Introductory activities


Evil Genius is a well-crafted coming-of-age novel and a great text to explore some pretty big themes relevant to the target audience: belonging, identity, being gifted and morality. At 471 pages it’s a hefty read so the book-lovers will be happy. However, the chapters are all very short so it’s a great text to read-discuss-read-discuss in class to encourage the not so enthusiastic readers. Consider issuing the text prior to a term break and encourage students to have it finished, or almost finished, before you begin the unit. This makes it a lot easier for you to embed the comprehension of the text into your initial discussions on authorship, genre and themes.

This resource is aimed at Year 8 students but might also suit a less literary Year 9 class as a thriller genre study. We have tried to make the resource as ‘optional’ as possible so you could easily get through it in four to six weeks or you should be able to spread it out over a longer ten week period and really get into the thematic issues, the genre study and the narrative elements. This is why most of the sections are available as handouts or stand-alone activities. You could also incorporate lots of ICT lessons for completing the final assessment task. We have written an ICT focused assessment that is a tried-and-tested task at our school and we find that creating digital narratives is always a great way to finish up the year so you may want to think about scheduling the unit for Term 4 when you may need to focus on a shorter unit to incorporate time spent on preparing for yearly assessments.

Introducing the novel

What does it mean to be a child prodigy?

Begin with an introductory phase regarding the phenomena of child prodigies. The Child prodigies activity (PPT, 1MB) PowerPoint is designed to help you engage your class with this broader concept prior to moving onto the prescribed text.
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Once you have completed the activity on child prodigies, move onto introducing the text to your students. It’s always beneficial to explore biographical content. What better way to do this than hear about the text in the author’s own words? Catherine Jinks graciously agreed to the following interview: In the Author’s Own Words (PDF, 152KB). 

Writing activity

Catherine Jinks is not only a great author, she is also an interesting person. For this task, see what else you can find out about the author and write a short biography about her.

Before you begin, think about what you need to include in a biography:

  • age,
  • family,
  • where she lives,
  • what she does for a living.

Then there’s what you might want to include in your biography:

  • the things that interest you about her,
  • her career,
  • the other books she has written.

You can use the comments Catherine Jinks has made in the interview above (In the Author’s Own Words PDF, 152KB), but you will also need to conduct your own research. Here are a few websites to get you started:

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Personal response on reading the text

Outline of key elements of the text


Cadel Piggott is an orphan, a child prodigy and a genius computer hacker who has brought the city of Sydney to a standstill; he’s only seven years old. Cadel, is unable to love his emotionally distant and self-involved parents but once he meets Dr Thaddeus Roth and his ‘father’, the incarcerated uber-criminal Dr Phineas Darkkon, he finally feels as if he might have found a sense of belonging and identity.

At ten, Cadel causes havoc at high school and at thirteen he is enrolled at The Axis Institute, an academy of evil for wayward geniuses, keen to earn a degree in World Domination. Evil Genius is a coming-of-age story that charts the unusual education of Cadel Piggott as he studies embezzlement, misinformation and pure evil under a faculty of sociopaths and dangerous fugitives. It’s not exactly a place to make friends but without even knowing it, Cadel finds an odd sense of belonging among the murderous misfits.

It’s not too long before students and faculty alike, to Cadel’s acute discomfort, begin to suffer ‘sudden disappearance syndrome’, but it’s when he finds love in cyberspace that Cadel really begins to question the moral direction his life is taking and whether he is going to survive it.

The Reading Journal (PDF, 182KB) is designed so that students can make notes, ask questions and make comments as they read. They will be asked to identify close study elements such as: themes, characters, setting, language and relevant quotes as they read. The after-reading reflection statement draws on students’ prior knowledge and own experience in evaluating their engagement with the text.
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Synthesising tasks

The preceding tasks lead to sound understanding of the key elements of the text.

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The writer’s craft


By Year 8 it is common for many students to have already been introduced to the concept of literary genre, but it is always useful to review in a class discussion:

  • What is meant by genre?
  • Brainstorm different genres.

In this novel study we look at how traditional literary narratives are blended in more contemporary texts, as Evil Genius uses elements of three distinct literary genres: bildungsroman, thriller and realism. By doing so, we can help students understand how to identify the ways in which genre conventions can be contemporised and how they might apply this knowledge to their own original and imaginative creative writing. We have also provided reference charts for each of the subgenres so that students can identify and record elements of genre represented in the text.

Most students will understand the term coming-of-age story but they may not know the more sophisticated definition, bildungsroman. In the following information section on the genre, we have embedded the basic elements of the plot structure in order to familiarise students with the terms prior to a deeper exploration later in the unit.

Task: Group sharing

Students can work in groups and focus on one genre.

  1. They receive the handout for their genre.
  2. They can first conduct the research activity.
  3. They then chart the novel against the genre that has been assigned to them.
  4. They report back to the class and share their work.

The bildungsroman

A bildungsroman, also known as a coming-of-age story, is a narrative that deals with a sensitive or tragic protagonist’s psychological and moral development during the teenage, or formative, years. The tragic element is usually set up in the exposition of the story and this frames the narrative. The character in a bildungsroman will undertake a journey to find some meaning in his/her existence and by doing so will experience a series of conflicts or challenges to social values during the rising action of the story. During this journey the character generally will suffer disappointment and make a series of mistakes that will come to a climax and then be resolved once the character gains maturity and acceptance during the falling action of the narrative. From these resolutions the responder is able to define the coda, or moral message, of the story. The bildungsroman often will reflect a sense of realism, even in allegorical narratives, in order to effectively convey these messages to the target audience.

Go to: Bildungsroman genre worksheet and chart (PDF, 142KB).
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The thriller

Thriller is a genre of literature with numerous sub-genres such as: the spy thriller, the action thriller or the political thriller. Thrillers are defined by setting a consistent tone of mystery throughout the narrative which is emphasised by suspense, gnawing tension and feelings of paranoia.

The introduction of a good thriller always sets the clues that are slowly unfolded through the rest of the book, with a number of plot twists keeping the responder in a state of anticipation as the plot builds towards a climax. The thriller will often feature kidnappings, conspiracy or red herrings; cliffhangers are used extensively. In most thrillers there will be a vital piece of information that is concealed from the reader until the very last stages of the narrative

Homer’s Odyssey is one of the oldest stories in the Western world and is regarded as an early prototype of the thriller with epic poems such as Beowulf and fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood conforming to the same narrative form. Thrillers usually feature a flawed but likeable protagonist who has, or develops, a strong moral code while the villain of the piece – a nasty, immoral and fiendishly clever antithesis to the main character – will definitely influence the narrative, but might not always be obvious until the plot unfurls.

A well-written thriller will have an ending that leaves the audience re-thinking everything they had assumed about the plot so far. Standard thrillers will have the protagonist overcoming evil and restoring justice but modern writers of the genre like to leave the ending more ambiguous, not just because there might be a potential sequel, but also to get the reader really thinking about the moral of the story.

Go to: Thriller genre worksheet and chart (PDF, 108KB).
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Broadly speaking, narratives are usually categorised as realistic fiction or fantasy fiction and the subgenres are identified from there. Realism has its place in both of these categories as even in a fantasy, sci-fi or alt-reality, the world created by the author must be believable to engage a reader successfully. Realism is used to convince the reader that the constructed world is possible and believable so that the reader can connect to the situation, the characters and ideas more readily.

Conventions of contemporary realism include:

  • The setting is easily recognised as an actual place: city, town, country.
  • Language is easily recognisable in colloquialisms, idioms or jargon.
  • There is a realistic representation of social structures and institutions like schools.
  • There are believable representations of relationships, such as family and friendships.
  • There is a relevant and familiar exploration of moral codes and ethical structures.
  • There is a protagonist relevant to the target audience who undergoes appropriate emotional and moral conflict.

Go to: Realism genre worksheet and chart (PDF, 121KB).

It’s helpful to mention how blending of genre also goes hand-in-hand with the use of non-traditional mediums such as graphic novels, picture books and a range of digital platforms in contemporary literature. Have a look at sites like Inanimate Alice and The Silent History as great examples of the use of digital platforms for telling stories.
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The plot: it’s what keeps us reading, it’s what makes characters into memorable heroes, it frames the themes and, ultimately, the moral or message of the narrative. For authors, constructing a remarkable and believable story that will engage their target audience can be a carefully planned process or an organic event; and often perhaps, something in between.

Use the Plot Structure Worksheet (PDF, 120KB) to frame a class discussion about what students already know about plot. You can have this displayed digitally and get them to ‘vote’ or use the handout to identify their own choices.  

The basic plot formula

You might want to begin this next section with some notes on basic plot structures. If your students are already confidently familiar with the basic plot structure they can go directly to identifying the elements of plot in the Identifying plot structure chart (PDF, 92KB). This could be a task completed individually or in pairs. In 1863, German playwright Gustav Freytag defined the five-act dramatic structure which consists of five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement or resolution. Although narrative, or plot, structure has evolved over time and varies from story to story, the common features attributed to Freytag remain essentially the same.

Orientation or Exposition

The beginning or opening chapters of a story. This section sets the scene, creating a visual picture of the setting, atmosphere and time of the story. Characters are introduced and clues are set in place for the coming complications. 

Rising action: Minor complication and minor resolution

The minor complications are where conflict occurs that affects the plot. In the thriller genre, it is the series of minor complications that provides the suspense in the narrative. This is then followed by the minor resolutions where the conflicts appear to be resolved and the reader can take a breather from the suspense or the emotional turmoil.


This is the turning point of a narrative and is where the plot reaches its highest tension, action and drama. Therefore it is usually the point where the amalgamation of the minor conflicts becomes apparent, secrets are revealed and the protagonist requires/learns emotional or moral strength.

Falling action

This is where secrets are revealed, the conflict between the protagonist and antagonists is resolved – for good or bad – and plot twists explained. Modern dramas have subverted Freytag’s idea and use the falling action to increase the dramatic impact of the climax: the protagonist relapses or the villain suddenly rises from the abyss.


Denouement is a French word which literally means ‘untie the knot’ so it perfectly explains this part of the narrative. This is where a sense of catharsis occurs, we understand the development of the protagonist or, as we find in a tragedy, the impact of the climax is revealed. In this section, the purpose of the narrative has been accomplished and the story ends.

For the purposes of literary study we also add the Moral or Coda. This is the main message or lesson the responder is meant to take from the narrative.

What writers say about plot

Give students the handout Plot and writers (PDF, 128KB). For more examples, go to the Brainy Quote website.

  • Ask students to predict how they might plot a narrative according to a particular learning style. (visual, logical, verbal, etc.)

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Synthesising task: Visualising the narrative

1. Visual storyboard

Students can make a visual depiction of the basic plot structure or they can choose to focus on a chapter or a scene. They will also need to submit a critical analysis reflecting on how this storyboard illustrates what they know about narrative structure. Encourage students to be imaginative with their choices. They can select images that may metaphorically, rather than literally, represent an event, emotion, character, conflict, etc.

Google maps can provide another way of visualising the plot. In this activity students trace sections of plot using google maps. (Map Pin Writing Task PDF, 179KB and Map Pin Grid PDF, 90KB).

The handout Plot Storyboard (PDF, 87KB) is available or students can easily make their own in Word. Students can use their own artistic skills; create a collage of collected items (don’t have to be pictures) or cut and paste images sourced from the internet.

For the more computer literate and internet-ready classrooms, students create a digital storyboard of the novel, a chapter or a scene using the ACMI Storyboard Generator.

Note: Students have to register if they want to save their storyboards. Students under thirteen years must have parental permission to register.
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2. Visualising the plot 

Go to the Visualising narrative worksheet (PDF, 110KB) and using the ‘Visualising a narrative’ coaster from The New York Times as a model, complete the activities outlined.

For this task you will illustrate the narrative timeline of the plot developments in Evil Genius.

As you plot each narrative element you should:

  • provide textual references (chapter/page numbers) to support your illustrations
  • integrate at least two quotes from the text to support your illustrations

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3. Plotting the structure

Ask students to plot the structure of Evil Genius. Here are a few options that take into account student learning ability as well as internet ability and/or access. A number of options have been suggested so that you can differentiate for the learning styles/abilities of your students.

  • Issue the Plot Structure Worksheet (PDF, 120KB) as a worksheet (mid-lower ability). This works best as a whole-class task with ongoing discussion during lesson time.
  • Students create their own chart in Word (mid-high ability). They could use Excel charts or other functions under Insert (PC) to compile figures. Students will need to plan how they need to structure their charts to reflect the information they need to include. The line and scatter charts seem to be the most popular for this activity. Suitable for a homework task.
  • Students create their own chart at Online Charts (mid-high ability). This function appeals to students with design and some numeracy skills and requires reliable internet access so is more directed to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) classroom. There are a few designs, the tool is accessible and fairly easy to use. This also requires students to email their finished chart, save to documents etc. so is good for general ICT skills.

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World building with technical language

Another way authors create realism is with the clever use of technical language (jargon) to make a world seem realistic even when we know that what is suggested is impossible in reality. For instance, we know it’s impossible to use the water in a toilet bowl as a means of transmitting images, but Catherine Jinks’ use of ICT technical language such as ‘DNA wired transmitter’ makes that leap of imagination easy for us.

Students can complete the Word building with technical language (PDF, 109KB) handout focusing on technical language.
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Characterisation in Evil Genius 

The process of creating and developing a character in a work of fiction is called characterisation. Creating great characters is not just about describing their physical appearance; they are revealed through other narrative techniques such as their actions, the way they speak – perhaps they have an accent like The Maestro – or by their thoughts and reactions to name a few.

What makes a character?

Open this section by asking students to draw on their own knowledge of characterisation and what makes a successful character. Ask students to:

1. Write down the names of two favourite characters they have encountered in books they have read.

2. Make a list of specific reasons why these are their favourite characters.

3. Make a list of what they remember about how the author developed each of these two characters.

4. How do authors make these characters memorable?

5. What are the similarities and/or differences that make these characters appealing to them?

Developing a character

When writers begin to develop characters, they create a backstory which will identify a range of character traits that will make the character seem very real to the responder. One-dimensional or stereotypical characters will rarely keep a reader interested in the development of the narrative.

When authors create characters they might consider traits such as: appearance, age, gender, educational level, vocation or occupation, financial status, marital status, social status, family, cultural background, hobbies, religious beliefs, ambitions, motivations, personality, ethnicity, residence, pets, favourite colour, friends, phobias, faults, secrets, memories and so on.

1. Brainstorm some character traits and expand on the list above. For a lower-ability class, you could apply this by creating an acrostic response to CHARACTER


ero, or is he?

nti-hero? Could be!







And so on… we know we try to stay away from acrostic structures in secondary schools, but for some students this might be a good way to remember some focal ideas about character.

2. Create a backstory for one of the minor characters in Evil Genius.

Extension activity

Write a micro-story (50–100 words) involving this character. Micro-stories, also called flash fiction, are very short narratives that can be challenging to write. Students need to think carefully about how they can include detail about action, character and setting while being highly selective. Use the following example to see how much your students can define about the character, the setting, the plot and the action from three sentences:

As the sun bore down on my face, I squinted across the void. The wire seemed to stretch on forever. With an exasperated sigh, I slipped one foot on the tightrope, and began to walk.
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The narrative role of a character

Characters fall into two categories in a narrative depending on how they develop throughout the story and what they learn from their experiences. A character who has an epiphany that changes the way (s)he thinks and/or acts is called a dynamic character. Alternatively, a character who essentially does not change is called a static character.

Characters also play roles in the plot. They can be a support for the protagonist; they can be a foil that we compare the protagonist to; they can facilitate or prevent actions that affect the main character. Use the handout Character roles (PDF, 99KB) to chart the role of characters in Evil Genius.
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Characters as focalisers 

In any narrative, the protagonists are usually also focalising characters, the ones the narrative follows and around whom the plot unfolds. These are clearly identified in a first-person narrative but are also represented in third-person narratives. In some stories the protagonist and the focaliser might not be the same character.

Nodelman and Reimer in The Pleasures of Children’s Literature (1996) have identified certain generic characteristics of the focaliser in children’s literature to be:

  • usually the smallest, the youngest, or weakest in the group,
  • innocent or naïve about the world around them,
  • optimistic with a firm belief that everything will be alright in the end,
  • isolated in some way with parents or caregivers absent either physically or emotionally.

Use this understanding to answer the questions in the Character development chart (PDF, 117KB).
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Direct vs indirect characterisation

There are a number of ways an author might develop a character. When the author describes the character through an omniscient narrative or the character reveals something about her/himself they are using direct or explicit characterisation. When the author challenges the reader to decide for themselves what a character is like through their speech, thoughts, actions or interaction with other characters, they are using indirect or implicit characterisation.

Names of characters

The names of fictional characters are often quite important and characters are often given names that reveal something about their personality or role in the narrative such. For instance, at one stage Cadel is rather proud that his name, Cadel Darkkon, translates as ‘Dark Lord’.  What other characters in Evil Genius have names that reveal their character?


Synthesising tasks

The preceding tasks for Genre, Plot and Characterization draw together key aspects of the text’s main features.


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Ways of reading the text

The big ideas in Evil Genius

In this section a wide range of resources has been provided to help you explore the main themes reflected in the novel. Obviously belonging and identity – always a focus in a bildungsroman – are big themes; more specifically in this text we can look at how being gifted and different can affect a sense of belonging, particularly in the formative years. The coming of-age-novel also features the moral development of a protagonist and this is an inescapable issue explored in Evil Genius. We have set out the resources so that you can cover these ideas in a class discussion or you can spend the time looking at the foundations of modern thinking about morality and how this is reflected in the novel. Each section has been created as a series of handouts.

Being Different Activity (PDF, 106KB)

Journal Article by Miraca U. M. Gross Citation from Roeper Review. 1998 Feb 20(3). The “Me” Behind the Mask: Intellectually Gifted Students and the Search for Identity 

Anna’s poem ‘Frustration’, also from: The “Me” Behind the Mask: Intellectually Gifted Students and the Search for Identity 

Being different

Asperger Syndrome

In her conversation about the themes in Evil Genius, Catherine Jinks talks about the importance of belonging and forming your own identity. For some characters in the novel, forming a sense of belonging can be difficult. Brendan has Asperger Syndrome and Sonja has Cerebral Palsy. 

Asperger Syndrome now comes under the single umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is classified as a developmental disorder that affects how the brain processes information. People with Asperger Syndrome have a wide range of strengths, weaknesses, skills and difficulties. Common characteristics include difficulty in forming friendships, communication difficulties (such as a tendency to take things literally), and an inability to understand social rules and body language. Social skills training, which teaches people how to behave in different social situations, is often considered to be of great value to those with Asperger syndrome.

Students should watch the following clip and make notes about the film techniques used by the composer to successfully convey ideas about living with Asperger Syndrome. Asperger Syndrome – Understanding Aspergers in Adults

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. Although Cerebral Palsy is a permanent life-long condition, some of these signs of Cerebral Palsy can improve or worsen over time. People who have cerebral palsy may also have visual, learning, hearing, speech, epilepsy and intellectual impairments.

Watch the following clip and make notes about the film techniques used by the composer to successfully convey ideas about belonging and being different. Mat – A young man with cerebral palsy inspires others 


 Choose one of these clips and explain how the composer has successfully used film and/or narrative techniques to make you think more about being different.
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Rich assessment task (productive mode)

Being gifted and talented

The following task requires students to look at the relationship between being gifted and belonging. Unlike the previous examples where it is evident that a medical condition might create obstacles to belonging, thinking about the negatives of being gifted is a little more complex. Once students have understood the concept they can return to the novel and create a response from the point of view of Cadel.

Setting up the task

Open this section with class discussion on how students define ‘gifted’.

  • What is their personal experience of this concept?
  • What might they see as the downside of being gifted?
  • What other texts do they know of that explore the idea of being gifted?

This discussion will help students define giftedness and respond to the next section.


Students will explore the idea of giftedness by responding to two texts: an academic article on being gifted and a poem written by a gifted child on her experiences.

Students will find that reading the two texts will stimulate them to consider more closely their ideas about giftedness and what the text is saying about gifted people.

  • Firstly they may want to explore the words gifted and talented. What do these words imply?
  • Students are invited to reconsider the characters and their sense of belonging in the light of the reading. While Brendan and Sonja have medical conditions that form obstructions to them finding a sense of belonging, what about Cadel?
  •  Students jot down an initial response to the following question: In what ways do you think being gifted and talented might, if at all, affect a sense of belonging?

Text 1: Journal Article (Read the first five paragraphs of this on-line article.)

Discussion question: Students look at their previous response and explain how, if at all, Professor Joad’s story has changed the way they think about the gifted and talented. Do they have more of an understanding of the problems gifted people face in feeling like they belong and forming a sense of identity?
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Text 2: Poem (contained in: The “Me” Behind the Mask: Intellectually Gifted Students and the Search for Identity – scroll down the article until you come to the poem)

In her poem, ‘Frustration’, Anna, aged 8, describes the rage, pain and bewilderment of the highly gifted child — ‘the incoherent, disjointed, incomplete sense of self’.

Reading: Students can read the poem and answer the questions provided (PDF, 99KB).

Visual response: Students create a visual representation of this poem. They might use a collage of sourced images or they may want to flex their artistic skills!

Further reading: The Me Behind the mask

Culminating task: Creative writing 

Using the readings and activities above, students can write a poem that Cadel might write from his point of view.
(ACELA1547)   (ACELA1549)   (ACELT1632)   (ACELT1767)   (ACELY1736)   (ACELY1810)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-3B)   (EN4-4B)

Synthesising core ideas

Morals and ethics

This section is also available as a student handout (PDF, 141KB).

  • How does the plot of Evil Genius invite a consideration of moral values?

Morality is about: rules, social responsibility and right vs wrong. Exploring these concepts is important for a deeper understanding of the denouement and the more complex understanding of characters like Cadel and Prosper English.  Before introducing this section of the learning ask students to write down or discuss in small groups:

    •  A definition of what they think morals are.
    •  Why are morals important in our lives?
    • What is the difference between morals and ethics?

Two video clips have been included in this section; while watching the clips isn’t a necessary requisite, it’s always good to introduce students as early as possible to philosophical thinking. If you are doing the shorter version of the unit, this is one area you could skip. You can then bring the conceptual focus back to the text through Cathy’s comments about morality and how they are reflected in the two quotes. You could also ask students to identify their own textual references.

The theme that really frames the narrative in Evil Genius is the idea of morals and ethics and we know that the exploration of moral development forms the basis of a bildungsroman narrative. The concepts of morality and living an ethical life have been argued by philosophers for centuries and are seen as being the framework of society. The following clips are short lessons from philosopher Alain de Botton’s School of Life the history of modern morality and ethical thinking.

How do we learn about morals?

Ask students to think about how we learn about morals and ethics in our everyday lives. For the most part, we learn about how to behave from the adults in our lives: parents, family members, teachers, etc. In order to frame ideas about morals, adults often use what we term as precepts to define ideas about wrong vs right. Many religions have a set of precepts to frame the moral elements of their teachings.

  • The Ten Commandments (Christianity)
  • The Five Precepts (Buddhism)
  • The Five Pillars of Islam (Islam)
  1. Find a definition for the term ‘precept’. (For example: (noun) – a general rule intended to regulate behaviour or thought.)
  2. Identify and choose 5-10 synonyms for the word ‘precept’. (For example: principle, rule, tenet, canon, code, doctrine, guideline, working principle, law, ordinance, statute, command, order, decree, mandate, dictate, dictum, directive, direction, instruction, injunction, prescription, commandment.)
  3. What precepts are you already familiar with in your own experience?
  4. Work in small groups and define five precepts you think are important in the classroom, at school, in the community or in a wider society.

Consider the comments made by Catherine Jinks (PDF, 152KB) about morals and ethics in Evil Genius and how they might be reflected in the following quotes:

… we all know that the world doesn’t work. In fact, some of you are only too aware of this fact. The power structures we see around us are entrenched…and they are full of narrow-minded people with unremarkable genes. As a result, the human race is headed down a path that will almost certainly lead to its extinction unless something is done pretty quickly. It is Dr Darkkon’s belief that if we harness and nurture mankind’s more hidden talents, then we might save ourselves. – Dr Thaddeus Roth (p. 112)

Evil is just a woid…used by society to condemn de actions of people it don’t like. Evil is the opposite of what society calls good. Some people might call bull-fights evil, but de Spanish don’t. Some people call war evil, but you don’t see it going out of fashion. De concept of evil is as flexible as a hunka clay. You can fashion it into any shape you want. What dose people call evil is a respected philosophy called Survival of the Fittest. – The Maestro (p. 114)

Find other comments in the novel that capture a moral issue.

Moral characters

One of the darkly ironic features of the narrative is that Cadel, a child who is desperate for some sort of adult guidance and love, finds himself in a familial relationship with a criminal evil genius and an affable sociopath. This section helps students understand this quirky plot twist.

In Evil Genius, the adults create an environment where morality is a very blurred concept indeed. Throughout the story, most of the characters behave in morally ambiguous ways. Guided in his moral education by his ‘father’, Phineas Darkkon, his mentor, Dr Thaddeus Roth and an assortment of ‘teachers’ at the Axis Institute, it’s no wonder that Cadel is more than a little confused about the concept of ‘right vs wrong’. Taken at face value, most of the following precepts used to advise Cadel throughout his education are fairly innocuous. However, when looked at in context, they take on a more immoral meaning.

  1. Whatever you do, don’t get caught. (Thaddeus Roth, p: 10)
  2. Never take anything at face value. (Thaddeus Roth, p: 82)
  3. Choose your tools wisely. (Phineas Darkkon, p: 104)
  4. No pain, no gain. (Thaddeus Roth, p: 113)
  5. No killing on campus. (Luther Lasco, p: 118)
  • Choose one of the precepts from Evil Genius and explain why it has a sinister undertone when used in context.
  • Why do you think these ‘precepts’ are written in italics?
  • How is the author using ironic humour in the last quote?
  • Can you identify one character who acts with moral integrity all of the time? Make sure you use specific references to the text to support your answer.

(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1627)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELT1767)   (ACELT1632)   (ACELT1768)   (ACELY1734)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-5C)   (EN4-3B)   (EN4-4B)   (EN4-2A)


Rich assessment task (receptive mode)

A philosophical discussion

The following task is presented in two ways: one using the students own beliefs and the second with students in character, illustrating the characters’ beliefs

Part one:

For this task students will be encouraged to work in pairs or groups to construct a philosophical argument which they can present to the class. The ideas in the handout on morals (PDF, 141KB) can be used as a stimulus. Students may structure their discussion according to the structure of a Socratic dialogue.

The theme that really frames the narrative in Evil Genius is the idea of morals and ethics, and we know that the exploration of moral development forms the basis of a bildungsroman narrative. The concept of morality and living an ethical life has been argued by philosophers for centuries and is seen as being the framework of society. Characters in the novel often make comments that point to moral codes:

Now we all know that the world doesn’t work. In fact, some of you are only too aware of this fact. The power structures we see around us are entrenched…and they are full of narrow-minded people with unremarkable genes. (Dr Roth, p. 112)

Evil is the opposite of what society calls good…You can fashion it into any shape you want. (The Maestro, p. 114) 

The topic for discussion is: Do you believe it is possible to live a purely moral and ethical life?

Part two:


The characters have been invited to speak on a panel at an international symposium on morals and ethics. The panel will be looking at the same question as earlier: Do you believe it is possible to live a purely moral and ethical life? but will take on the role of one of the characters from the novel.


Students form groups with each person taking on a particular character’s role from the novel.

Students need to know their characters well: How do they think? What do they believe? How do they speak?

Then they frame a response to the question (Do you believe it is possible to live a purely moral and ethical life?) from the point of view  of their character.

The discussion is performed in front of the whole class.
(ACELA1547)   (ACELT1627)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1808)   (ACELY1731)   (ACELY1732)   (ACELY1733)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-5C)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-3B)   (EN4-4B)