The Bone Sparrow: A Novel Study

4. Analysing Visual Texts

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To understand how visual texts generate a point of view

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can analyse visual texts to identify a point of view
  • I can use a range of visual metalanguage

Share a visual text with your class that reflects or expands on one of the themes from ‘The Bone Sparrow’. For example, the interactive graphic novel adaptation of Nam Le’s ‘The Boat’ provides rich multimodal material for visual analysis, as does Barroux and Bessora’s ‘Alpha’ or Ben Quilty’s 'Notes On An Exodus', all of which are available via the Museums Victoria website.

Introduce the ‘Zoom In’ process and invite students to look at the material closely and to record their thoughts and their wonderings. Facilitate a group discussion to elicit and record student responses.

1. Modelled visual analysis

Select another visual text for your class. The examples of visual material provided in the ‘Launch’ stage of this sequence would work well here. The Literacy Teaching Toolkit also provides an example of how to deconstruct a visual text using Armin Greder’s ‘The Island’.

Model how to undertake an analysis of the selected material by annotating the image on the board, inviting students to contribute their ideas as you proceed. Use the three visual semiotic sub-strands outlined in the Literacy Teaching Toolkit as a guide.

Semiotic or meaning making sub-strands: 

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

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

Potential prompts for discussion:

Expressing and developing ideas in visual texts

  • What type of text is this image from?
  • What is this image about?
  • Who and what is in this image? Who are the main participants – characters, or things/objects – seen?
  • What is happening? What are 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?

Suggested metalanguage: Vector, symbol

Interacting and relating with others through visual texts

  • As the viewer, how are you positioned to see and interact with the subject/s in this image?
  • Who are you positioned to see this image as? (focaliser)
  • How close or far away is the subject to you? (social distance)
  • Is the subject looking directly at you or away from you? (gaze)
  • Have any aspects of the image been highlighted because of their composition? For example, are they in the foreground, larger than other objects or in a contrasting colour? (salience)
  • Does the image have any lines or line-like components that draw the eye in a particular direction? (vector)
  • How is colour used to represent feelings and mood, and to influence your response?
  • Does the subject appear to have the same level of power as you, or more power or less power? Why?
  • How do these design choices affect how you feel about the subject/s and what is happening in this image? (How might alternative options change your response?)

Metalanguage: Focaliser, social distance, subject gaze

Composition and structure of the image

  • 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?

Suggested metalanguage: Salience

2. Collaborative learning: visual analysis

Form students into small groups of 3 or 4.

Guide students to source a variety of visual texts related to the themes of ‘The Bone Sparrow’ or provide a focussed visual stimulus like ‘A Guard’s Story’, illustrated by Sam Wallman or ‘The Mediterranean’ by Armin Greder.

‘A Guard’s Story’ is a rich text that explores sensitive issues related to mandatory detention. It addresses racism, violence, trauma, and self-harm. It is recommended that teachers pre-read the text to select appropriate images for analysis before using it in class, remaining mindful of students' individual backgrounds and experiences. 

All resources and texts should be reviewed prior to use to assess suitability for individual classes. For guidance on text selection refer to the Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy

Ask each group to focus on one of the semiotic sub-strands outlined above (Expressing and developing ideas in visual texts, Interacting and relating with others through visual texts, and Composition and structure of the image).

Invite students to explore their chosen sub-strand by finding examples of its elements in a variety of images from ‘A Guard’s Story’ or ‘The Mediterranean’ or in other digital images or picture books. 

Support students to create a glossary page for their sub-strand, using an online text collaboration tool, such as Google Docs. Ask students to include an explanation of the sub-strand in their glossary, and to provide a selection of images highlighting the effect created using the elements in the selected strand.

For example, students could choose the first image from ‘A Guard’s Story’ to illustrate the elements of ‘Interacting and relating with others through visual texts’, focussing on the concepts of focalising, social distance and gaze.

Enable students who require further support to undertake an analysis by constructing a shared glossary as part of a teacher focus group. Support the group to focus on one of the more accessible sub-strands such as ‘expressing and developing ideas in visual texts’.

Extend students or groups by inviting them to choose one image and to analyse it using all three semiotic sub-strands.

Collect student glossaries or ask students to submit their work digitally. 

Provide feedback regarding whether students have successfully used the technical language of visual literacy and described the effects caused by the elements used in visual texts

Provide students with time to reflect on and respond to a prompt or a question and to conclude the lesson with a verbal or sticky note exit ticket as they leave the room. Possible prompts include:

  • What is something new I have learned today?
  • What interested me about what I learned?
  • Did I have any roadblocks and if so, how did I move through them?
  • Do I have any wonderings about today’s learning?

Education Service Center Region 13, n.d. The teacher toolkit, exit ticket. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Immigration Museum, Museums Victoria, n.d. Graphic storytelling. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2018. Teaching and learning cycle lesson: level 5 and 6, The Island, Literacy Teaching Toolkit. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2018. Visual metalanguage for comprehending and composing visual meaning, Literacy Teaching Toolkit. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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