with the prose-to-poetry task by providing a scaffold to support students to practise their use of end stops and enjambment. The examples of prose reimagined as poetry in the 'Materials and texts' section will also be a useful source of guidance. 

Extend students who would like to explore poetic structure further by inviting them to adapt their prose to a specific poetic form like a sonnet or a pantoum, reflecting on how the rules of the chosen form might enhance the impact of the poem. 

Further resources that build students’ understanding of the text structures specific to poetry can be found in Stage two of the learning sequence ‘Ur a Poet and U Didn’t Know It’. For example, students’ attention can be focused on how decisions about structure may enhance the clarity of a poem. 

2. Considering the impact of vocabulary choices

Read students a poem that demonstrates effective use of vocabulary, thinking aloud as you read to draw attention to the vocabulary choices of the author. Tony Birch’s ‘Away’ (p36,) an excerpt from John Hartley’s essay I remember, or the poem at the beginning of Melanie Mununggurr-Williams essay Grey would work well. Alternatively, use a recording or video of a poem by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander author, pausing at strategic points to think aloud.

Provide students with a selection of question prompts and invite them to collaborate in a think, pair and share activity or snowball discussion to consider their responses. For example: 

  • Which words did you notice first? Why did they stand out from the others?
  • What mood or feeling does the poem create in you as a reader? Can you think of any words or phrases from the poem that might have caused you to feel that way?
  • Can you identify any imagery in this poem? What pictures or sounds might the poet have been asking the reader to imagine? 
  • Are any words used in an odd way? Why? What might be the purpose? 
  • Can you detect any alliteration or onomatopoeia in this poem? Why might the poet have used it?
  • How might the vocabulary choices an author makes affect the meaning or the impact of a text? 

Ensure that student and teacher responses are linked back to the text, focussing on finding evidence within the poem to support or explore opinions, and on the way in which language is used to shape the meaning of a poem. 

Enable students to respond to the poem by working closely with pairs to unpack the question prompts. Focus discussion on questions relating to vocabulary and students’ responses to language.

Extend students to focus on the vocabulary choices made by the author, identifying the way in which word specificity contributes to tone and mood. For example, Tony Birch’s choice of the words ‘away’ or ‘darkest’ in Away.

Re-read and annotate the poem together as a class, colour-coding impactful examples of vocabulary in the text, including effective use of imagery. An example of an annotation focusing on vocabulary can be found in the resources section. 

Ask students to select a word from the annotated poem and invite them to create a word cline to experiment with the way meaning may change according to a word’s strength. 

For example:

Low (yellow)

Medium (orange)

High (red)




Invite students to share their word cline and to explain how the meaning of a poem could be affected by altering the intensity of a word.

3. Co-constructing a poetic response

Model the construction of a ‘found’ poem, using a piece of prose like a newspaper article, history text, novel excerpt, letter or speech that relates to the big ideas or themes in ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’. Ensure the text is visible to students via either digital projection or enlarged hard copy. 

There is a range of variations on the ‘rules’ for creating found poetry. Use whichever formula suits your class, modifying the approach to support or extend students as appropriate, whilst ensuring that words are not added to the author’s original text.

Whichever approach you choose, the text in the source document you are using for this task will need to be modifiable, so a digital version of the selected prose is ideal. Alternatively, the text could be written on the board.

Read the source prose together as a class, inviting students to engage in the reading and/or using a digital recording if it is available.

Model the process of word selection. Students then select 50-100 descriptive words (or a selection of phrases) from the written source, focussing on choosing language that they identify as interesting, powerful or evocative.

Begin composing the found poem with your class, talking through each step of the process as you work. 

As you compose the poem together, discuss the impact of:

  • Language selection
  • Stanza construction
  • Line breaks
  • Rhyme and repetition

A sample of a found poem can be viewed in the resources section. The sample takes a minimal approach to the original text, keeping the words in order and adding very few additional words. Further examples of found poems that use news stories as a source can be viewed via the NYT Found Poem Contest for students.

Teachers may wish to utilise Stage 3 of the ‘Ur a Poet and U Didn’t Know It’ learning sequence to further build student understanding of the way in which vocabulary choices contribute to the style of a text.

4. Independent composition

Ask students to choose a theme or issue presented in the essays they have read in ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’. A list of themes can be found in the ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’ teaching notes.

Once students have selected a theme or issue that resonates with them, ask them to:

  • conduct a brainstorm to explore ideas for their poem
  • consider what the ‘focus’ or ‘message’ of the poem will be
  • investigate other poems on the same topic 
  • decide upon the form and structure of their poem (an extensive list of poetic forms can be found here).

Collaborate with students to create a planning checklist to complete prior to beginning a first draft, including:

Students use the checklist and a graphic organiser like a Poetry Planner to plan, draft and edit their work. 

A suite of mini-lessons covering the use of line breaks, avoiding cliché, using figurative language, experimenting with rhythm, creating an animated video and editing can be found in the Ur a Poet and U Didn’t Know It learning sequence. 

Enable students to engage with the independent construction of a poem by supplying a scaffold. Consider offering an accessible poetic form such as an acrostic poem, a list poem or a diamante poem. Offer students the opportunity to illustrate poems to enhance their meaning. Templates for scaffolding acrostic, list and diamante poems can be found in the Ur a Poet & U Didn’t Know It learning sequence. 

Extend students by encouraging experimentation with poetic forms like pantoum, double tetractys or quatrain and by encouraging students to consider recording or animating their work.

It is recommended that you co-construct an assessment rubric with your students to complement your poetry planning checklist and to ensure that students effectively address their chosen theme. There are digital tools available for this purpose.

Areas for further exploration

Explore the issues featured in Briggs’ The Children Came Back ft. Gurrumul & Dewayne Everettsmith or Archie Roach’s ‘Took the Children Away’. The lyrics to both songs can be found online.

Invite students to choose a theme shared with ‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’, a significant historical event, or an important historical or contemporary figure mentioned in either song. 

Ask students to research their topic/individual and to craft a second poetic response. Students should use their class’s planning checklist and a graphic organiser like the Poetry Planner to plan, draft and edit their work.

Invite students to share their first draft with their peers in order to gain peer feedback

Offer students the ‘Drafting and Refining Your Poetry’ guide to support them to edit their work or invite students to contribute to the creation of a drafting checklist. Encourage peer-to-peer feedback; there are free digital tools available online that can generate rubrics and templates to assist with this process. 

Offer additional class time for editing and drafting of work before submission.

Collect student work for assessment and feedback.

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