Introductory activity

Most students will be unfamiliar with the form of the verse novel and this introductory activity has been designed to engage them in the construction of a text created from fragments.

Some useful background information for this study of By the river is that it developed out of fragments of poetry Steven Herrick had written at various times. Herrick read The Monkey’s Mask, a verse novel written by Australian poet Dorothy Porter, and inspired by that experience, used some free verse he had already written as a basis for the full verse novel, By the river. This idea of bringing together fragments of existing verse to create the full work is the genesis of Activity 1.

Activity 1

Pre-reading: Introduction to the verse novel – Visual fragments

Use the visual fragments sheet (PDF, 201KB) to define and stimulate discussion about representation and symbols relating to coming of age (for example, a suitcase representing travel, moving on or relocation). This theme is central to By the river; readers engage with the first person perspective of Harry Hodby as he deals with relationships at school and within his community and family.

Once concepts relating to coming of age and the style of free verse are established, form small groups so that students can cut up the sheet and arrange (and rearrange) fragments to form narrative threads exploring the theme of coming of age. Provide opportunities to share group reflections and possible narratives that might be developed from those threads, and how images can be reorganised and recombined in numerous ways.

To prompt discussion ask:

  • What are the gaps?
  • What other images would students want to include to enrich the narrative (for example, the tattoo representing opposition to authority; car tyres representing independence and freedom)?
  • How diverse are their perspectives on coming of age, and possible reasons or causes?

This activity highlights the significance of inferencing when we read, yet this is one aspect of reading that is particularly difficult for some students. For this reason, it is suggested that students are made aware of how authors/creators infer something in a text when they use representations rather than state the obvious.

The term inferencing is used when the reader (viewer or listener) draws a reasonable conclusion from the information and context provided in a text and is able to identify evidence within the text to support their understanding.

For example, an author may infer that there is tension between a mother and young son as they leave a home. They are farewelled by an elderly couple who stand under the shade of a verandah as the mother and son approach their car. The boy slams the door of the car as he gets in, puts on his headphones and hunkers down staring out the window. Meanwhile, the mother shakes her head in his direction, apologising to those who are seeing them off. Though she does not slam the car door, she refuses to look at her son, is rough as she shifts the gears and drives off more aggressively than she has ever done before in the presence of her son.

There are many inferences here that may or may not be accurate and as the reader continues they will be testing out and changing inferences. Initially, it might be inferred that the elderly couple are grandparents, but in a flashback we hear the boy address the man as “Mr Wilson” and discover that the mother has forced her son to return a bike he stole from the old couple’s shed. In this way, reading involves being aware of inferences and testing them out using evidence from the text. There are examples of inferencing everywhere from social media to novels to television and cartoons, and often form the basis of mystery, suspense and humour. This YouTube video, “Making Inferences”, may be a useful reference.

The activity below provides an opportunity to revisit the concept of inferencing, initially taught in the primary years, to improve reading comprehension and response. What is inferred by individual fragments, and how do inferences change when you bring two or more of the images together?

It is important that students understand that inferencing sometimes provides a shortcut for readers and writers, but at other times inferences serve the purpose of setting up twists and surprises. Inferencing is an aspect of assessment in this unit on By the river and so this activity sets students up for success in Rich assessment task 1 in particular.
(ACELA1553)   (ACELY1744)   (ACELY1745)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELA1560)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)

Fragments Sheet: Coming of age

Use the visual fragments below and also available as a downloadable file (PDF, 201KB), to form narrative threads, or curate another collection of images that you believe will inspire your students. The goal is to create a coming of age narrative, tracing the development of characters from childhood through incidents or awakenings to greater maturity and development as young adults.

Cut the sheet to separate the nine images so that you can recombine and re-order them. Your aim is to re-combine images, beginning with two and then three and so on until you are able to combine all nine, in any order you wish, in a final narrative. You’ll find as you work through this process you are making inferences as you construct your narratives. For example, you might combine the tattooed person and the cupcakes.

First narrative: (Use tattoo and cupcakes images) Uncle John arrives for a visit carrying cupcakes that he has made for the family. (Now add in a picture of the dog.)

Second narrative: Every year my mum wins a prize for the best chocolate cupcakes. It helps that the judges can’t see her tatts and piercings.

Third narrative: (Add in a hospital bed.) After my mother (with tatts and piercings) shared her cupcakes at sports day, several kids were hospitalised with food poisoning.

You will have opportunities to share and compare your narratives based on these visual fragments.


Photo by J. McKinnon

Image2Photo by Chest Mechanics Image3

Photo by J. McKinnon


Photo by J. McKinnon


Photo by Dori


Photo by R. Kerin


Photo by McKinnon


Photo by Whitney


Photo by Wikimedia commons

Activity 2

Prologue: The colour of my town (pp. 3–4)

Students read the prologue silently followed by the teacher highlighting the fragmentary nature of this introduction to the verse novel and Herrick’s use of colour as a framing device to introduce characters, setting and narrative thread.

1. Read aloud to the class

In pairs, students then consider what is inferred by Herrick about particular characters and the setting according to each colour used: red, yellow, blue, green, brown and white. For example, consider how red is used here to symbolise anger, violence, hot-headedness and blood, and what this infers about the character of Johnny Barlow:


was Johnny Barlow

with his lightning fists

that drew blood in a blur.

Use the prologue to predict what is likely to happen and the key themes of the verse novel.

2. Now focus on characterisation using the table below.

In the prologue, Herrick introduces the key characters, including Harry, the narrator of the verse novel. The table below is provided for teachers who may then blank out all or some of responses for students who will identify each of the characters and document what is stated directly or inferred, and how the colour used by Herrick suggests the narrator’s view of that character.

This table can be used at the end of each of the seven parts to add in further facts provided for each character as the novel develops, as well as to add in new characters as they are introduced. Please note that some characters will not have associated colours.

Character’s name Colour Facts Inferences
Johnny Barlow In this instance, red symbolises danger, blood and violence lightning fists Aggressive, reputation as a fighter
Urger In this instance, yellow symbolises cowardice Stood behind, crooked teeth, spitting, cursing Lurker urging on the fighter
Miss Spencer In this instance, blue moving to grey symbolises truth and beauty, that hints at possible sadness Eyes pale and shining That she leaves in a taxi for a distant place
Dad In this instance, green symbolises generosity and nature Has handkerchiefs ironed and pressed close to his heart – we learn that these are a gift from his dead wife He was widowed, grieving and missing his wife. He is a good housekeeper.
Mum In this instance, white symbolises reverence, purity and death Wore a white nightgown and gave Dad a box of handkerchiefs two weeks before she died She was hospitalised and ill before dying
Miss Carter In this instance, white is used to reference chalk Used chalk to write Harry’s name She is a teacher, and the chalk infers that the setting is historic, not contemporary
Linda In this instance, white is used to reference a cross Had a cross Unclear whether this relates to a cross she wore or perhaps a cemetery cross

(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1770)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)

Activity 3

Produce a narrative fragment

Using the style and structure of the prologue, and their understanding of inferencing through image and the written word, students innovate on this prologue to construct a similar colour poem using one of the words in the following list as the title.

The colours of my:

  • school,
  • club,
  • church,
  • town,
  • suburb,
  • family.

Students can be supported by whole class modelling, working in pairs, or conferencing in groups as this activity is the first draft for Rich assessment task 1 (Productive).

NB: Teachers are advised to remind students of ethics and privacy. That is, do not name or identify individuals, especially where offence may be taken.
(ACELT1637)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1746)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-1A)

The Writer’s Craft

Activity 1: Readers Theatre

In this activity students collaboratively perform the first act of By the river, as Readers Theatre. Readers Theatre requires students to perform a text using only their voices. Participants read from the text, interpreting the script and emphasising dramatic elements using phrasing and vocal expression.

By the river works particularly well for this activity as the verse nature of the novel already reads like a script and doesn’t require any adaptation. Readers Theatre also provides an opportunity for students to hear an unfamiliar text read aloud in an engaging way and for them to practise reading aloud with support from other students. Generally, Readers Theatre requires no staging, costumes or physical performance; however, additional elements, such as sound effects and gestures, can be added as long as they are subtle and do not detract from the main emphasis of vocal expression.

Divide the students into groups and allocate each group several verses from the first act. Distribute the scripts. Students may have their own copies of the text but, if not, photocopies work well as they can be annotated to highlight key aspects of oral expression (pause, pitch, volume, etc.) in preparation for the performance. Verses of similar length and theme have been grouped below as a guide:

Act one: “Harry”

Group 1

  • The scrapheap (pp. 7–9)
  • Oil for paint (pp. 10–11)
  • Six years old (pp. 12–13)

Group 2

  • The whirligig (pp. 14–15)
  • Sunday morning (pp. 16–17)
  • On a log in Cowpers Paddock (p. 18)

Group 3

  • The witches of William Street (pp. 19–20)
  • The cake (pp. 21–22)
  • Mrs Appleyard (p. 23)

   Group 4

  • The big river (pp. 24–25)
  • Aunt Alice (pp. 26–27)

   Group 5

  • Escape artist (pp. 28–29)
  • The pieman (pp. 30–31)
  • Games (pp. 32–33)

Group 6

  • The haircut (pp. 34–35)
  • Eggs (pp. 36–37)

Group 7

  • Romance? (p. 38)
  • Stories (p. 39–40)
  1. Students read their allocated sections individually and then together as a group. The text can be further divided into parts and allocated to individuals, or the whole text can be read by the whole group in its entirety.
  2. At this point students discuss the most effective ways to read the text aloud to convey meaning, to create dramatic interest and to emphasise the poetic nature of the language. Students may choose to include verbal sound effects. Students may also choose to add one digital image to project during their performance to represent the essence of their particular verse.
  3. Students practise and perform their verse to the class in the correct order.

(ACELY1740)   (ACELY1811)   (ACELY1741)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)

Evidence of technique in Herrick’s By the river

It is suggested that students continue reading the verse novel aloud and in groups with a focus on the narrative, character development and themes, while also remaining alert to Herrick’s craft as a poet and novelist.

The following table, also available as a downloadable file (PDF, 145KB), is provided as a prompt for teachers or a guide for students to carry out literary analysis across the entire text. For example, an additional right-hand column could be added for students to record further examples they find as they read or discuss the text. Please note that at the bottom of the table there are opportunities to add other techniques/definitions/examples appropriate to student learning.

See Activity 2 (below)

Literary technique Definitions from NSW English Syllabus glossary Example from By the river
allegory A story in prose fiction, poetry, drama or visual language that has more than one level of meaning. The characters, events and situations can represent other characters, events and situations. See the poem: Linda
(pp. 64–65)Here Linda constructs an allegory to show that she understands Harry in ways others do not.
allusion A brief hint or reference to a person, event, idea or work of art through a passing comment, where a composer expects a reader to have the knowledge to recognise the allusion and grasp its importance in the text.

My dad named me


after Harry Houdini

who could escape

from boxes locked with chains

(p. 28)

This places the novel in time (post Houdini’s fame) and illustrates the dad’s sense of humour and something of Harry’s personality.

colloquial language Informal expression of language, characteristic of speech and often used in informal writing. The register of everyday speech.

Keith and me work

for weeks on the billycart 

(p. 45)

The grammatically correct expression here would be ‘Keith and I…’. However, Herrick has used a colloquial grammar to emphasis the voice, age and education of Harry.

framing Modified definition of framing in relation to visual texts: the way in which elements of a print text are arranged to create a specific interpretation of the whole. Strong framing creates a sense of enclosure around elements while weak framing creates a sense of openness.


was Johnny Barlow

with his lightning fists

that drew blood in a blur.


was Urger….

(p. 3)

The authors uses a range of colours to create a frame to separate individual objects and characters. This sets up expectations and questions as we move into Act 1.

intertextuality The associations or connections between one text and other texts. Intertextual references can be more or less explicit and self-conscious. They can take the form of direct quotation, parody, allusion or structural borrowing (see appropriation).

and a backyard full

of empty beer bottles

to measure

Mr Kerry’s life.

(pp. 81)

Herrick’s image calls to mind this famous line from T. S. Eliot’s poetry: ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’ (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, line 51).



The placement of two or more ideas, characters, actions, settings, phrases or words side-by-side for a particular purpose, for example to highlight contrast or for rhetorical effect.

At Linda’s cross,

I sit on a log

and listen

to the sound of

a distant freight train

leaving town.

(p. 63)

The juxtaposition of the quiet solemnity of Harry sitting at the place where Linda died contrasts with the rumbling of the train that is able to leave the town.

metaphor A resemblance between one thing and another is declared by suggesting that one thing is another, for example, “My fingers are ice’.”

…Keith sits holding the reins

of our timber horse.

(p. 45)

This metaphor refers to the billycart.

metonymy A use of the name of one thing or attribute of something to represent something larger or related

…we cycle, non-stop

for three hours,

to reach Red Cliff Airport,

…….There we lie on our backs,

hidden under some bushes.

(p. 75)

This local airport represents escape and freedom from their small town.

personification Attributing human characteristics to abstractions such as love, things (for example, “The trees sighed and moaned in the wind) or animals (for example, “The hen said to the fox …”).

As the branches

scrape their fingers

down my window

(p. 79)

The sound of branches is likened to a person scraping fingers down the window to create foreboding.

point of view (POV) The particular perspective brought by a composer, responder or character within a text to the text or to matters within the text.

Narrative point of view refers to the ways a narrator may be related to the story. The narrator, for example, might take the role of first or third person, omniscient or restricted in knowledge of events, reliable or unreliable in interpretation of what happens.

I tiptoe to the kitchen,

open the creaking door

and sit on the back step,

listening to the town.

(p. 179)

The POV here is a first person perspective of Harry, the central character. This POV enables us to understand what Harry feels and thinks, though we rely on other parts of the text to determine the reliability of his self-reflection. In this extract, Harry is enjoying a moment before his dad wakes, and Harry’s reflection is based on his belief that because it’s his dad’s birthday it’s important that he feels loved and cared for. Harry will prepare his breakfast as a sign of that love.



The way ideas are portrayed and represented in texts, using language devices, forms, features and structures of texts to create specific views about characters, events and ideas. Representation applies to all language modes: spoken, written, visual and multimodal.

A two-storey weatherboard,

painted clean white,

with every window closed,

shutting out

the lazy breeze

blowing across the railway tracks.

I stand opposite

and stare

at the lawn,

green and flat like carpet,

cut to perfection.

(p. 173)

Herrick’s description of this house in Longden street represents the world that is shut off to Harry and his family and friends. Harry has no idea who lives there, and it seems that the closed windows are designed to keep the town and the likes of Harry, at a distance.

simile A figure of speech that compares two usually dissimilar things. The comparison starts with like, as or as if.

Her body,

full of creekwater,


and thirteen years’ memory,

popped out of the swamp

like a cork held down too long

(p. 43)

The emergence of Linda’s body after the flood is likened to a cork rising to the surface of the swamp, seeming trivial in comparison to the actual discovery.

symbolism Use of a symbol that represents something else, particularly in relation to a quality or concept developed and strengthened through repetition. For example, freedom can be symbolised by a bird in flight in both verbal and visual texts.

The Mahony family,

moved south,

after planting

a white cross

and a patch of daisies…

(p.  44)

The white cross and patch of daisies are symbolic of the loss of the Mahony family. While the symbols remain in town, the family has moved on.

Other techniques? Definitions? Evidence from the text (with page number)

Provide a brief explanation of how the technique has been employed.

Activity 2

Reading and analysis

Provide students with the table above and downloadable (PDF, 145KB) so that individually or in groups they can add other examples from the text, and other techniques you would like students to identify. It is important to establish the purpose or effect of such techniques so students should pose these questions:

  • What is the author attempting to achieve by using this technique?
  • What is the effect or impact on me as a reader?

The definitions provided and evidence located from within the text will be useful for both assessment tasks. In Rich assessment task 1 students are encouraged to experiment with the techniques in the construction of their own verse, and in Rich assessment task 2 they will use some of these terms in their analysis of By the river.

Teachers/students can add further techniques to this table.
(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1561)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELT1637)   (ACELT1772)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-6C)

Activity 3

From prose to free verse
In this activity students will construct free verse, in the style of Steven Herrick, from an appropriate novel of your choice, or from Jasper Jones as modelled below:


An example from Jasper Jones (by Craig Silvey, Allen & Unwin, 2009) is provided to use with students, before they create their own free verse from an alternative extract from Jasper Jones (see the paragraph beginning ‘Sorry’ below). Consider the three steps below for creating an example of free verse for students to use with ‘Sorry’.  Note that in the conversion of prose to free verse, only words within the original are allowed; that is, words and punctuation can be removed but not added in.

  1. The first paragraph is the full prose extract.
  2. The second paragraph covers the words that are no longer necessary for free verse.
  3. The remaining text from the original prose is structured to create lines as poetic units of meaning.

1. Original prose extract, Jasper Jones (pp. 189–190)
(Students may be interested to know that this extract can be found online as a recommended reading for wedding ceremonies.)

What I’m feeling, I think, is joy. And it’s been some time since I’ve felt that blinkered rush of happiness. This might be one of those rare events that lasts, one that’ll be remembered and recalled as months and years wind and ravel. One of those sweet, significant moments that leaves a footprint in your mind. A photograph couldn’t ever tell its story. It’s like something you have to live to understand. One of those freak collisions of fizzing meteors and looming celestial bodies and floating debris and one single beautiful red ball that bursts into your life and through your body like an enormous firework. Where things shift into focus for a moment, and everything makes sense. And it becomes one of those things inside you, a pearl among sludge, one of those big exaggerated memories you can invoke at any moment to peel away a little layer of how you felt, like a lick of ice cream. The flavour of grace. (163 words)

2. Edited prose extract, Jasper Jones (pp. 189–190)

What I’m feeling, I think, is joy. And it’s been some time since I’ve felt that blinkered rush of happiness. This might be one of those rare events that lasts, one that’ll be remembered and recalled as months and years wind and ravel. One of those sweet, significant moments that leaves a footprint in your mind. A photograph couldn’t ever tell its story. It’s like something you have to live to understand. One of those freak collisions of fizzing meteors and looming celestial bodies and floating debris and one single beautiful red ball that bursts into your life and through your body like an enormous firework. Where things shift into focus for a moment, and everything makes sense. And it becomes one of those things inside you, a pearl among sludge, one of those big exaggerated memories you can invoke at any moment to peel away a little layer of how you felt, like a lick of ice cream. The flavour of grace. (163 words)

  1. Free verse based on the prose extract, Jasper Jones (pp. 189–190)

I’m feeling,

I think,



Some time since

that blinkered

rush of happiness:

rare events remembered

as months and years

wind and ravel.

Sweet, significant footprint

in your mind.

A photograph

you have to live

to understand.

Freak collisions

of fizzing meteors

looming celestial bodies

floating debris

and one single beautiful red ball

bursts into your life

like an enormous firework.

Things shift into focus

everything makes sense.

Things inside you:

a pearl among sludge,

big exaggerated memories

to peel away a layer

like a lick of ice cream:

The flavour

of grace. (93 words)

Students now attempt their own conversion of free verse from prose, using this extract from Jasper Jones, or other appropriate extracts for this activity.


Sorry means you feel the pulse of other people’s pain as well as your own, and saying it means you take a share of it. And so it binds us together, makes us trodden and sodden as one another. Sorry is a lot of things. It’s a hole refilled. A debt repaid. Sorry is the wake of misdeed. It’s the crippling ripple of consequence. Sorry is sadness, just as knowing is sadness. Sorry is sometimes self-pity. But Sorry, really, is not about you. It’s theirs to take or leave.

Sorry means you leave yourself open, to embrace or to ridicule or to revenge. Sorry is a question that begs forgiveness, because the metronome of a good heart won’t settle until things are set right and true. Sorry doesn’t take things back, but it pushes things forward. It bridges the gap. Sorry is a sacrament. It’s an offering. A gift.

(from Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, Allen & Unwin, pp. 199–200.)
(ACELT1637)   (ACELT1638)   (ACELY1747)   (ACELA1556)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)

Activity 4

Inferences of time and place

Students will work in groups and consider each of the possibilities of geographical settings and historical context for By the river. The significance of the task is to promote close reading of the landscape features, flora and fauna, as well as reference to the built environment, industry, technology, historical context and inferences about the town.

This can be best achieved by correlating evidence from the verse novel with Google maps and Wikipedia in the first instance, and finally biographical detail of Steven Herrick sourced online to support judgements.

Of course, the presence of cane toads is enough to locate the text in Queensland, but students are required to discover five pieces of evidence that place it in the town of their choice (see table).

Students can be advised that the major locations are accurate but that some poetic licence has been taken to create the story. This is consistent with the creation of fiction which might be inspired by actual places, people or events, but are reconstructed as imaginative stories.

This chart is provided for teacher reference, or to be adapted for student use. It can be downloaded here (PDF, 116KB).

Inferences of time Features and inferences of place
One, “Harry” (19 poems including the prologue, ‘The colour of our town’)
handkerchief (p. 3)

chalk (p. 4)

sump oil (p. 10)

whirligig (p. 15)

chalkboard (p. 29)

Pieman (p. 30)

cane toads (p. 3)

dry grass (p. 3)

snakes, cane toads (p. 3)

Deakin Foundry (p. 7)

Cowpers Paddock (p. 14)

Durra Creek (p. 14)

Oakwood Cemetery (p. 16)

casuarina (p. 17)

our small town (p. 18)

Foundry, sawmill, fruit bats (p. 24)

mangroves, mud crabs, mulberries, Paterson’s Curse (p. 25)

Two,  (25 poems)
Billycart (p. 45)

All day-suckers (p. 52)

A bottle of beer (p. 52)

Humbug lolly (p. 55)

Ginger beer (p. 62)

liniment (p. 72)

Threepence (p. 72)

Fibro (p. 77)

iron bed (p. 81)

Freemans Bush (p. 43)

Foundry (p. 45)

dump (p. 45)

Army reserve (p. 48)

Devitt Park (p. 56)

stink weed (p. 56)

Cowpers Paddock (p. 58)

Millions of butterfies (p. 58)

Wattlebirds (p. 62)

bottle brush (p. 62)

Freight train (p. 63)

Durra Creek (p. 63)

Fig trees (p. 64)

Hobsons Bend (p. 66)

Oaks, firs (p. 68)

Red Cliffs Airport (p. 75)

Scribbly gums (p. 75)

bellbirds, cicadas, red gums, willows (p. 82)

Three, “Love and sex” (21 poems)  
duck’s-arse cut (p. 89)

ripple-shoe shoes (p. 89)

hipsters (p. 89)

Jane Russell, Queen of Hollywood (p. 91)

whirligig (p. 95)

Brylcreem (p. 98)

Pound note (p. 102)

shillings (p. 105)

‘up the duff’ (p. 107)

frenchie (p. 107)

Jailbird (p. 109)

Houdini (p. 109)

Millthorpe Prison (p. 110)

Keeling street (p. 95)

Pearce swamp (whole page) (p. 120)

Durra Creek (whole page) (p. 114)

Four, “My father’s hands”(12 poems)
marbles (p. 130)

bakelite canisters (p. 142)

tortoiseshell comb (p. 142)

Pines golf club (p. 138)


Five,  “Storm season” (13 poems)
Kerosene lamps (p. 149)

cheese and vegemite sandwiches (p. 160)

Rookwood Hill (p. 149)

sugar cane (p. 150)

Hobson’s bend (p. 150)

galahs (p. 154)

bottlebrush (p. 160)

myrtle (p. 160)

catfish and eels, creepers and giant ferns (p. 162)

moss-covered logs (p. 165)

dust storm blows in from the drylands out west (p. 167)

Six, “Someone, sometime” (17 poems)
brand-new midnight blue Holden with venetian blinds across the back window and a little toy dog nodding on the dashboard (p. 188)

Tom Thumbs (p. 193)

Penny Bungers (p. 193)

Star Wheels (p. 193)

Tuppeny bunger (p. 194)

weatherboard (p. 173)

railway tracks (p. 173)

army reserve (p. 175)

cane toads (p. 177)

bats (p. 183)

mangoes (p. 183)

fig trees (p. 183

plovers (p. 186)

bindi eyes (p. 186)

blackberry paddock (p. 200)

dams (p. 203)

Seven, “Not alone” (13 poems)
‘62 flood (p. 231) wheat silo (p. 209)

pine grove (p. 209)

finches, sparrows (p. 229)

Activity 5: Complete the following table, drawing on a close reading of the text. Download the table here (PDF, 115KB).

Location Two (2) features of this site that are consistent with the location of By the river. If you believe this is not Herrick’s setting for By the river, provide three (3) pieces of evidence that disqualify it. If you believe this is Herrick’s setting for By the river, provide five (5) pieces of evidence to support your view.
Broken Hill, NSW


Coopers Plains, Qld


Dover, Tas


Hamilton, Vic


Kununurra, WA


Mount Isa, QLD


Warooka, SA


Finally, drawing on evidence from your close reading, discuss to what extent you agree with the following:

Ways of reading the text

Herrick has won three significant literary awards for By the river.

  • Winner, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2005
  • Honour Book, Australian Children’s Book Council Book of the Year, 2005
  • Winner, Australian Speech Pathologists Book of the Year, 2005

The Wikipedia entry for ‘Verse novel’ includes a list of Herrick’s verse novels for young people, demonstrating the international prominence of his books.

Herrick’s work is also relevant to young people because it signifies diverse pathways to success in education and as a writer. According to his website, he failed Year 10, was encouraged by the principal to leave school, returned to education as an adult before forging a career as an eminent Australian writer.

Herrick identifies as a poet, rather than a novelist, and is a sought after poet and performer at schools and community events. Herrick’s verse novels include: Love, ghosts & nose hair (1996), A place like this (1998), The spangled drongo (1999), The simple gift (2000), Tom Jones saves the world (2002) and Do-wrong Ron (2003). (See Allen & Unwin study guide – scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on ‘Teacher’s Notes’)

Activity 1: Universal and distinctly Australian themes

Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalogue what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future.’ (How It Works – ‘Goodreads’)

Direct students to the Steven Herrick page on ‘Goodreads’

Click on each of the ten Herrick titles and explore the information and preview (if provided). For example, see the detail and preview provided for The simple gift, one of Herrick’s most successful titles. This title has appeared on the Higher School Certificate list for thee NSW English curriculum.

The simple gift image

Reproduced from Goodreads.

As they explore the links, in pairs, groups or as individuals, they will research the following aspects of each of the ten publications, making note of:

  • themes,
  • settings and era,
  • age and disposition of protagonist,
  • distinctly Australian language, themes and/or settings,
  • universal appeal or relevance.

Optional follow-up task: In groups, students prepare a one to two minute introduction to Steven Herrick as a guest at one of the events listed below. The presenter of the event should be negotiated within the group – as happens in real life. Students might be encouraged to write and present in free verse, and to do so they may wish to reference Herrick’s YouTube videos to imitate his style. Herrick may be attending:

  • a citizenship ceremony in the local council chambers’,
  • the Australia Day awards in Canberra,
  • a special assembly for the students at your school,
  • the annual Los Angeles Australia Day event called “G’day
  • a ceremony to celebrate his win of a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to Australian Literature.

(ACELY1739)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1634)   (ACELY1811)   (ACELY1741)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)

Synthesising ideas

Rich assessment task 1 (Productive mode)

A short story in verse form

Students will create a short story using 3 to 5 poems of free verse. Activity 1 in the Initial response section – bringing together fragments to construct a story – is the basis of this assessment. However, in this instance students will be mimicking Herrick’s style using a collection of free verse poems. See Rich assessment task 1 rubric (PDF, 118KB).

As a stimulus for this exercise students are provided with mini-portraits from the website Humans of New York though teachers may use alternative prompts. Using the prompts, students will construct a cohesive first person narrative using the following structure.

Orientation: One titled verse poem establishing who, where, when and suggesting movement or action to create a storyline (minimum of 100 words).

Complication: One to three verse poems developing a complication, tension or new insight (minimum of 200 words).

Resolution: One titled verse poem bringing the reader a sense of closure which may be overcoming a challenge or finding a way forward into the future (minimum of 100 words).

For example, the story of one Human of New York (accessed 2nd February 2016) begins:

“She’s the glue for the entire family. She plans everything, and everything centers around bringing us together… She even buys everyone the same pair of pajamas for Christmas morning. On one of our anniversaries, she turned our living room into a French restaurant called ‘The House of Love.’ All because our eight-year-old daughter was studying French in school.

Another story from Humans of New York (accessed 2nd February 2016) begins:

It’s like I’m on eggshells all the time. Nothing but stress. I get $696 a month from social security. I could get more if I pretend to be bipolar like some people I know, but they make you take medicine to get your disability benefits. I’m not going to sit around like a zombie to get extra money. When I pay my bills, I have $30 left over. I can feed myself with 59-cent cans of tuna. I tried one of those food pantries but they aren’t even worth the time. I didn’t even know that pints of milk still existed. The bus drivers in the Bronx are cool so they let me ride for free. So that’s good. I can get around. But I can’t afford for anything to go wrong. Some lady is letting me stay in her place for cheap while she lives with her daughter, so I have a place to live… And then when I finally get to my apartment, I’m afraid there’s a letter under the door. Nothing but stress. I never feel safe. Every time there’s a knock on the door, I think it’s the end.

(ACELT1637)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELT1638)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1747)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)


Rich assessment task 2 (Receptive mode)

Literary analysis and personal response: By the river

Students will select three poems from By the river (from any of the 82 available). Their choices will be determined by the following criteria:

  1. The poem with which they had the strongest personal connection. This may be because it made them laugh, reminded them of experiences in their own lives, gave them a new insight into the nature of relationships or moved them in some way.
  2. A poem that locates the verse novel in a time or place.
  3. A poem that lends itself to discussion of literary techniques (see Tab 3, Close study, Activity 2).

For each of the three poems, students will:

  • provide a rationale for their choice;
  • use a minimum of three extracts from the poem to elaborate on their choice;
  • evaluate the effectiveness or the impact of the language and narrative development in that poem, and compare the themes, characters, language and/or setting of this text with others read, viewed or experienced (novels, poems, plays, video games etc.);
  • word count: 150–200 per poem.

The following template may be useful (also downloadable here) (PDF, 97KB)


Poem selected:

title and page no.

(150–200 words)

Effectiveness or impact? Connections with other texts?

Poem selected:

title and page no.

(150–200 words)

Effectiveness or impact? Connections with other texts?

Poem selected:

title and page no.

(150–200 words)

Effectiveness or impact? Connections with other texts?

(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1561)   (ACELY1744)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELY1745)   (ACELT1634)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELY1747)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-7D)