47 Degrees is based on author Justin D’Ath’s experiences during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.
Before you begin this unit, check in with any students who may have experienced a bush or house fire. You may need to adjust some of the activities based on their needs. You can also consult the following resources to support students with fire trauma:
- Headspace – Mental health support for Australian students, teachers and schools following large scale incidents
- Headspace – How to cope with the stress of natural disasters
- Emerging Minds – Educators resource pack: supporting children after bushfires
- Beyond Blue – Natural disasters and your mental health
- Cool Australia – Handling sensitive topics and issues
Additionally, the Australian Psychological Society recommends a four-step process for managing children’s fears and anxiety around bushfires:
Consider sharing this process with your class and acknowledge that students may experience a range of emotions while reading the novel.
Activity 1: pre-reading
Show students the front cover of 47 Degrees and read the blurb aloud. Together read through the Black Saturday bushfires page on the National Museum of Australia website. Then have students record anything they know about Black Saturday, plus anything they would like to know, in the first two columns of a KWL chart (PDF, 72KB). Invite students to share their ideas with the rest of the class. You could collect this information and add it to a classroom display for future reference; the Ws in particular will guide students’ learning throughout the unit.
Place students in table groups to discuss what they have learnt about Black Saturday. They can record any new questions they may have thought of in the W column of their charts. You should refer regularly to these charts throughout the unit and encourage students to add new information and questions as they arise.
Activity 2: setting the scene
This activity will build students’ understanding of the themes in 47 Degrees while reinforcing the importance of visualising. Visualising helps students to understand what they are reading and can also help them connect to the text.
Show students the map at the front of the book (they can refer to their own copies, if they have them). Explain that the novel is set in Flowerdale (1). Using their understanding of maps, students are to brainstorm what the surrounding terrain might be like. Ask them to consider what the different shades of grey might represent, as well as the different coloured lines.
After brainstorming, locate and explore Flowerdale as it appears on Google Maps. Draw students’ attention to King Parrot Creek, which Zeelie mentions on p. 6. Also identify Silver Creek Road, which is mentioned on p. 215.
Give students time to explore the area in pairs. They should note:
- the number of roads (entries into and exits out of town)
- the mountains
- the creeks and water sources
- the location of houses
- the distance between properties
Initiate circle time and invite students to share their findings. You can guide the discussion by asking the following questions:
- How does the number of roads affect people if there is a bushfire coming?
- What sort of vegetation would we find in the mountains?
- What sort of natural water sources are there?
- How would the season (summer/winter) affect the water source?
- What did you notice about the land around King Parrot Creek?
Once students have an understanding of the story’s physical location, read them the description of the valley through Zeelie’s front window (p. 3, para. 1, lines 4–6). Ask them to close their eyes and imagine the scene. Then ask them to sketch (PDF, 77KB) what they saw in their heads. Provide coloured pencils so that students can clearly represent their mental images. Remind them that this is not about their artistic ability, but rather what they are visualising.
Now read aloud from p. 39, when Zeelie describes the sky (para. 3, lines 2–4). Ask students to close their eyes and imagine the scene once more. Get them to sketch this new scene, incorporating any of the colours they saw in their mind’s eye.
Ask students to compare their scenes side-by-side. How might they feel if they saw each one in real life? Invite them to write some words around the outside of each image.
Finally, share with students the two options for responding to a bushfire: ‘leave early’ or ‘stay and defend’. What do they think the family in the novel has decided to do? They can add more words to their sketches to describe how they would feel about leaving early or staying and defending.
Activity 3: bushfire survival plan
This activity focuses on the complex problems people face during a bushfire. Impress upon students that having a bushfire survival plan and ensuring that all family members are on the same page is of utmost importance. MyFirePlan presents the two aforementioned options:
- Leave early (the safest choice)
- Stay and defend (only if well prepared)
Ask students to explore the website. Give each student a PCQ chart (PDF, 71KB) so they can brainstorm why people might choose to leave or stay.
Now, using the ‘give one, get one’ strategy, students are to walk around the room and share their ideas about bushfire plans. They will seek out a partner, ‘give’ that student one of their ideas, and ‘get’ one in return. Repeat this process so that students can exchange ideas with multiple people.
Depending on your context, you might encourage students to look at your school’s bushfire plan, or invite teachers or leadership team members to talk to the class about what is involved.
Conduct another circle time discussion so students can share their final pros, cons and questions about bushfire plans. It is important to highlight that there is no ‘correct’ answer about what to do. Students may add to their KWL charts from Activity 1.
Activity 4: vocabulary
This activity encourages students to develop their vocabulary. Considering the words used to describe a topic, and understanding what types of words they are, can help students develop their own writing.
Break the class into small groups of three or four. Give each group one of the following topics:
- the hottest day you’ve ever experienced
On post it notes (or small pieces of paper), students will individually record words that relate to their topic. Once they have exhausted their ideas, they will assemble in their small groups to collate their responses, grouping similar ideas.
Students will then walk around the classroom and look at what each group has done. Similar to the ‘give one, get one’ strategy, they can return to their own group and add to or edit their responses.
Once students have finished grouping similar words together, ask them to consider what types of words have been included. Using different colours, they are to highlight:
Students should identify which of these appear most often, and whether this differs across groupings. For example, they may have created a ‘temperature’ group for words like ‘blazing’, ‘hot’, ‘sweltering’ and ‘fierce’, which are all adjectives.
Using their final collection of words, students are to write some descriptive sentences. They can use their original assigned topic as inspiration, or they might take inspiration from the words themselves. Depending on the work you have done previously, you can allow students to choose what they want to write OR give them some parameters (e.g. a descriptive paragraph or orientation for a narrative). You can also refer to the excerpts from Activity 2 for further inspiration.
Activity 5: First Nations fire management
As a class, watch ABC Australia’s video about cultural burning in Tathra (NSW). Follow this up by reading about the differences between hazard reduction burning and Cultural Fire practices. Using a semantic web, students are to collate what they have learnt about First Nations fire management. They can utilise the ‘give one, get one’ strategy to help build their web.
The following resources may be useful for students who wish to explore this topic further:
- Australian Museum – Fire management on Country
- Cool Australia:
- How do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people use fire to manage country?
- NOTE: Cool Australia also offers a Cool Burning unit for secondary students
- Landcare Australia:
- Fire and Water, Healing Country and People
- Cultural Land Management Panel – Victor Steffensen
- NOTE: Landcare Australia also offers cultural land management resources
- The Nature Conservancy – Bringing Indigenous fire back to Northern Australia
- Watarrka Foundation – Aboriginal fire management: what is cool burning?
- The Conversation:
Initiate a whole class discussion so students can share what they have learnt. Prompting questions might include:
- How can fire be used positively?
- What are the requirements for a successful cool burn?
- How can cool burns help improve the land?
- What environmental factors need to be considered for a cool burn?
- How can fire help regenerate nature?
- How can we learn from our past to protect our future?
Use sticky notes to record any questions students would like to investigate further. They can continue to research these after the discussion, adding more of their learnings to their KWL charts.
Ask the class if they have any more unanswered questions. Record these so you can refer to the them throughout the unit and continue to update students’ KWL charts.
The activities in this section are based on Maureen McLaughlin and Glenn L. DeVoogd’s patterned partner reading strategy (PDF, 111KB). The basic premise involves pairing up students of a similar reading pace to complete activities at various stopping points. You can read more about the patterned partner reading strategy in Critical Literacy: Enhancing Students’ Comprehension of Text.
Activity 6: Part One (Stay and Defend)
Read Chapter 1 aloud to the class. Ask students to consider the questions in the Chapter 1 retrieval chart (PDF, 75KB) and brainstorm their responses individually before sharing in pairs. Make sure you model how to discuss and share with a partner; this will help demonstrate your expectations for students as they work their way through the novel.
Direct the class to continue reading Part One. You can encourage students to set their own stopping points, but you can also suggest the following:
|End of Chapter 2||Read – Pause – Discuss|
|End of Chapter 4||Read – Pause – Analyse|
|End of Chapter 6||Read – Pause – Make Connections|
|End of Chapter 8 (and Part One)||Read – Pause – Retell|
Students can then complete a reading reflection (PDF, 74KB) to record their discussions. An example has been provided below.
|Stopping point (part, chapter, page)||Activity||Reflection|
|Read – Pause – Discuss||My questions:
My partner’s answers:
My partner’s questions:
Activity 7: Zeelie and Dad
This activity enables students to dig deeper into the novel’s main characters, but it also highlights how little information we have about Zeelie’s father. Students may be feeling more connected to Zeelie at this point in their reading, so it is important that they consider how and why Dad is reacting the way he is.
When everyone has finished Part One, split the class into two equal groups. Assign one group to focus on Zeelie and the other to focus on Dad. Students will first respond as individuals by filling out a character retrieval chart (PDF, 103KB). They should refer to the book as they develop their notes, adding key quotes and evidence along the way. This will assist you in gauging their understanding of the characters so far.
Once students have had some time to fill in their charts, encourage them to discuss their work in pairs or small groups and record any new ideas that come up. Not only will this support students to increase their own knowledge, it will also ensure that everyone has something to contribute to the next whole class discussion.
Ask everyone who was assigned to Zeelie to sit in a circle. The remaining students should sit around them, forming an inner and outer ring. Similarly to a Socratic dialogue, begin by asking the inner circle of students a question (see below). From here you should encourage them to answer your initial question, then follow it up with one of their own.
NOTE: This activity will be more successful if students already have some experience with class discussions. Talking and sharing is a skill that needs to be practised; it is imperative that you encourage students to run the circle themselves while continuing to observe.
Suggested questions for prompting the discussion include:
- Why do you think Zeelie tells Mr Holmes that she and Dad intend to stay and defend (p. 30)?
- Why do you think Zeelie feels uncomfortable when Dad calls her ‘sweetie?’
- What words did you use to describe Zeelie? Why did you choose those words?
- Do you think being a similar age to Zeelie makes it easier to identify with her than Dad?
- Why do you think the author chose to tell this story in Zeelie’s voice? How does this affect what you are reading?
When the discussion in the inner circle dies down, ask the students in the outer ring if there are any questions or statements they feel the group has missed.
Once everyone has had their say, swap the inner and outer circles so that the students who were assigned to Dad get to sit in the middle. Repeat the entire activity with these students, inviting the outer circle to contribute when the inner circle runs out of steam.
Possible questions for the second group of students include:
- Why do you think Dad wants to stay and defend?
- Why mightn’t Dad be explaining things to Zeelie?
- What words did you use to describe Dad? Why did you choose those words?
- Why do you think the author chose NOT to tell this story in Dad’s voice? How does this affect what you are reading?
- Do you think Dad is portrayed fairly?
- What could the author have done differently to give Dad a voice?
Once the discussion has concluded, invite students to revisit their notes, adding anything they may have missed or changed their minds about (they can also complete the last section of their character retrieval charts). These notes may assist students in their final Rich Assessment Tasks (Informed Reaction).
Activity 8: Part Two (Refugees)
Ask students to consider why D’Ath has titled Part Two ‘Refugees’. Read some definitions of this word to the class:
Now place students in groups of four and distribute some placemats (PDF, 72KB). Each student will record their ideas about Part Two in their own section of the placemat. Ask them to consider:
- the definition of a ‘refugee’
- what happened in Part One
- how the characters are feeling at this point in the story
- what might happen in Part Two
Students can share their answers within their groups, then revisit their reading reflections to summarise the discussion and predict what might happen next. They can then continue utilising the patterned partner reading strategy as they progress through Part Two.
|Before starting Part Two||Read – Pause – Predict|
|End of Chapter 10||Read – Pause – Bookmark|
|End of Chapter 12||Read – Pause – Analyse|
|End of Chapter 16 (and Part Two)||Read – Pause – Discuss|
The following points of interest may help you to guide and encourage discussion among students.
|End of Chapter 10||
|End of Chapter 12||
|End of Chapter 16 (and Part Two)||
Activity 9: Zeelie and Dad as refugees
Students are to revisit, refine and add to their predictions from Activity 8. What did they predict correctly? What is yet to happen?
Place students in pairs or small groups to respond to one of two postcard problems:
- Why do you think Zeelie’s dad seems reluctant and embarrassed to accept free food and drink? What does this tell you about him?
- Consider how Zeelie’s dad describes refugees at the top of p. 118. Explore this quote and how Dad might be feeling.
Each pair or group will compose an answer to their initial problem. They should consider the definitions of ‘refugee’, as well as Dad’s character. The ‘postcard’ will then be sent to at least two more pairs or groups, who will record their own answers. The alternative answers could add to or expand on the initial answer, or give a completely different point of view. Each pair or group should, at some point, respond to both problems.
Encourage students to scan the text to build their response. Useful page references include:
- Zeelie’s reflection on how so many people have become refugees (p. 118)
- when the man from the bakery offers Zeelie and her dad free food and drinks (pp. 121–124)
- Zeelie and Dad’s exchange about whether they are or are not refugees (p. 124)
- Zeelie’s reflection on the term ‘displaced’ (pp. 134–135)
- Dad’s hesitation to accept free dog food (p. 142)
Activity 10: Part Three (Koru)
Before reading Part Three, ask students where they may have seen the word ‘koru’ previously. Refer to pp. 7 and 147 where Zeelie talks about her koru. Ask students to predict what they think koru means and why the author has use it as the title for Part 3. They can record their ideas in their reading reflections, then continue utilising the patterned partner reading strategy to progress through Part Three.
|Before starting Part Three||Read – Pause – Predict|
|End of Chapter 18||Read – Pause – Sketch|
|End of Chapter 19||Read – Pause – Analyse|
Students can read Chapters 20 and 21 without stopping.
The following points of interest may help you to guide and encourage discussion among students.
|End of Chapter 18||Students can sketch the campsite with rows and rows of tents|
|End of Chapter 19||Consider how Mum and Lachy’s arrival impacts Zeelie and Dad|
At the end of the novel, bring the class together to reflect on 47 Degrees as a whole. This is an opportunity for students to share what they did and did not like; what they wish had been explored further; and how the novel made them feel generally. They should refer to the notes in their reading reflections to support this discussion.
Activity 11: hope and resilience
Read Hope by Delaney Perrin, the winning Year 7/8 entry in the 2022 LitLinks creative writing competition. Use the final three lines from the story to generate a class discussion on what hope means and how it connects to the novel.
As part of this discussion, share some images of renewal after bushfires:
- Ongoing recovery after the fires by Joe Castro (from ‘“Renewal from the ashes”: Ten years on from Black Saturday’)
- Eucalypt regrowth after Black Saturday bushfires (1) by Robert Kerton (from ‘Black Saturday: the hidden costs’)
- Eucalypt regrowth after Black Saturday bushfires (2) by Robert Kerton (from ‘Fire adaptive traits of Eucalpyts’)
- Regrowth at Steels Creek by Tom Griffiths (from ‘The disturbing logic of “Stay or Go”’)
- ‘Cooper and Merlot’ by Stella Reid (from Museums Victoria Collections)
- ‘Alice at Wildhaven’ by Stella Reid (from Museums Victoria Collections)
- Cooper and Merlot on a Wildhaven Trust gift card (from Museums Victoria Collections)
Ask students to consider how the images represent hope, and how fire can sometimes be seen as a means of renewal.
Following this general discussion, ask students to consider the theme of hope in 47 Degrees. Draw their attention to Zeelie’s koru on pp. 230–231. This is one symbol of hope in the novel, but there are others, like the goldfish in the Bialettis’ fishpond (p. 219). Get students to scan the text for other symbols of hope and record them in the accompanying worksheet (PDF, 74KB). You can refer to the supporting document (PDF, 111KB) for assistance with scaffolding this task.
Students will then form two concentric circles for an inside/outside circles discussion. You will provide directions such as:
|Inner circle||Share one thing you learnt about hope (one minute).|
|Outer circle||Move two people to the left.|
|Outer circle||Share one thing you learnt about hope (one minute).|
|Inner circle||Why is the theme of hope significant at the end of the novel (one minute)?|
|Outer circle||Move three people to the left.|
|Outer circle||Why is the theme of hope significant at the end of the novel (one minute)?|
|Inner circle||How do you think people find hope in such desperate circumstances (one minute)?|
|Outer circle||Move four people to the left.|
|Outer circle||How do you think people find hope in such desperate circumstances (one minute)?|
You can move students as much or as little as you like, asking direct questions or prompting them to express their own opinions. Sharing with and hearing from their peers supports students to consider new ideas and build their own understanding. At the end of the discussion, they can add to their notes about hope.
As a class, watch ‘The 7 Cs of Resilience’ (competence, confidence, coping, control, character, connection and contribution) and discuss how these are represented in the novel.
Then revisit the images of renewal after bushfires. Ask students to think about resilience in our physical environment. Read them an excerpt (PDF, 94KB) from Professor David Forbes and Professor Lisa Gibbs’ article ‘Black Saturday: Understanding disaster recovery and resilience’. Then ask students to re-read the excerpt and annotate it. In addition to using the text annotation strategy codes (i.e. ‘?’, underline, ‘C’ and ‘!’), they should also:
- Highlight in green any examples of hope
- Highlight in yellow any examples of resilience
Students will then discuss their annotations with a partner, working through any questions that emerged from their reading. Bring these ideas together in a whole class discussion.
Place students in pairs or small groups to further analyse how resilience is illustrated in 47 Degrees. They should think broadly about the novel, not just about the individual characters. Students can record their ideas in a mind map (PDF, 76KB), adding or removing bubbles as needed. The supporting document for this activity (PDF, 79KB) may assist with generating ideas.
Finish by getting students to summarise their ideas about hope and resilience in a short paragraph. They should consider how these themes are presented in 47 Degrees. You might like to provide the following sentence starter to get them thinking:
Hope and resilience are central themes in the novel 47 Degrees by Justin D’Ath.
Activity 12: forensic reading
In Activity 4 (Initial Response) students looked at a range of words to describe fires, bushfires and the hottest day they’ve ever experienced. In this activity, they will complete a forensic reading (an approach spearheaded by Rosie Kerin) of a section of the text. This will allow them to delve deeper into D’Ath’s writing.
Begin by modelling a forensic reading with the class. Show them your chosen passage and read it aloud (from p. 39, start of para. 3 to p. 40, end of para. 1). Students can follow along with their own copies of the book, if they have them.
Underline any words that are unusual or unfamiliar, then look up their definitions. During the modelling phase these can be words identified by either yourself or your students. For example:
Model how you would find the definition of these words. Begin by re-reading the sentences in which they appear and having a guess. Then use a dictionary (physical or digital) to confirm the answer.
|Ridge-top||The crest (top) of a ridge (a long, narrow hill hilltop)|
|Trough||A long, narrow container from which animals eat or drink|
|Generator||A machine that converts energy into electricity|
|Boasting||Talking with excessive pride|
Choose a sentence and rewrite it in your own words (this could be done with student input). For example, you could rewrite p. 39, para. 3, lines 1–4:
Zeelie takes a deep breath and smoke fills her senses. When she looks up, the sky is filled with a thick brown cloud. The top of the hills start to disappear from view as the it rolls into the valley.
Highlight the beginning and end of sentences, which will be marked by capital letters and ending punctuation (i.e. a period, question mark or exclamation point).
Invite students to discuss:
- What was the longest sentence? How many words did it have?
- What was the shortest sentence? How many words did it have?
Record some notes from this discussion.
Identify some of the techniques D’Ath uses in his writing. Students should consider what makes his style unique and what effect his chosen techniques have on the reader.
|Technique||Example||Effect on the reader|
|Simile||The comparison of the smoke to a river (p. 39, para. 3)||Creates a visual image in the reader’s head. You can imagine what the smoke looks like.|
|Simile||The comparison of the sun to a coin (p. 39, para. 3)||Creates a visual image in the reader’s head. You can imagine the colour of the sun and the smoke around it being very dark.|
|Use of italics||The reference to dad’s organisation (p. 40, para. 1)||Zeelie’s opinion really comes through. You get the impression that she really believes in what Dad is doing now.|
|Dash||The reference to dad’s organisation (p. 40, para. 1)||Lets the reader see inside Zeelie’s head to understand how and what she is thinking about.|
Once you have finished modelling your forensic read, direct students to complete their own (PDF, 108KB). They can choose their own passage from the options below, or you can allocate one for everyone to focus on. Depending on your students’ needs, they can complete the forensic read individually or in pairs.
Suggested passages for the forensic read include (but are not limited to):
|p. 4, para. 7 (finishes halfway down p. 5)||The dogs in the laundry|
|p. 6, para. 5 (finishes top of p. 7)||Zeelie setting off for Platypus Pool|
|p. 14, para. 6 (finishes top of p. 15)||Zeelie running to Rimu’s paddock|
|p. 25, para. 4||Mr Holmes and his ute|
|p. 51, para. 2||Zeelie trying to use the Bialettis’ hose|
|p. 53, para. 2||Zeelie carrying the bucket of water|
|p. 63, para. 2 (finishes top of p. 63)||Zeelie wheeling her suitcase to the front door|
|p. 78, para. 7 (finishes top of p. 79)||Zeelie recognising part of a gas cylinder|
|p. 89, para. 5||Zeelie, Dad and the dogs taking off in the van|
|p. 94, para. 2||The vehicles and people parked at the hotel|
|p. 118, para. 9||Zeelie and Dad finding somewhere to stop in Yea|
|p. 135, para. 2 (finishes top of p. 136)||The relief centre|
|p. 158, para. 2||Dad repeatedly checking the phone|
|p. 180, para. 5 (finishes top of p. 181)||Zeelie noticing Cody’s mother|
|p. 211, para. 1||The opening paragraph of Chapter 19|
|p. 214, para. 2||Zeelie’s family driving through the remains of Flowerdale|
|p. 217, para. 3||Mum’s destroyed Mazda|
|p. 222, para. 3||Zeelie noticing something sparkly in her room|
In pairs or small groups, students are to share their completed forensic reading sheets. They should discuss:
- What is the purpose of their passage? What information is being shared?
- What do they notice about their passage?
- What techniques were used? How do these affect the reader?
- Could this passage have been presented differently?
Students are to summarise their discussion and any new learnings in a written paragraph.
Activity 13: narrative structure
Introduce students to some different types of narrative structures:
|Linear||Progresses in chronological order. Has an orientation, rising action, a climax, falling action and a resolution.|
|Fractured||Does not follow a standard timeline. May start with the ending and work backwards, or present events through the eyes of characters at different points in time.|
|Parallel||Involves multiple stories happening at once.|
|Circular||Starts and ends in the same place.|
|Framed||A story within a story.|
The following resources will assist with explaining the various structures. Make sure you provide examples of relevant novels or films your students have studied in class.
- English Textual Concepts: Narrative – What It Is and Why It Is important
- MasterClass – 4 Ways to Structure Your Narrative Timeline
- Author Learning Centre: How to Structure a Story – Types of Narrative Structure
- VirtualTeacherGirl YouTube channel – Narrative Structures Lesson
The story of 47 Degrees takes place over a few days, beginning with the bushfire. Ask students to decide which narrative structure D’Ath has used and map the key events (it may be useful to show the class some plot diagrams). This can be done on paper or a PowerPoint slide (PPT, 35KB).
Once students have completed this task, ask them to consider the following questions:
- Why does the author begin with the bushfire?
- Why do you think he breaks the text into three parts as well as chapters?
In previous activities (e.g. Activity 7, Activity 12), students considered D’Ath’s authorial choices and what he could have done differently. They will now explore how the story could be reorganised according to a different narrative structure. They can use a new piece of paper or PowerPoint slide to map the changes that might occur, especially at the beginning. Students must be able to justify their choice of narrative structure and explain how the story would change while representing the same themes. They will then share their ideas and justification in pairs.
Synthesising task: Personal response
47 Degrees is a novel about hope and resilience. Students have been creating connections and delving deeply into the themes and the author’s choices. Their task is to present the novel as a one-pager, demonstrating what they have learnt as well as what they have personally identified with.
One-pager (productive mode)
A one-pager takes the essence of a novel and distils it into symbols, colours and key quotes. For this task, students are to create a one-pager that summarises the key aspects of 47 Degrees. They should consider how they will represent the information visually and what key symbols and colours are important. They should also think about:
- the theme of hope and resilience
- key characters, their perspectives and their emotions
- key quotes that represent the text
- the author’s perspective and voice
Ways of reading the text
Black Saturday wreaked havoc for many people. It ranks as one of the most devastating bushfires in Australian history in terms of property damage, displacement and loss of life. In the final paragraph before the postscript in ‘A Note From Justin’ (p. 242), however, D’Ath reflects on what he gained from revisiting this event through Zeelie’s eyes.
The following activities explore the different perspectives in 47 Degrees, as well as the impact of writing a novel based on true events.
Activity 14: the child narrator
Refer students to Activities 7 and 9 (Close Study), which focused on Zeelie and Dad. Remind them that while the story of 47 Degrees is told from Zeelie’s perspective, it is also important to consider Dad’s point of view. Ask students how reading a novel from a child’s perspective affects what they know and understand about the story.
The role of the narrator is very important. Students may have heard of first and third person narrators, but have they heard of reliable, unreliable, naive and unaware narrators? This article outlines a few different types. Read some excerpts to your students (particularly ‘What Is A Reliable And Unreliable Narrator?’ and ‘Types Of Unreliable Narrators’) so they can take some notes.
Place students in groups of four and have them individually brainstorm how a child narrator affects the novel. These can be broad ideas about children as narrators, or ideas specific to 47 Degrees. Then play a version of the elaboration game: one person will share an idea, a second person will elaborate by adding more detail, and so on. For example:
|PERSON 1: A child narrator brings innocence to the storytelling.||PERSON 2: This innocence means that the audience is also shielded from some information.
PERSON 3: However, they can often infer what is happening by using the author’s clues.
PERSON 4: Sometimes those clues can lead us in the wrong direction, depending on what the narrator has or hasn’t seen.
|PERSON 1: Having a child narrator helps me to connect with the story.||PERSON 2: We connect because the narrator uses similar language to us.
PERSON 3: They also focus on things that we would focus on, like wanting to talk to our friends.
PERSON 4: They also draw attention to things that are important, like wanting our mum.
|PERSON 1: Having Zeelie as the narrator means that we see what is happening through her eyes.||PERSON 2: It also shows what she values or is drawn towards.
PERSON 3: It means, at times, that some of the things that are happening are not fully explained or fleshed out.
PERSON 4: It also means that we need to infer how other characters are feeling through her descriptions of events.
PERSON 1: This can mean that sometimes we don’t get all the information; for example, we need to infer why Dad doesn’t want to be a refugee, and we don’t hear from him as to why he is feeling this.
PERSON 2: This makes it more real, though, because we only ever know what we know and we have to infer what people are thinking and feeling anyway.
This can be repeated multiple times with new ideas. Once students have run out of ideas, ask them to write a paragraph answering the question:
How does having a child narrator affect the novel?
Activity 15: alternative mind portraits
Alternative mind portraits allow students to think about the novel from different perspectives (including the perspectives readers bring from their own context and experiences). Ask students to consider their own perspectives when reading 47 Degrees. They might write something as simple as:
I knew nothing about the effects of a bushfire, but now I know how quickly a fire can start.
By examining themselves first, students can begin to appreciate that their perspective as a reader is valued. They will then consider three other perspectives, using the alternative mind portrait template (PDF, 100KB):
- the author’s perspective;
- a bushfire survivor’s perspective; and
- an emergency services worker’s perspective.
Reading some of the personal stories from the Black Saturday Museum may assist students in recording their ideas. They can then share what they have written using inside/outside circles. At the end of the discussion, they can add any new ideas to their sheets.
Students will then compose a paragraph responding to D’Ath’s comments on writing from Zeelie’s perspective (p. 242, para. 2).
Comparisons with other texts
There are several texts about bushfires and Black Saturday that would be suitable for comparison:
- Fire by Jackie French, illus. Bruce Whatley. Fire deals with the complexity of bushfires while also showing the good that can come in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
- The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden, illus. Chris Nixon. A practical resource that supports conversations about bushfires.
- The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe, illus. David Cox. Holcombe lost her parents during the Black Saturday bushfires. She has written The House on the Mountain from a child’s perspective and examines what happens before, during and after a bushfire.
- The Black Saturday Museum was set up to share personal stories in both written and video format. They provide valuable insights into the human impact of the bushfires beyond the days they occurred.
- Inside the Firestorm was an ABC documentary that recounted the Black Saturday bushfires.
Other stories that carry the theme of hope in times that might seem hopeless:
- Flood by Jackie French, illus. Bruce Whatley. Explores a different natural disaster, but again emphasises the theme of hope.
- The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanne Do, illus. Bruce Whatley; or The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do.
Finally, stories that feature children as narrators:
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Not only does the story unfold from a child’s perspective, but it also explores the concept of the unreliable narrator.
- Harper Lee’s award-winning classic, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Moving beyond the text
Working in pairs or small groups, students are to select ONE topic of interest from this unit of study, research it further, and produce a text that communicates what they have learnt. They can draw upon the characters, events and themes in 47 Degrees, as well as any supporting texts that have helped to develop and refine their understanding. Potential topics include (but are not limited to):
- Preparing for a bushfire/bushfire safety plans
- First Nations fire management
- The role of the community during a bushfire
- The emotional impact of bushfires
- The physical impact of bushfires
- How we can learn from our past to protect our future
The assessment rubric (PDF, 115KB) will support students to develop their best work. They should consider the audience for their texts (i.e. the school community) and ensure that they share information in a respectful manner. The final product may take the form of:
- a feature article
- an opinion piece or letter
- a school newsletter
- a speech or presentation
- a podcast
- an advertisement
- a series of Instagram stories
- social media or blog posts
- a 60-second reel
- a YouTube video
You could also hold an exhibition and invite teachers, parents/carers and other members of the school community to see what the class has produced.
Rich assessment tasks
Task 1: interview with the author/characters (productive and receptive modes)
Working in pairs, students are to take turns interviewing one another. First, Student A will interview Student B as though they are Justin D’Ath. Then Student B will interview Student A as though they are a character from 47 Degrees (this can be any character of their choice).
Students should work together to plan their interview questions and appropriate responses. While there is a degree of freedom in how they do this, students should:
- ask quality, open-ended questions that allow the person to answer freely
- think about the choices made in the novel
- think about the themes in the novel
- use evidence from the text to support their ideas and arguments
Reviewing their notes from the patterned partner reading (Close Study) may help students get into character while considering the author’s intentions.
The interviews can be recorded or presented to the class as an oral presentation.
Task 2: picture book (productive mode)
For this task, students are to create a picture book. This may be based on 47 Degrees OR it may be an original text that utilises the novel’s themes and ideas.
If students base their picture book on 47 Degrees, they should consider which aspects of the story to include and how to represent these visually. If they create an original text, they should think carefully about what themes they can explore. In both cases, they should consider:
- hope and resilience
- characters, their perspectives and emotions
- the author’s perspective and voice
This visual literacy resource will support students in planning their picture books.
Task 3: short story (productive mode)
Students are to compose a short story of 400–1,000 words. They could:
- re-write part of 47 Degrees from a different perspective (e.g. Mum or Lachy)
- write a short story based on the theme of resilience
- write a short story based on the theme of hope
- write a short story based on a natural disaster