The Bone Sparrow: A Novel Study

5. Creating Literary Texts: Pantoums

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To create literary texts that adapt the stylistic features encountered in ‘The Bone Sparrow’

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can experiment with text by adapting it into a different literary form
  • I can develop an imaginative text around a theme or social issue

Invite your class to read a line or a stanza from a poem that relates to the themes of ‘The Bone Sparrow’. For example, an excerpt from ‘The New Colossus’, by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Ask students to identify the words in the poem that ‘jump out’ at them, and circle or write those words on the board. Draw attention to the way the poet has used adjectives (tired; poor; wretched; free; teeming, huddled), nouns (shore, refuse) and the determiner ‘your’ to create meaning for her audience.

Prompting questions to guide discussion:

  • How would the impact of the poem change if alternative words were used? For example, what would be the effect of exchanging the word ‘sleepy’ for ‘tired’ or the word ‘sad’ for ‘wretched’? 
  • Why does the poet use the word ‘your’? How might the poem change if this word was altered?
  • What do students think the poem might be about?

Questions specifically related to ‘The New Colossus’:

  • Are students familiar with the Statue of Liberty? What might the connection be between the poem and the statue?
  • Does the context of the poem influence its meanings and interpretation? For example, country of origin, historical background. How might it be relevant in an Australian context?

Ask students to ‘shrink’ their initial sense of what the poem might be about into a single word. Encourage students to choose a word that is not already present in the poem and invite them to share their word with the class.

Allow time for a brainstorm to enable students who require further support to crystallise their thinking. Offer entry points into the text by focusing on the final line of the poem, clarifying vocabulary as required.

1. Explicit teaching: pantoums

Introduce students to the poetic form of the pantoum. Project a pantoum on to the board or provide each student with a digital or hard copy of the work. A variety of pantoums on a range of topics, such as Randall Mann’s ‘Politics’ or Donald Justice's ‘Pantoum of the Great Depression’ can be found on the Poetry Foundation Website, as well as Kahlo’s Moustache by Australian poet Chloe Wilson.

Lead a discussion in which the components of the pantoum you have selected are made explicit. Ensure that students understand that:

  • a pantoum is a poem of any length but is composed of four-line stanzas
  • the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza
  • the last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first

Sample five-stanza pantoum structure:

Exits and interchanges

First Stanza

Line 1

It rumbled past at speed

Line 2

A glossy, indifferent beast.

Line 3

Steely and slick.

Line 4

An elongated cannonball of tanker

Second Stanza

Line 5 (repeat of line 2)

A glossy, indifferent beast,

Line 6

surging past the bottle green placard.

Line 7 (repeat of line 4)

An elongated cannonball of tanker

Line 8

en route to ‘Grieve Parade’.

Third stanza:

Line 2 of previous stanza

Surging past the bottle green placard.

Line 9

Oblivious to your breathing.

Line 4 of previous stanza

En route to ‘Grieve Parade’,

Line 10

your plump hand clenching tawny fur.

Fourth stanza:

Line 2 of previous stanza

Oblivious to your breathing.

Line 11

Snuffing out tomorrows.

Line 4 of previous stanza

Your plump hand clenching tawny fur,

Line 12

already as haunting as any nursery ghoul.

Final stanza:

Line 2 of previous stanza

Snuffing out tomorrows:

Line 3

steely and slick.

Line 4 of previous stanza

Already as haunting as any nursery ghoul,

Line 1

it rumbled past at speed.

After examining the structure of your first example, provide students with a new pantoum with each line of the poem cut into strips. Ask students to map the lines of the poem against the pantoum structure.

It will be possible for students to construct either a replica or a variation of the original poem using the pantoum structure, depending on which line they use to begin their first stanza.

Enable students who require further support to identify the different components of a pantoum by facilitating small group work and providing guided one-on-one support. Suggest that students begin their mapping by locating lines that are duplicated and placing them in position first.

2. Collaborative learning/experimenting with language features

Lead a discussion with students in which you explore or recap the themes evident in ‘The Bone Sparrow’, recording class responses on the board.

Guide students in a ‘doughnut sharing circle’ with the aim of providing students with a timed opportunity to generate ideas and words that can be used to inform the creation of a pantoum. Use one or two key questions or statements to assist the targeted generation of ideas. Possible prompts:

  • What would you take with you if you had to flee your home tomorrow?
  • How do you think it would feel to lose your freedom?
  • Why are family stories and family possessions so important?
  • What might personal strength look or feel like?
  • What thoughts come to mind when you hear the word ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’?
  • What are human rights?

Provide students with a pantoum template (available in the Materials and texts section above) or use an online poetry generator that lays out the pantoum structure. Provide students with a variety of sentence starters from ‘The Bone Sparrow’ that could be used as the first or second line of a pantoum. For example:

‘There is no noise, as if the house is holding its breath too.’ p19

For a range of further sentence starters refer to the Materials and texts section of this stage.

Invite students to select a sentence and ask them to brainstorm how it could form the basis of a poem about one of the themes of ‘The Bone Sparrow’. For example:

Line: ‘Maybe her eyes are shut so she doesn’t have to see anything anymore.’ p138             

Theme: Resilience

To help students get started and to draft their work you could invite them to:

  • Use a word mapping strategy. Place key words or themes in the middle of a page and create branches that link to synonyms, related ideas, personal connections, or related topics.
  • Create a ‘shades of meaning’ chart using an online thesaurus. For example, ‘shades’ of the word sad might include unhappy/gloomy/sorrowful/forlorn/desolate.
  • Write full sentences describing how their line from ‘The Bone Sparrow’ evokes emotion or relates to the chosen theme, and circle words or lines that could be incorporated into a poem.
  • Listen to a reading of ‘The Boy Who Loved Words’ by Roni Schotter to spark creative thinking about descriptive language.

Extend students by inviting them to expand upon the three-stanza structure by repeating the pattern of a pantoum in additional stanzas, or by asking them to write their pantoum from the point of view of a character from the text.

Offer students the opportunity to read the first drafts of their pantoum to the class and invite the group to provide constructive feedback on poetic structure and effective use of language.

Collect students' pantoums in order to provide teacher feedback and to offer students further opportunities for editing. Allow students time to refine their ideas before submitting the final drafts of their poems for assessment.

Jans, J., n.d. Pantoum Generator. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Lazarus, E., 2002. The New Colossus, The Poetry Foundation. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Mindlovemisery's Menagerie, n.d. Riverside. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Schotter, R., 2006. The Boy Who Loved Words. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2018. Doughnut Sharing, Literacy Teaching Toolkit. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

The Poetry Foundation, 2019. Glossary of poetic terms. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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