Connecting to prior knowledge

Before reading: wondering

Start a class discussion of the text Family Forest by showing the front cover and prompting students to offer some initial thoughts or questions:

  • I’m wondering about this story we are going to read. It’s called Family Forest.
  • What does ‘family’ mean to you?
  • What does ‘forest’ mean to you?
  • Do those two words usually go together?
  • Do you think all these children and adults live in the forest?
  • Could they all be in the same family?

Display a large T-chart, labelled at the top with the words ‘family’ and ‘forest’. Students think-pair-share with a partner. Invite them to share their observations on the general meanings of family and forest.

Provide each pair with sticky notes to record a word or two on the meaning of each topic. Students add their notes to the two main sections of the T-chart.

As a whole class, discuss the ideas contributed.

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

During reading: observing
  • What else do you notice about the cover?
  • What do you think the book is about?

Looking again at the cover, give students a couple of minutes to discuss predictions with a shoulder partner. Ask a few pairs to tell the class their ideas, and verbally summarise a couple of predictions to listen and watch for while the story is read.

Ask students to save their reflections about the ‘family’ and ‘forest’ themes in the text until the whole story has been read. Then ask them to identify where the text matched predictions or where something unexpected occurred.

(ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)   (ACELY1660)   (EN1-1A)

After reading: reflecting

Reread the story and focus on the final line. Discuss, and then ask: what is a family tree?

Explore family trees here. Build the concept of a family tree as connections between relatives, like the branches on a tree.

Using the teacher’s own family as a starting point, model a simple family tree structure of grandparents, parents and children or similar. Ask students for suggestions of how their own family trees would be different.

Provide chalk for students who wish to draw their family trees in the playground area. Take photos of students marking where they belong on their tree. Ask students to walk around and compare their family structure to others’ in the class.

Note to the teacher: scaffold students’ understanding of their own family structure and seek family input via a home project prior to this activity. Instances of diversity (separation, adoption, same-sex families, single parents, etc.) should be managed and understood within each child’s family context.

Text-to-self and text-to-text connections

Share a variety of picture books that feature diverse family groupings, such as We Are Family by Patricia Hegarty and Ryan Wheatcroft. Engage students in conversation to consider that families are not all the same. See the More Resources tab at the bottom of this page for further book suggestions.

Together, recall diverse family groupings from among the students and the shared texts. Compile photos from the last activity for IWB display.

Show the page with the family all together at the barbecue. Ask:

  • Are all families the same?
  • How is the idea of family in the book different to your family or your friends’ families?
  • How is the idea of family in the book different to other stories we’ve read?
  • What is the author telling us about this family on this page?

Give each student a print-out of their own family tree photo to paste in the centre of a larger sheet where they can write around it.

Students can add labels listing activities they like to do with each person on their family tree. Alternatively, implement an extended writing lesson to develop a recount of events when the family are all together.

Note to the teacher: approach this activity with caution and modify if necessary. Students may be distressed if they have a family member who has died or is not in contact for a variety of reasons.

(ACELT1584)   (EN1-7B)

Rich assessment task

Jointly construct a diagram of the family in the text, having students recall the family members and how they were connected.

Why is this family like a forest and not just one tree?

Provide table groups (or smaller, depending on groupwork skills) with a set of small images showing each member of the blended family from the text, by photocopying and cutting up the last page.

On one A3 sheet, groups arrange and paste the pictures and draw the interconnections between the characters as intertwining branches of a tree.

Next, ask each group to construct an oral retelling of the story to perform for the class. Ask the students to draw the main characters and paste them onto paddle pop sticks for this activity. They can perform the oral retell using these props. Alternatively, photograph the main characters and use the app ‘Puppet Pals’ to record the oral retelling.

Observe whether students display their understanding of the blended family being like a forest as the key idea from the text.

The retellings can be videoed as an assessment record of text comprehension, and for students to review at the end of the unit.

(ACELY1660)   (EN1-4A)   (ACELT1586)   (EN1-10C)

Responding to the text

Return to the T-chart and discuss what has been recorded as a recap to the story.

Characterisation: interpreting character traits from text and illustrations

As a character example, focus on Duncan, the father in the story.

Prompt students to recall who Duncan was, what the children in the book thought about him and what he did.

As you reread the text, ask students to watch closely for Duncan in the pictures on each page and have some words ready to describe him. While reading the story, ask students to identify the pages that are about Duncan but do not show his picture.

Guide students to consider facial expressions, gestures, actions, clothes, etc.

Prompt students to give their impressions of the character and explain what they noticed about him, drawing on evidence from the illustrations. Encourage a full sentence spoken text, e.g.:

  • I think Duncan is a _____ character because I can see…
  • Duncan reminds me of _____ because I can see…

Using this model, students share their impressions with a partner. Each pair records a list of adjectives from their discussion on a mini whiteboard.

Explain that students will now listen to the pages (no illustrations) where the boy talks about Duncan. After reading aloud that section to the class, refer students to their list of adjectives.

Ask students to consider what they heard about Duncan in the text, and what information was derived only from the pictures:

  • Which of the words on your whiteboards did the author use to describe Duncan (e.g. funny, surprised)? Put a circle around those words if they appeared on your whiteboard.
  • Which of the words on your whiteboard were not in the actual text?
  • What led you to use those extra words? Did the visuals prompt you?
  • How did you know/think those things about Duncan?

As a class, add all the impressions of Duncan to a role-on-the-wall character outline, with external features (e.g. brown hair) outside the figure and internal personality features (e.g. happy, funny) inside the outline.

(ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)   (ACELA1452)   (EN1-9B)

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Characterisation: inferring character traits across and beyond the text

Referring to the role-on-the-wall of Duncan, invite students to discuss what is not known about him from the previous lesson and what else they would like to know.

Provide model questions that demonstrate knowledge of the text or text-to-world connections, such as:

  • Duncan, can you tell me why all those kids were yelling out ‘Dad!’ to you?
  • Duncan, why was everyone so happy at the barbecue?
  • What sort of a job do you have?

Provide table groups with a sheet labelled ‘Questions for Duncan’. Groups discuss and record what they would like to ask Duncan if they were to meet him.

From a Hot-Seat chair, model how to play the role of Duncan and answer questions from the class. Ask for volunteers to be Duncan in the Hot-Seat, and guide them to develop answers that draw on words and images from the text and world knowledge to build the character.

One student from each table group rotates to a different group as Duncan, and is asked one of the questions. Another student from each group moves on and has a turn answering a question as Duncan. Continue until all have been in the Hot-Seat.

(ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)   (ACELY1660)   (EN1-1A)

Rich assessment task

Jointly construct a class word bank of adjectives as a scaffold that can be used to describe people, sorted under ‘inside the body’ and ‘outside the body’. Encourage students to apply other words they think of to describe important people in their life.

Students bring in a photo of one family member and develop a descriptive word bank about that special someone using ‘inside the body’ and ‘outside the body’ categories.

When complete, the students share their work with a partner who asks questions to find out more about the person. The other student answers in character.

From their knowledge of their partner’s family member, students verbally introduce and describe the person to the class (or a small group if more suitable).

Observe speaking and listening skills with a checklist (PDF, 95KB) along with relevant application of adjectives to the character outline.

(ACELA1452)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELY1657)   (EN1-6B)   (ACELY1656)   (EN1-1A)

Examining text structure and organisation

Interpreting relationships

Write the words ‘relative’, ‘related’ and ‘relationship’ on a chart or IWB.

As a class, discuss and record what it means to be a relative or to be related to someone. How are both different from having a relationship with someone?

Note that individuals may consider themselves to be related because of a family connection or because they are part of the same family group. Also discuss how the concept of a sister, brother, cousin, aunt or uncle may vary across cultures.

Return to the start of the story and read the first page.

Ask students to identify who is telling the reader about their family, and to recall any family members remembered from previous lessons. Help students to identify that the text is written from the boy’s point of view.

Before concluding, ask why the ellipsis (…) is used. Link the use of this punctuation to the illustration.

Reading a picture

Show students page 25 with Charlie and the boy painting together. Then, with a partner, ask students to consider:

  • What is Charlie’s relationship to the boy’s family?
  • Are they related?
  • Do they have a relationship?
  • What can we tell about his relationship with Charlie from the picture?

Gather suggestions, confirming students’ ideas with evidence from the text.

Ask students to think about how it feels being with a favourite ‘big person’ who spends time with them doing fun activities. Have volunteers demonstrate how the boy would say the line from the text (e.g. in an excited voice): ‘Sometimes he paints with me.’

Compare the picture of the boy painting with Charlie, to the picture of him fighting with Eliza (pages 6 and 7).

Then ask students to think about how it feels being with a person they fight with. Have volunteers demonstrate how the boy would say the line from the text (e.g. in a frustrated voice): ‘Sometimes she’s my arch-enemy.’

  • Who was Eliza in the boy’s family?
  • What can we tell about his relationship with Eliza from the picture?
  • How is the boy feeling in the two different pictures?
  • Do we know how Eliza is feeling?

Gather suggestions, confirming students’ ideas with evidence from the text.

Gossip Mill

Students think about possible reasons why Eliza and the boy are fighting.

On an established signal, students mill around the room in all directions until a second signal. They all stop and tell whoever is nearby their idea, and listen to the other person’s idea. Continue until students have shared three times.

Discuss and jointly construct the beginning of a written response to this task; for example, ‘Eliza and her half-brother were fighting because…’

After drawing a picture illustrating their favourite idea from the Gossip Mill, students write the sentence starter (or write it in their own words if preferred) and independently complete the sentence.

Return to the sentence: ‘Sometimes she’s my arch-enemy’. Discuss the inferential meaning of ‘sometimes’. What are the unsaid ideas behind this sentence?

Repeat the Gossip Mill activity, this time focusing on the relationship between Eliza and the boy when they are not fighting.

Discuss and jointly construct the beginning of a written response to this task; for example: ‘Sometimes Eliza and her half-brother…’

After drawing a picture illustrating their favourite idea from the Gossip Mill, students write the sentence starter (or write it in their own words if preferred) and independently complete the sentence.

(ACELT1582)   (EN1-11D)   (ACELA1454)   (EN1-6B)   (ACELT1581)   (EN1-11D)

Examining grammar and vocabulary


Read students a familiar text that includes dialogue between characters, e.g. Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen.

Discuss text features that show that one of the characters is speaking.

  • How do we know when Grandpa is speaking?
  • How do we know when Thomas is speaking?
  • Do they speak to each other on every page?
  • What do they say to each other?

Students practise the short dialogue with a partner, applying the voices of the two characters.

Compare with Family Forest, asking students to watch and listen for when the author shows a character speaking. Write the speech on the board.

On the page with the text ‘He’s funny, my Dad’, ask students to notice the illustration of the children.

  • Are any of the children answering Dad?
  • How do we know?
  • What might one of these children say in reply to Dad?
  • What might Dad say back?

Record suggestions on the board to build understanding of written dialogue.

Students can choose one of the children and roleplay answering ‘Dad’ (teacher).

(ACELA1448)   (EN1-4A)

Rich assessment task

Return to the page in the text where the boy is painting with Charlie. Draw attention to the set-up on the table ready for painting: Charlie seems to be telling the boy something because he is shown pointing at the brush and paper.

Students discuss with a partner what they might be saying to each other that is relevant to that situation, and make inferences about their relationship from the illustration.

Pairs present a brief verbal dialogue to the class. Teacher feedback can guide responses based on relevance and the relationship.

Students write their imagined dialogue between the boy and Charlie, recorded at the bottom of an A3 sheet. Pairs can work together to recall and review their dialogue as they write on their own sheet.

In a separate lesson, create a watercolour painting of the scene based on the methods used in the illustration. Paste paintings above the written dialogue on the A3 sheet.

(ACELY1661)   (EN1-2A)


Students may have noticed how the author and illustrator have fun with words. Go to the first example on pages 4 and 5, where Eliza is described as a ‘half-sister’ and depicted with her right leg and arm missing. Discuss what the writer and illustrator are doing. Brainstorm other ways Eliza might have been described.

In small groups, each with a copy of the book, ask students to find other examples where there is a play on words and play between words and the illustration.

Word Text says… Illustration shows…
whole whole sister a young girl with holes in her body
step-mum she’s my step-mum a woman that looks like she is made of steps
partner Rod is Jane’s Partner a man and woman dancing as partners
painter Charlie is a painter a young man painting a wall

Finish up by noting ‘whole/hole’. This example is a homonym. Focus on the different spellings of this word determined by the meaning. Start a chart in the room where students can add homonyms as they find them in their independent reading. Check the list each day in your guided print walk.

(ACELT1581)   (EN1-11D)   (ACELA1454)   (EN1-6B)

Forest tableau

View images or video footage of a forest (up to 2:45 minutes with the narration turned off).

Have students move into a space in the room where they can all crouch or lie quietly and visualise being a seed on the forest floor.

On a slow tambourine beat, students start to ‘sprout’, gradually unfolding, growing taller and developing branches and leaves.

Shake the tambourine quickly to represent a strong wind so all the young ‘trees’ are tossed about.

Divide the class into four groups where they are standing. Each group creates a forest tableau (still picture), to depict their understanding of that environment.

Have each group show their tableau to the rest of the class in turn. Students can be asked to offer their observations on what they see in each tableau.

With a variety of collage art materials, including a photo of their own face, each student makes an image of themselves as a tree on cardboard.

Create a ‘Class Forest’ by cutting these out and arranging them together as a mural or diorama. Add dotted lines to show friendships and points of connection (e.g. in choir together, went to the same kindergarten, live in the same street, etc.).

Return to the T-chart developed at the start of the unit. Transpose each list onto a Venn diagram and now consider if there are similarities between forests and families.

Suggested answers/prompts can include ideas about:

  • Growth
  • Different ages
  • Different sizes
  • Shelter
  • Support
  • Sharing of space
  • Sharing of food
  • Sharing of water
  • Interdependence

Complete a Venn diagram together.

Use these ideas as the basis of a modelled and guided written text with the heading ‘My Family Forest’, employing personal point of view as in the story.

Emphasise describing each family member with adjectives as if they were a tree or another part of the forest. For example:

My grandma is the oldest tree in my family forest. She is my mum’s mother, but mum is taller. My dad is the biggest, thickest tree of all. I am a tiny, new tree growing in their shelter.

Add new adjectives to the previously-developed descriptive word bank for scaffolding when students independently write their description.

(ACELA1586)   (EN1-10C)   (ACELA1452)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELT1581)   (EN1-11D)

Rich assessment task

Students will use understanding of the text and apply personal point of view to write a description of their relationships with the people in their own family. Remind students of the positive nature of all the relationships in the text and encourage them to focus on the positive. They might include:

  • family members
  • cultural background
  • how they support each other
  • what they share
  • family traditions
  • where they live

Before beginning, discuss and provide copies of a simple criteria checklist (PDF, 95KB) for students to refer to during writing.

Publish writing on a platform such as Seesaw or Google Docs where photos can be added and work can be shared with each student’s family.

(ACELY1664)   (EN1-3A)   (ACELY1661)   (EN1-2A)