Connecting to prior knowledge
Bully on the Bus contains strong themes of bullying, courage and relationships. The ‘Bullying. No Way!’ website provides a range of age-appropriate resources that can be used prior to this unit, or alongside it.
Teachers may consider sending a note home to let parents and caregivers know about the book topic and the themes that will be studied.
To support students to connect to the text, it would be pertinent to first discuss what bullying is, and what it is not. As a group, use a T-Chart to brainstorm different situations and determine whether or not they constitute bullying.
Read the blurb on the back of the book and watch the book trailer. Discuss the following lines:
She picks on me and
I don’t know how to make her stop.
- What do these words tell you about the bully?
- What do you think she might do to pick on Leroy and taunt him?
- How do you think this might make Leroy feel?
- Do you know anyone who has been ‘picked on’? What did they do?
- What do you think Leroy might have tried already?
- What would you do?
The blurb and the trailer both mention that Leroy has a ‘secret weapon’.
- What do you think the secret weapon might be?
- How do you think the secret weapon will work?
As a class, discuss what might happen in the coming week on Leroy’s bus.
Using the concept of a Reading Response Journal, invite students to write and/or draw what they feel is going to happen between Leroy, the bully and the other kids on the bus in the coming week.
Read Bully on the Bus aloud over a number of sessions. Stop at key points to discuss the events and different reactions to what is happening. Regularly give students time to reflect in their Reading Response Journals, remembering to ask them to reflect on how different events made them feel. For example:
- Why do you think Ruby suggests playing ‘I’m a bully’?
- How did Leroy respond when the bully took the cupcake he’d made for Mrs Wilson? What would you have done?
- Why didn’t the others on the bus help Leroy? What would you have done?
- Is Leroy brave? Why?
Ask the question: How does a bully make people feel? Make a list of words to describe:
- the bully
- the way a bully can cause you to feel
- ways you can speak to a bully.
Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’
Connections with self and community
Reread chapters and sections of the text that resonate with your students through evoking strong emotions or imagery, for example: Drop Offs (describing the bus ride home) or …And a Punch (where Ruby knocks the cupcake from the bully’s hand). Discuss the vocabulary used, short phrases and the reasons why the text has been formatted the way it has. Using a Y-Chart, have students sort each line of the poem into ‘looks like’, ‘sounds like’ and ‘feels like’.
Select a common experience, for example ‘an excursion’, ‘home time’ or ‘a party’, and brainstorm short phrases or words to describe a variety of actions and emotions. Place these into a Y-Chart format and model how to select from these to create your own free verse.
Based on their experiences, ask students to continue to add their ideas to the chart and then craft their own short free verse. Some students may need further scaffolding or may wish to work with a partner on this activity.
Rich assessment task
Dramatic retell of one scene
- Group students into teams of 4–5 and allow them to choose from a selection of scenes from the text, such as the day DJ is not on the bus.
- Together, the group will brainstorm phrases related to the scenario and devise a Tableau with a twist to represent the scene. Each group member makes an individual choice on the phrase(s) to best represent their role in the tableau.
- Students perform their tableau, taking it in turns to call out their phrases to represent character emotion or actions in the scene.
Responding to the text
Use think-pair-share before building to a class discussion to guide students to make connections with different aspects of the text. Possible questions or sentence starters may include:
- What was familiar to you? (bus travel, classroom, family, relationships)
- What was different or unfamiliar to you?
- I’ve felt like Leroy when…
- This (event) reminds me of when…
- DJ is similar to (character) from (book/movie) because…
- This book reminds me of (book).
- This (behaviour) happens at (place) when…
As a verse novel, Bully on the Bus is very sparsely illustrated:
- The cover is simple, with bold colours.
- Some pages have black and white with the main character in muted colours. Why?
- Illustrations are more like icons and appear only occasionally, at the start of some chapters.
- The text is deliberately formatted, and often written as shape poetry.
Show students these elements and guide class discussion about the possible reasons for these choices. For example:
- What is the relevance of the wolf icon?
- Who do you think created the illustration for the cover?
- How do some sections of the text act like an illustration? (Show different examples, such as the beginning lines of page 2 – Bully Ways.)
Students can work with a partner or individually to design an alternative cover, icons or to reformat some of the text to visually represent its message. Invite students to explain the choices they made designing the alternate cover.
Exploring plot, character, setting and theme
Using examples from Bully on the Bus, discuss the differences between ‘plot’ and ‘theme’, and revisit the terms ‘character’ and ‘setting’. List these four elements as column headings on an information grid and write in the details from Bully on the Bus.
|Rising action (examples)||relationships||Leroy||Leroy’s home (farm)|
Note: You may choose to leave out the column on plot, unless your class is ready to delve into different plot structures.
During shared or guided reading sessions, read a selection of stories or excerpts from texts with related themes. Titles may include:
- I am Jack by Susanne Gervay
- The Two Bullies by Junko Morimoto
- Mad Magpie by Gregg Dreise
- Crusher is Coming by Bob Graham
- Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson
- There’s a Baddie Running Through this Book by Shelly Unwin
- Tottie and Dot by Tania McCartney
During and after reading, work with students to complete the relevant sections on the information grid, discussing similarities and differences as you go.
Now might be a place to also mention perspective. Does the bully think they are a bully? For example, in sorting out the issue, would a school make one of the parties feel like a bully?
Bully on the Bus is set in rural Australia. Model the use of a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast your students’ experiences: school, home environment, transport method to school, etc.
Making inferences about characters
Introduce the concept of making inferences by showing students the image, Drop Off, and working through the questions provided with the image.
Discuss how certain words and phrases can also give us clues about characters. Use the example from the blurb on the back of Bully on the Bus: ‘She picks on me and I don’t know how to make her stop.’ Ask students what this sentence tells us about how Leroy is feeling and how we know this. Remind students that readers can infer a lot of information about characters from words and phrases in the text.
Using the Timed Pair Share strategy, ask students to first discuss the following:
- different ways the bully picked on Leroy
- the ways Leroy reacted
- what sort of person they think Leroy is
- how they feel about Leroy
Choosing from the student responses, model how to find supporting information in the text and construct a statement using an It says – I say – And so strategy. For example:
- Question: How do you know Leroy is worried about catching the bus?
- The text says: ‘On Monday, I’m slow to get dressed. My tummy burns and churns and I feel sick.’
- I know: When I’m worried or scared about something, my tummy doesn’t feel right.
- And so: Every day Leroy feels worried and nervous about catching the bus.
Rich assessment task
Revisit sections of the text where emotions and behaviours are displayed by different characters while on the bus. Allocate a character to students (or have them select their own). Using the Freeze Frames drama strategy, invite students to create a pose in response to an event on the bus. You may choose to photograph each pose and ask students to write a caption inferring and describing what their character is thinking or feeling. Alternatively, you can use Thought Tracking and digitally record student poses and responses.
Examining text structure and organisation
Comparing Text Types
Lead a discussion about the different features of chapter books, picture books and poems. Ask students to explore a range of texts, noting their features. Use a comparison matrix during the discussion as a visual, as shown in the example.
|Comparison Matrix for Bully on the Bus|
|Picture Book||Chapter Book||Poem||Bully on the Bus|
Guide students to note that Bully on the Bus is written as a poem and introduce the term ‘free verse’.
Tell students that the author, Kathryn Apel, originally wrote Leroy’s story as a chapter book but later changed it into a ‘verse novel’. Ask the students why she might have done this. In comparison with other books read earlier in the unit, which style do they prefer and why?
Exploring language features of free verse
During shared or guided reading sessions, re-read chapters of Bully on the Bus and assist students to identify language features they notice. For example, the second chapter, page 2, (Bully Ways) incorporates:
- alliteration (‘Hurting hands push, pull, poke, prod, pinch.’)
- short words with hard consonants (trip, kick, stomp) – often verbs, but not always
- simile (‘Like a clumsy camel I stagger . . .’)
- personification (‘[words] spew out of her mouth’)
Use shared writing time to experiment with the different language features. Allow students to work in pairs or small groups to continue creating their own descriptions of events or characters.
Examining grammar and vocabulary
Use of commas
Look at the sentence structure in the text. Even though it is written in the format of a poem, punctuation is still evident. Select a number of sentences from the text (those that use commas). Write the sentences on the whiteboard and ask the students to identify the punctuation they know. Introduce the actions for Kung Fu punctuation, focusing in on capital letters, full stops and commas, and re-read the sentences out loud, incorporating the actions.
Revisit commas in lists. Identify these lists in the selected text excerpts, then support students to write descriptive sentences about any of the characters. For example: DJ was loud, mean and scary. Leroy used sprinkles, jellybeans and Smarties to make his monster cupcake.
Nouns and noun groups
A noun identifies a person, place or thing. A noun group is a group of words that relate to, or build on, a noun. Assist students to create lists of nouns and noun groups that refer to the main characters in the story. You may wish to further classify these nouns according to whether they are common or proper nouns, or whether they name and describe physical features or personality traits.
|Character||Noun||Noun group||Physical features||Personality traits|
|Leroy||student||a caring member of our class||no||yes – kind, considerate|
|The bully||mane||her shaggy orange mane||yes||?? (scary like a lion)|
Compare the ‘wolf’ references in Bully on the Bus to the image of Wolf Von Big Baden. Brainstorm and list nouns and noun phrases to describe this wolf, then have students draw their own wolf and write a descriptive caption.
Rich assessment task
Ask students to choose one character from Bully on the Bus to illustrate. Guide and support students to locate information about appearance where possible and record page numbers to refer back easily. After illustrating, students will choose three or four words that they feel best describe their character. Using these words, students can then write a descriptive paragraph. Encourage students to incorporate at least one of the language features discussed earlier and demonstrate their knowledge of punctuation. Students should try to format their work into free verse style.
Experiment with reading aloud
During guided reading sessions, select and prepare short excerpts from the text suitable for reading aloud. These excerpts should lend themselves to being read by different students in a character/narrator scenario or read as a group focusing on expression and fluency.
- After modelling, students read together focusing on fluency and expression.
- Actions may be added where appropriate.
- Teacher guides with hand actions and grouping for an energetic choral reading.
- Students read allocated parts, focusing on fluency and expression.
- Actions are added where appropriate. Props may be used.
- Teacher assists the preparation of the ‘script’.
Show students the Plot Mountain clip and discuss how Bully on the Bus fits this structure. Talk about how, in a longer text such as this one, there will often be multiple rising and falling action scenes but usually only one real climax.
As a class, use the Seesaw application, Story Mountain, to deconstruct the story and then summarise and retell the main events. You may also have students work in a small group or individually to create their own visual story mountains, either digitally or on paper.
Write a ‘how to’ list
Show students the chapter entitled ‘How to bust a bully’ (p. 98–99). In groups of four, ask students to use the Round Robin strategy and brainstorm different ways they could stop bullying behaviour. (Students may also record their ideas, either using a scribe, or taking it in turns to write or draw responses using the Round Table strategy.)
Ask groups to share their ideas, and list them on the whiteboard. Re-read the chapter, asking individual students to tick or highlight when one of their suggested ideas matches Leroy’s.
Rich assessment task
Tell students they have been tasked with the job of producing a short movie for younger students like Leroy, to teach them about bullying. Students will need to write the script first and allocate roles and select props for the production.
Provide students with options for the type of text they produce. For example, they may decide to make an instructional video or write a short narrative with a message. Encourage them to incorporate at least one of the different language features explored during this unit. Once students are prepared, they should create and record their movie using Book Creator or any other platform they are familiar with, such as Puppet Pals or iMovie. Have a ‘movie session’ on completion, offering viewings to parents and other classes. Invite students to give structured feedback to their peers.