Through Whose Eyes? Aboriginal and European Perspectives in Literature

7. Personal Inquiry: Researching and Writing a Historical Narrative

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To research a historical period
  • To write a realistic historical narrative

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can interpret events in texts and identify different perspectives
  • I can write in a style to suit my purpose
  • French, J., 2015, Birrung: The Secret Friend, Harper Collins, 2015
  • Examples of texts dealing with historical content, e.g. narratives, information texts, diaries, paintings, narrative and documentary film.

It is strongly recommended that teachers review all suggested stimulus texts prior to their use to ensure their 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.

Brainstorm a list of possible themes or ideas that could be explored in a historical narrative, exploring early Australian history and the perspectives of the early European colonists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Ask, “What might you need to know about a period or event in history in order to write an account that is true to that time?”  For example, transportation, food, clothing, vocabulary or slang, significant people or events or details of daily life.

Discuss possible sources for this information, for example, paintings, historical artefacts held in museums, diaries and journals, historical narratives, fictional film and documentaries.

Revise and discuss the purpose and common features of historical narratives and primary sources.

Co-create an anchor chart with the students, listing the key structural and language features and provide an example of each feature. Provide time for students to read and collect further examples of historical narrative features.

These examples could be taken from the texts that have been examined throughout the unit, or from additional reading for their investigations.

Explain that students will be researching and writing a historical narrative. You may want to encourage students to write in third person to enable an exploration of various perspectives.

Discuss the various forms that their writing could take and the methods students could use to research and present their work.

Use a modelled or shared writing strategy to write and annotate a historical narrative.

Provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively on writing tasks experimenting with historical narrative structures. For example:

  • Use a well-crafted line from a historical text to launch a writing task exploring the narrator’s perspective, e.g. “The white ghosts chopped down trees.” (Chapter 1 of Nanberry)
  • Use the structure of a sentence to develop their own sentences. Select a sentence that provides historical context, e.g. “Maria peered into the black pot on the kitchen fire. It held wild duck the Surgeon had shot last dusk, and potatoes from the garden, stewed with turnips and parsnips.” Replace the key verbs and nouns in the sentence to describe meal time from another perspective.
  • Use an image of a historical person or setting to write a descriptive passage.

Support students to read a variety of text types, ask questions, undertake research and create a historical narrative in the style of the texts studied. For example, Jackie French's The Secret History Series, published by Harper Collins, is a rich series of historical narratives that would support reluctant readers or students who have difficulty reading complex texts. Birrung: The Secret Friend, is particularly relevant to early colonial history. 

Provide individualised support and feedback to students while they are researching and drafting their narrative.

Explicitly teach skills as required. For example, targeted mini-lessons may address:

  • Reading: 'Nanberry' is a rich text and could be the focus of independent, guided, reciprocal and close reading sessions. Students could also engage in close, reciprocal or guided reading sessions examining other historical narratives from the early colonial period.
  • Research skills: Reading for purpose, finding relevant information and summarising
  • Sentence formation: opening phrases, complex sentences with subordinate clauses.
  • Language choices: using descriptive language to describe detail.
  • Genre features: examining the style and language features of the primary sources and supporting students to use these features in their own writing.

Enable students with their research and writing by regularly modelling effective reading and writing strategies. For example, read and summarise texts with students, model planning, drafting and editing short passages in a text, use student work to discuss editing and revising. Alternatively, encourage students to select one or two writing goals to focus on, for example to use past tense correctly.

Extend students by providing examples of language features to add detail and creative flair to their writing, such as evocative vocabulary, simile and metaphor.

Invite students to research individuals from the period who feature in Nanberry, for example, Watkin Tench, Nanberry, Wollarawarre Benelong, Surgeon White, Rachel Turner and Captain Phillip. Provide questions that encourage students to deeply examine, compare and analyse the perspectives presented in primary sources and historical narratives.

Co-construct an assessment rubric with your students. Discuss the research, reading and writing skills required in the task.

Allow regular opportunities for students to share their work and receive feedback from their peers and teacher during the revising and editing stage of writing.

Identify the particular skills that you would like to target in the assessment rubric. For example, sentence structure, correct use of tense, use of historically accurate vocabulary, use of historically relevant settings, events or characters, the application of writing techniques use by authors.

Use the student writing as a summative and/or formative assessment task.

Alberta Education, 2003. Placemat Activity. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

French, J., 2015. Birrung: The Secret Friend. s.l.:Harper Collins.

French, J., 2015. The Secret History Series. s.l.:Harper Collins.

Primary English Teaching Association Australia, 2012. ‘Nanberry: Black Brother White’, Exploring the 2012 Short Listed Young Readers. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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