Connecting to prior knowledge

Note to teachers: The term ‘Dreamtime’ is used throughout this unit. This is a term often used to describe Creation stories, Creation beliefs and spiritual philosophies that came into being for the many and various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. There is a variety of terms, that are used to describe these events, including ‘Dreaming’. Individual creators and communities will use terms that suit them, where they are from and where they are on Country. It would be advisable to have a conversation with the Creator of any of these titles (where possible), or a person from the community where you are from as to what would be appropriate to use.

Before Reading

Dreamtime stories are a way that Indigenous people explain their beliefs on why things are how they are today. They are told through art, music, stories and dance. They are passed down through generations and are an important part of the Indigenous culture. These oral traditions substantiate Aboriginal perspectives and Torres Strait Islander perspectives about the past, present and the future. See the More Resources tab located at the bottom of this page for more information.

Show the students the front cover. Find out what students already know about Dreamtime stories.

Ask the students the key questions and record their answers on butcher’s paper/whiteboard to refer back to at the end of the lesson:

  • What type of book do you think this is?
  • What picture clues show you that this might be a Dreamtime story?
  • What do you think a Dreamtime story is?
  • Do you know of any other Dreamtime stories? Write a list of all of the Dreamtime stories that the students have heard of so far.

Read the title of the book. Ask the students what they think ‘cunning’ means? Use a dictionary to find out the definition.

Pause to research the cultural associations of the word ‘cunning’ with ‘crows’. 

Show the students the illustrations on each page. Have students make a prediction on what the story will be about. Get them to think about the title of the book and the meaning of the word ‘cunning’.

Ask the students what they notice about the pictures, colours and fonts on each page. Point out the use of dot paintings and ask these questions:

  • Where have they seen them before?
  • What do they represent?
  • Why do they think the artist has used this technique on every page?

Background information can be found here.
(ACELT1581)   (EN1-11D)

Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’

Read the ‘Thanks’ page aloud, giving students time to think about what they are hearing.

Use think-pair-share to let students talk about what they have heard.

Prompt by asking:

  • Who is being thanked?
  • What do you think the author is saying to the reader?

After a whole class chat read the page about Gregg Dreise.

Ask the students if they know any more information about Dreamtime stories.

Together discuss what Elders are and how they play an important role in sharing stories from the past to future generations. There is a difference between an older Indigenous person and an Elder. After discussing these differences students will understand that few would have access to an Elder. Instead invite students to identify someone in their family that tells them stories. For non-Indigenous children they might have a grandparent who tells them stories. These stories may be real life events or made up stories. Students then turn to a peer and share a personal experience about a time when their chosen person has told them a story. Share some of the students’ stories as a whole class.

As a class, using the information gathered from students, brainstorm questions and topics that the students could ask their grandparents about. Ask students to write down their questions so they can be used for the rich assessment task.
(ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)

Rich assessment task

Using the interview questions written in class, students will complete a short interview with an older family member. They will ask their chosen person to tell them a story from their past (fiction or non-fiction). This can be completed through face to face conversations and recording the answers on paper, over the phone or through filming the interview. Before beginning talk about what it means to be an ‘active listener’. Remind students that they will understand more of the stories if they listen closely and try not to be distracted.

With the information gathered, students will then present their story to the class. This is an open-ended task where students can choose how they wish to present their stories. Some ideas are through video, art, a book created by the student, puppets or oral retell.

As part of the assessment the teacher will be looking for evidence of close listening by the student.
(ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)

Responding to the text

Read Cunning Crow to the class, pausing on each page for students to think about the story and illustrations.

Text to self

Reflect on the page ‘Yet Waan was not happy’. Waan had colourful feathers just like the other birds but he was still not happy. Ask the students to think of a time in their lives that they were given something but still wanted more. Discuss the word jealous.

Think-pair-share: Invite students to share a personal experience with their peer about a time when they were jealous of someone or something.

  • Why did they feel jealous?
  • Is it okay to feel this way?
  • Is it okay to be different from one another?

(ACELY1660)   (EN1-10C)

Text to world

Celebrating our differences. Ask:

  • What if we all looked the same?
  • What is unique and special about you?
  • How are you the same/different as your friend?

Finish by rereading the sentence from the ‘Thanks’ page that begins ‘To the next generation…’

Students complete a self-portrait using a fine line marker and paint the detailed features and colours of their faces. Display these around the room to celebrate the diversity amongst the students.

Text to text

Read the story How the Birds got their Colours by Mary Albert. As a class complete a same/different chart comparing the two texts. Discuss why these two Dreamtime stories are different even though they have the same concept – how birds got their colours. Research the land on which each author was born. Gregg Dreise is a descendant of the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people of south-west Queensland and north-west New South Wales. Mary Albert is from the Bardi tribe located in Broome, Western Australia. Indigenous people might describe themselves in relation to their land. Investigate the differences in the Country from which each author is from.

Use the Gambay map to find where each author is from and listen to the different Indigenous languages spoken.
(ACELY1660)   (EN1-10C)

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

After reading the story, discuss the different types of birds that were in the story. Ask:

  • Have they seen any of the birds in real life?
  • Are the birds the same colours as the ones in the story?

Take the students for a walk around the school grounds or nearby park/bushlands. Each student will have a clipboard and pencil to record the types of birds they see. If possible some might photograph any birds they see. When you have returned to class, discuss the similarities and differences of the birds. Discuss the location and why they saw certain types of birds and not others. For example: In a Darwin rural school, the students may observe cockatoos, kookaburras and rainbow lorikeets whereas in a Melbourne city school, students may observe magpies, doves and honey-eaters.

Discuss the setting of Cunning Crow. Ask students where they think the story may have taken place and why.

Reread the first page of the story. Discuss what other animals may have been around in the Dreamtime. Brainstorm some class wonders about these animals. For example:

  • I wonder how the turtle got its shell?
  • I wonder how the echidna got its spikes?

Record these wonders to use for the assessment task.
(ACELT1584)   (EN1-10C)

Rich assessment task

Use the class wonders or a student’s individual wonder about an Australian animal as writing stimulus.

Using simple sentences, students will write about their wonder and explain what they believe is the answer to their question.

The student will then paint or draw a picture to match their writing.
(ACELT1582)   (EN1-11D)

Examining text structure and organisation

The author has used many different font styles throughout the story. Explore the fonts on each page with the students. Discuss the effects of the different fonts for each word. For example, on page two the words ‘LIGHTNING AND THUNDER BOOMED’ have been written in capitals and are white which makes them stand out from the page.

What effect does this have in the way the reader reads these words?

If these words were written in the normal font, would the reader read them differently?

What are some other techniques the author has used throughout the book to convey meaning? As an example draw attention to the use of colours, Indigenous symbols, etc.

In small groups have students explore other words used in the book and select one to create their own font to match the word. Invite groups to share with the class and discuss why they chose the word and why they wrote the word in that way. Invite them to read to the class demonstrating how the word would sound now.
(ACELT1581)   (ACELA1450)   (EN1-11D)

Examining grammar and vocabulary


Return to the book, highlighting examples of nouns and adjectives. Ask students about the ‘patterns’ of these words.

What job might the first word do and what job might the second word do?

Invite students to describe these functions, e.g. tells us more about (adjective) and tells us what it is (noun).

If necessary confirm to the students what an adjective is. Explain that an adjective tells us more about a noun and then give an example. You may also need to explain what a noun is for some students. Work on some examples together from another text. Mad Magpie by the same author would be a good choice (Mad Magpie also has a Reading Australia resource).

Adjective  Noun    
white cockatoo
wise words
naughty birds

Read the story and ask the students to listen for adjectives as you read. Create a list of all of the adjectives that the author has used in Cunning Crow. Display a page from the book and as a whole group, label the page with adjectives. For example, if you used page 3, the students would look at the picture and describe what they see: the dark stormy clouds, bright colourful rainbow, sharp pointy lightning, etc. This lesson will support the students to complete the rich assessment task.

Building noun/adjective sentences:

After completing the adjective lesson, students can use their knowledge gained to build sentences about characters in the book. For example:

The crow.

The cunning crow.

The cunning black crow.

The cunning black jealous crow.

You could also do this activity to describe themselves or other students in their class taking care it is a positive activity. Model first describing yourself:

The teacher.

The happy teacher.

The happy, tall teacher.

The happy, tall, blonde teacher.

Rich assessment task

Print or draw an image of Waan when he was a black crow. The last page in the book has two good images you could use. Revise what an adjective is. Underneath the image, rule up two columns and label with the words: Outside he looks like… and Inside he might be….

Explain to the students that they will be describing what Waan looks like on the outside using adjectives. They will write these words in the column labelled outside. Discuss all the suggestions using the text to support each contribution. Discuss with the students what an inside characteristic of Waan might be. An inside characteristic cannot be seen. See below for an example.

Character: Waan

Outside he looks like…  Inside he might be… 
shiny black feathers

sharp pointy claws

sparkling blue eyes





Using the words in both columns, invite students to write a short paragraph describing what type of character Waan is. You could refer back to the building noun/adjective sentence activity to compare the students’ use of adjectives. This activity can be used with any book to describe characters and you can use the information gathered as writing stimulus.
(ACELA1452)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELT1584)   (EN1-10C)

Creating literature

Reread Cunning Crow to the students. Stop on pages 7 and 8 and discuss the colours of the birds in the picture. Look at the patterns on their wings and tails.

If you were a bird, what colour would you want to be?

Would you have dots or stripes, big wings or small, a colourful crest or dark colours like Waan?

As a whole class, create an imaginary bird. Discuss the different features of the bird and use adjectives to describe and label the different features. For example, bright, yellow, fluffy, crest.

Using their own imaginations, ask students to design and draw their own bird. They will label the different body parts of the birds using adjectives. Using their bird design, students can use a variety of materials to create their bird. Materials may include plasticine, material, paper or various collage materials.

In small groups, students can use these creations to retell the Cunning Crow story or create their own. These stories can be performed in front of the class or recorded to be played back on the interactive board.
(ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)

Story sequencing and story map

In a small group, read the story and then ask the students to recall the main parts of the story – beginning, middle and end.

The teacher will write the students’ answers in simple sentences to describe each part of the story. For example, ‘All the birds were white’, ‘Waan found the rainbow stones’. Cut the sentences up into strips – one sentence per strip. As a group, the students will read each sentence and sequence them to retell the story in the correct order.

Reread the story to check whether they have sequenced the story correctly.

Once you have completed the sequencing activity, have the students use the information in the sentences to create a story map. The students could use fine line markers and water colours to draw and paint the story map. Using water colours will give the students the opportunity to experiment with colour mixing and add lots of detail to their pictures.
(ACELY1788)   (EN1-1A)   (ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)

Magic Rainbow Stones

In the story, the stones were magic and could catch rainbows which turned the birds’ plain white feathers into beautiful colours.

Explain to the students that the stones were believed to be magic as they were found on sacred land. Discuss what sacred means and the importance of not taking anything from sacred sites (refer back to the ‘Thanks’ page).

Ask them if the school grounds are sacred? Why or why not?

Key questions to ask students:

  • If you found magic stones, what would you do with them?
  • What amazing things could the stones do?
  • Would you share your stones? Why or why not?

Take the students on a walk around the school to collect stones (or purchase stones from Bunnings, etc). Use paint, markers or chalk to decorate the stones and turn them into magic stones.

Rich assessment task

Use the stones that the students created in the activity above as a provocation for writing a short story. The teacher should model this process first, using their imagination and students’ ideas, create a short story about finding magic stones. Write and draw about all of the amazing things that the stones can do.

Using several A4 pages folded in half and stapled together, students create a book about their own magic stones. Students can use the pictures in the Cunning Crow book as inspiration for their own illustrations. Encourage students to read their stories to one another. Keep these stories in your book corner for students to read and share with their peers.
(ACELT1586)   (EN1-10C)