The Bone Sparrow: A Novel Study

3. Understanding and Critiquing Issues in Texts

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To use comprehension strategies to comprehend and critique ideas and issues in a variety of texts

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can scan a text to find key pieces of information
  • I can identify the key issues in a text
  • I can interpret the abstract content in a text
  • Student copies or class set of ‘The Bone Sparrow’
  • The Bone Sparrow 'Themes' page: docx PDF
  • Missy Higgins ‘Oh Canada’ film clip (or similar) and lyrics
  • Access to FUSE (optional) (sign in using your Department credentials) 
  • 50 word summary sheet: docx PDF
  • Herringbone diagram: pptx PDF
  • Cross Classification chart: pptx PDF
  • Additional support material including newspaper articles; political cartoons; graphic novels; short films; picture books.

Introduce a musical text like Missy Higgins’ ‘Oh Canada’, and its accompanying film clip, which works to support the themes of the song. You could also choose an alternative text that addresses similar themes, such as Crowded House’s ‘Help is coming’ or Coldplay’s ‘Alien’.

After viewing, facilitate a discussion about the song, using the lyrics and the visuals from the film clip as a provocation, or invite students to engage in a ‘think, pair, share’ activity.

Suggested prompts:

  • What connections can you make between the text and yourself after watching this clip?
  • What connections can you make between the text and the broader world after watching this clip?
  • Does this material connect to any other texts you have read or viewed on the same topic?
  • Invite students to reflect on the connection between the material you have used and ‘The Bone Sparrow’.
  • Could you watch this video with the sound off and still get a sense of the issue it is addressing? How and why?

Invite students to share their thoughts with the class. 

1. Collaborative Learning: Jigsaw

Ask students to form small groups of 3 or 4 or use a sorting activity or online collaboration tool to randomly assign students to a group. Introduce the concept of a jigsaw activity and explain to students that each small group will be allocated an excerpt of ‘The Bone Sparrow’. They will summarise the allocated text with the purpose of becoming ‘experts’ on the key plot points, ideas and events it contains.

Provide students with a tool such as a cross-classification chart to assist them to summarise the text. Focus on the practice of scanning with your students in order to support their capacity to determine key information.

Once each group has summarised the key events in their excerpt, ask them to continue to work together to create a 50 Word Summary of their chapter/s (a template is available in the Materials and texts section). Explain to students that they should summarise the key events from the chapter in one or two sentences and enter one word into each box. They should aim to use exactly 50 words, no more or less. 

Explain to students that they will now share their 50-word summary individually with another small group or remain in their groups and share their collective summary with the class.

Invite students to discuss what was included in each group’s 50 words, what was left out and why, and to ask clarifying questions about the content of each summary. Encourage the class to consider whether the combined summaries adequately reflect the narrative of the text. If so, why is the summary effective? If not, why is it ineffective?

Students may wish to consider whether each group’s summary identifies the main idea or topic in their text, identifies other important arguments or information in the text and condenses ideas without losing key information.

Once the ‘jigsaw’ of information has been pieced together to create an oral timeline of the narrative, facilitate a discussion with the class about the major concepts, issues or themes that have emerged from the text. You may wish to create a Herringbone chart on the board to record possible themes and supporting evidence.

Prompts include:

  • What are the big ideas explored in ‘The Bone Sparrow’?
  • Could any of those big ideas be understood as themes? How could you explain what a theme is?
  • How do we know that an idea or an issue raised in a text is a theme?
  • What evidence is there in the text to support the themes you have identified?
  • What do you think are the three key themes of the text?

Big ideas often emanate from philosophy, knowledge of the human condition or matters of local and global concern. Big ideas may become themes when they recur throughout a text. (EdPartnerships International, 2018, p3).

Enable students by providing the option of creating a dot point summary of the text, and/or group students strategically to encourage collaborative support.

2. Collaborative learning/analysis, synthesis and critique

Introduce a variety of additional texts that relate to and extend upon the key themes of ‘The Bone Sparrow’, ensuring that a range of viewpoints are represented and explored and that the context of your class is considered.

You could use newspaper articles from a variety of different publications, political cartoons, graphic novels or serialised comics such as ‘A Perilous Journey’ by Benjamin Dix and Lindsay Pollock, excerpts from books such as ‘Home’ by Ben Quilty or films about refugees recommended by the Refugee Council of Australia. A broad selection of resources on the topic of asylum seekers, refugees and human rights can be found on FUSE. The National Museum of Australia is also a rich source of material.

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.

Allocate a text to individuals or to small groups and ask students to identify the main ideas in their text. Provide question prompts to assist students with their thinking:

Example question prompts:

  • Does your text have a title? Is the title literal or figurative?
  • What is the focus or topic of your text?
  • What is the central idea communicated by your text?
  • What ideas do you think the author might be trying to communicate?

Enable students who require further support with their comprehension to access the text by providing a graphic organiser such as a four-column chart and by assigning texts that are targeted to the student's point of need. Encourage students to focus on the literal rather than symbolic elements of their text.

Extend students by inviting them to compare two texts that utilise different modes, for example a newspaper and a graphic novel.

Once texts have been read, guide your students in an activity that will enable them to think critically about the content of their material. Ask students to create a Venn diagram in which they consider the perspective of the author, their own position on the issue explored and the power dynamics at play in the texts. The diagram will support students to unpack:

  • the perspective of the author who has created the text
  • students’ own opinions or position on the text
  • the power dynamics of the text: whose voice or perspective is represented and whose is not?

Facilitate a class discussion in which students share their Venn diagrams, focusing on the evidence they have used to support their point of view.

Ask your students to produce a sketch reflection before they exit the class. The purpose of the sketch is to create a reflective drawing that represents a student’s key learnings. Encourage students who are not artistically confident to write a short description or list of words under the sketch to describe what they have drawn.

Amnesty International, 2016. 7 free short films about refugees recommended by human rights educators. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Class Dojo Inc, n.d. Bringing every family into your classroom. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Creately, 2021. 13 Brainstorming Techniques to Visually Generate Ideas for Teams. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Government of Western Australia Education Department, 2013. First Steps Literacy. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Higgins, M., 2019. Oh Canada Lyrics, Missy Higgins. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Higgins, M., 2019. Oh Canada, Missy Higgins. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

International Literacy Association, n.d. ReadWriteThink, Venn Diagram. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

National Geographic, 2015. Four-Column Chart. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

National Geographic, 2015. Venn Diagram. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

National Museum Australia, 2001. Collection Explorer. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Pollock, L. & Toubaji, W., 2015. A Perilous Journey, Positive Negatives, SOAS University of London and Peace Research Institute Oslo. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Literacy Teaching Toolkit, Think/pair/share. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), n.d. Asylum seekers in the 1990s and 2000s. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Tacaíochta, S. & Darale, I., 2008. Using graphic organisers in teaching and learning, Cross classification chart, Second Level Support Service. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Visme, 2019. 15 Graphic Organizers and How They Help Visualize Ideas. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Back to Stages