The Bone Sparrow: A Novel Study

2. Examining How Language Creates Character

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To analyse the techniques authors use to position readers
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of language forms and features

Sample Success Criteria

  • I understand how language can be used to influence the emotions and opinions of a reader
  • I can identify the ways in which language is used to create character
  • Teacher and student copies of ‘The Bone Sparrow’
  • Excerpts from ‘The Bone Sparrow’
  • Optional supporting materials. For example, a grammar table; visual texts
  • ‘The Mediterranean’ by Armin Greder, ‘The Boy In Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne (optional)
  • Mobile phone exit ticket template: pptx PDF (optional)

Select a chapter from ‘The Bone Sparrow’ that introduces a character in the book or is rich in information about a character’s personality, behaviour, or beliefs. For example, Chapter 13 of the text features Subhi speaking at length with an older detainee in the camp, conversing with his mother and interacting with one of the officers or ‘jackets’ in the camp.

Invite your students to sit in a circle or find a comfortable reading space before reading aloud. The Literacy Teaching Toolkit has some suggestions about how to make modelled reading a rich and engaging experience.

When you have finished reading the chapter, ask pairs of students to identify the character/s that have been introduced and to select one character for further analysis.


Extend students by encouraging them to focus on multiple characters for analysis.

1. Modelled analysis/independent analysis

The focus in this section is on the grammatical components of a selected character's speech in 'The Bone Sparrow' to examine the use of linguistic devices. Care should be taken not to imply that the language used by these characters is inferior to that of those whose first language is English. 

Once students have chosen a character for analysis, ensure they have access to the chapter you have read together.

Before students proceed with an independent character analysis, choose a character from the book that has not been discussed in the chapter you have read together. Work with your class to model an analysis, focusing on overall impressions of the character and the language used to create them. You could use a video of a close reading of ‘The Bone Sparrow’ to support students’ understanding of how vocabulary is used for effect.

Possible prompts:

  • What actions does the character take that might tell us something about their personality?
  • What does the character say and what do we learn about them as a result?
  • Does Subhi tell us anything about the character that gives us some insight into their personality?
  • How does the character behave and what might that tell us about them?
  • Is there anything the character doesn’t say that might tell you something about them?
  • What key words, phrases and sentences best describe the character?
  • Which adjectives were used to describe the character?

Use of language:

  • Is there anything interesting about the speech pattern of your character?
  • What might a character’s way of speaking tell us about them?
  • How does the author create the impression that Maá’s first language is not English? Why might she do this?

Focus students’ attention on the grammatical components of Subhi’s mum’s speech to draw out the way in which authors explicitly use language to create character.


Enable students to engage with this activity by refreshing understanding of the relevant grammatical concepts, or by inviting students to begin by describing their character and drawing an accompanying image. Explicitly teach vocabulary prior to beginning this stage to support learners. 

Extend students by providing them with a blank grammar table for completion.

For example:


Pairs of students can then undertake an analysis of their chosen character, using a selection of the prompts provided, questions of your own design, or categories decided upon by the class. You may wish to provide students with a template or a table to support their analysis.

2. Examining language techniques

Provide students with a variety of excerpts that illustrate the particular way that Zana Fraillon has crafted aspects of Subhi’s language or ask students to collaborate to identify and collate incidences in the book when Subhi’s language is grammatically unusual.

Once the excerpts have been prepared, draw the reader’s attention to the way in which Subhi’s use of language helps to emphasise strong emotions, and to provide insight into Subhi’s personality, thoughts, and feelings.

For example:

‘There is a fierce inside me, holding on to that ache. Holding it there forever.’ p212

Support students to draw out Fraillon’s use of an adjective rather than a noun in this sentence and discuss the impact of the author’s choice in terms of how it might affect the reader’s emotional response to Subhi, or how it could contribute to the reader’s impression of the character.

Once several examples have been analysed ensure that students are confident that:

  • they understand the linguistic strategies Fraillon has used
  • they have thought about the possible intent of the author
  • they have considered the possible effect of language on the reader.

3. Experimenting with language features

Ask students to adopt the grammatical conventions identified during this activity in order to experiment with communicating strong emotions. The list of suggested activities below provides scope to both extend and enable students as required. You might like to allow time at the end of the class for students to share their work, or to hold a gallery walk.

Suggested activities:

  • Provide an excerpt from an alternative text, for example, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, and ask students to adopt the grammatical conventions Fraillon uses to rewrite a scene from the book.
  • Provide a visual image, for example, a scene from ‘The Mediterranean’ by Armin Greder, and ask students to identify the emotions of the characters or scenes and to ‘translate’ them into Fraillon’s grammatical style.
  • Draw and caption a cartoon sequence imagining Subhi’s interview with Sarah.
  • Script a conversation that may take place via text or messaging in which Subhi describes Beaver to Jimmie.
  • Using the grammatical style Fraillon uses for Subhi, write a short creative piece about the Night Sea, explaining what the sea might mean to Subhi and how it makes him feel.
  • Create an illustration or visual image, using a text like ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna as inspiration, and adopt Fraillon’s grammatical conventions to articulate the feelings the image is intended to invoke.

Revisit the key concepts explored throughout the lesson and collect writing tasks for feedback and assessment. 

Ask each student to write a 280-character summary SMS-style on an exit ticket as they leave the class. Provide questions or prompts to scaffold students’ text messages. An optional exit ticket template is available in the Materials and texts section.

Possible questions:

  • What did you learn about how language can be used to create our impression of characters?
  • How did the language that Fraillon used influence my understanding of Subhi or another character in The Bone Sparrow?
  • Was there anything in today’s class that confused me or made me curious?

Education Service Center Region 13, n.d. The Teacher Toolkit, Exit Ticket. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Education Service Center Region 13, n.d. The Teacher Toolkit, Gallery Walk. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Fraillon, Z., 2016. The Bone Sparrow. Sydney: Hachette Australia.

Hachette Australia, 2016. 5 Minutes with ... Zana Fraillon. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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

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