Connecting to prior knowledge

Prior to commencing this unit of work, have students create a paper based or electronic ideas journal where they can collect and organise ideas. Possible electronic tools include LiveBinders, Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi, Padlet, or An engaging, easy to use, presentation tool is Glogster.

Before reading and viewing the book Free Diving by Lorrae Coffin, explain that it is set along the Pilbara and Kimberley north-west of Western Australia. Ask students to research the Pilbara and Kimberley region, and then, using words, photos or illustrations, to record their findings of:

  • the landscape
  • the Aboriginal groups who occupy this land and locate on a map of Aboriginal Australia 
  • the cultural understandings of the Aboriginal groups located in the Pilbara, i.e. their connection to the land and their relationship with one another.

(ACELY1702)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)

Work together to devise an Acknowledgement of Country. It should include a reference to the Traditional Owners/Custodians of the area and a statement of respect for Elders past and present. If students are unaware of the Country on which the school is located you can locate it on this map.

Allow students to connect with the text by showing various real or photographed artefacts such as rope, sand, pictures of moon, pearl shell and luggers. In groups, ask students to share their experience and knowledge of each of the items, noting what it is, how, when and where it is used/found. Students record what has been discussed in their journals.

Students carefully view the front cover of the book – what do students see, think, wonder and feel? Look at the inside front cover and note the reverse embossing. Why would the designer choose this technique for this book? Ask students to record their ideas in their journals.

Read the back cover as a shared reading experience, demonstrating the Think Aloud strategy. Check if students have answered any of their wonderings from the front cover. Have they developed further questions? Discuss as a class. Students record individual thoughts/questions in their journals.
(ACELY1699)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELY1702)   (EN3-7C) 

Useful resources for students:

Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre

Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation


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

Ask students to explore the idea of being sent to an unknown place where you know no one. How would you feel? What would be your concerns?

‘Exploitation’ is one of the themes evident in the picture book Free Diving. Look up the definition of the term ‘exploitation’ and, as a class, discuss the forms of exploitation that may be familiar to the students. View the Behind the News (BTN) story, Fashion Factories. Discuss how the definition/s and examples of exploitation provided by students connect with the Fashion Factory story. Discuss ‘a day in the life of a fashion worker’ using a Y Chart (Look, Sound, Feel).

Read aloud the article on the sport of free diving. With your students, discuss the perils of this sport and the precautions that need to be taken.
(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)


Rich assessment task

In groups, have students discuss, predict and justify what they think this book will be about, using all of the ideas explored so far. Explain that there may be many predictions made.

Prior to this activity, involve students in designing an assessment rubric focusing on predictions and justifications and the use of appropriate metalanguage used to discuss points of view.
(ACELT1609)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELT1608)   (EN3-3A)

Responding to the text

Present students with a copy of the words to the lyrical narrative Free Diving or song script available at the back of the book. Demonstrate how they might use the Think Aloud strategy to make responses or ask questions of the text. The Think Aloud Checklist template is a useful guide. Gradually have students take over this task. In small groups, ask students to share some of their questions/responses.

Now, share the picture book with the students. As a whole class, discuss how their interpretations of the text changed when they viewed the pictures alongside the words. Discuss how the pictures and the words work together to create meaning.

Were any questions answered? Do your students have new questions?

To explore the significance of the moon on the front cover of Free Diving, have students read another book (set in Broome) by the illustrator Bronwyn Houston, Staircase to the Moon.

Ask students to discuss how the end notes on the final two pages describing why the book was written and the background of the author and illustrator contributes to their overall understanding of Free Diving.
(ACELT1608)   (EN3-3A)

Using the following resources, invite students to work in small groups to see if they can answer any of their remaining unanswered Think Aloud questions.

  • Historical Broome: YouTube clip about the early settlement of Broome and Indigenous involvement in the pearling industry. Video is 10 minutes in duration. Selective viewing recommended.
  • Aboriginal Slavery: Historical view about the history of Aboriginal slavery in Australia.
  • The Pearlers: Made by The National Film Board 1949. Directed by Lee Robinson. Filmed in black and white, this short film (10 minutes) looks at pearling in the late 1940s. It goes on board the boats that work off the coast of Broome, Western Australia. Provides insights into the early period of pearling industry. Film could be used as a springboard for discussion. Further research will reveal hat pearling happened across the north of Australia as opposed to just the Pilbara and the Kimberley. There is also a history in the Torres Strait Islands of pearling as well.
  • Broome History and Culture: Short online text. Interesting photograph of a statue commemorating women’s contribution to the pearling industry at Roebuck Bay.
  • History of Pearling in Australia: Short online text with two video clips embedded and a photograph slide show.
  • Uncovering the First 20,000 years of Australia’s pearling industry: Brief outline of Aboriginal involvement in the pearl shell trade.
  • Australian button industry: A history of the pearl shell industry in Australia

(ACELY1702)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme


Have students develop an insight into the characters in the text by using STEAL characterisation. This useful strategy focuses on a character’s speech (if used), thoughts, effects on others, actions and looks.

As a whole class, guide students to create a monologue for one of the characters in the book (other than the diver). Discuss key elements of a monologue and the tone of voice of the speaker. Discuss also the purpose of cue cards. The ReadWriteThink lesson plan titled ‘Giving Voice to Child Labourers through Monologues‘ and the Sample Cue Card template may be useful guides for students.


Using the picture book Free Diving have students search for clues in the words and illustrations that suggest what the environment above and below the water could be like.


In small groups, ask students to consider a day in the life of a pearl shell diver, then create a Y chart, similar to the one developed earlier for the fashion factory workers. Use a Venn Diagram to compare the exploitation of the fashion factory workers to the Aboriginal pearl shell divers.


Ask students to create their own story map or select a suitable template from the Story Map website. Discuss with students how narratives often end with a happy ending while historical narratives, loosely based on true events, may not. Can they think of an example of a narrative that does not end well?

Working in pairs, invite students to discuss how they interpret the ending. Bring the pairs together into small groups to share their interpretations. Point out that in typical postmodern picture book form, the ending requires the reader to be actively engaged in constructing the ending in their own mind. Encourage students to discuss different interpretations the group members give to the ending.
(ACELT1608)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELT1610)   (EN2-10C)


Rich assessment task

Ask students to write a monologue for the pearl shell diver. Before writing, students will need to reflect on and discuss elements such as plot, character, setting and theme, explored earlier as a class, to give insight into the life of the diver. Students can video or present the monologue directly to the class, making sure that their tone of voice is in character with that of the diver.

Before commencing writing, work with students to design an assessment rubric focusing on monologue structure, ideas and delivery.

Note to teacher – Promptsmart is a very useful app, as it allows individuals to read a scroll down script while delivering a speech or while being videoed.
(ACELT1612)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELY1700)   (EN3-8D)

Examining text structure and organisation

Structure and organisation

Free Diving is described as a lyrical narrative, which is a form of poetry that can be sung. Have students research poetry forms including lyrical narrative. Examine Free Diving’s form and discuss why it is considered to be a lyrical narrative. Then have students listen to the song, sung and written by Lorrae Coffin.

Ask students to listen to another song called Sayonara Nakamura written and sung by Ted Egan. After listening, present students with the song lyrics and ask students to compare both songs by looking at their similarities and differences in terms of the story they tell, poetic techniques and mood.
(ACELA1512)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELT1611)   (EN2-10C)

Multimodal features

[An excellent teacher resource explaining the five semiotic systems is First Steps Viewing Resource Book, Chapter 3, Section 2 ‘Defining the Semiotic Systems’.]

Explain to students that there are five semiotic systems, or meaning-making systems, that allow us to explain how meaning is created in multimodal texts. The five semiotic systems are:

  1. Linguistic: comprising aspects such as vocabulary, generic structure and the grammar of oral and written language.
  2. Visual: comprising aspects such as colour, vectors and viewpoint in still and moving images.
  3. Audio: comprising aspects such as volume, pitch and rhythm of music and sound effects.
  4. Gestural: comprising aspects such as movement, speed and stillness in facial expression and body language.
  5. Spatial: comprising aspects such as proximity, direction, position of layout and organisation of objects in space.

[adapted from Anstey and Bull, Evolving Pedagogies (2010: 2)]

Ask students to find examples of how the semiotic systems have been used to create particular meanings in the Free Diving text i.e.


  • Words and phrases, used by the author Lorrae Coffin, to create particular meaning in the text. The lyrical narrative, Free Diving, uses both literal and figurative imagery. Ask students to refer to the Language of Poetry to help them identify the different sorts of imagery used in the text. 


  • How has colour and technique been used by the illustrator, Bronwyn Houston, to contrast the atmosphere above and below the water, the land and the sea, night and day?
  • Consider the use of sepia on the first and last pages?
  • What does the clothing of each of the characters tell us about the characters and their positions of power?


  • Find examples of characters in the text that are looking directly at the viewer (in multimodal viewing terms, known as a ‘demand’). What might each of the characters be saying to the viewer? Students write speech bubbles and attach them to the illustrations.
  • Consider the facial expressions and body language of all the characters in the text. What does this tell us about the way the characters are feeling?


  • Locate examples of how relationships between people are shown by their proximity to one another and the orientation of their bodies. On the final pages, who is missing from the scene?

Ask students to Freeze Frame some events in the book showing how the use of gestural and spatial awareness can create certain meaning in texts.

Using semiotic terms, ask students to consider:

  • How feelings such as fear, loneliness, isolation and sadness, as well as concepts of beauty and wonder, have been created through the words and the pictures in the text.
  • How has the illustrator subtly indicated that the diver has died.

(ACELT1611)   (EN2-10C) 


Examining grammar and vocabulary

Have students create a Word Wall listing the topic vocabulary used in Free Diving as well as any new words found in their research.
(ACELA1512)   (EN2-10C)


Rich assessment task

In keeping with the structure and mood of Free Diving ask students to create an additional page for the text using words and pictures. Text needs to include literal and figurative imagery. Invite students to add illustrations to demonstrate an understanding of visual, spatial, and gestural awareness.

Prior to the task, involve students in designing an assessment rubric focusing on text structure, imagery and illustrations showing visual, spatial, and gestural awareness.
(ACELT1612)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELT1798)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)


Using a Placemat proforma ask small groups of students to consider the perspectives of different characters in relation to the treatment of the pearl shell diver. Students might choose the diver’s mother/father/uncle/aunt, the Malay/Japanese diver assistant, the boss of the pearling lugger/industry, or the diver himself. Students record each opinion in one of the outside boxes of the placemat. The centre space is for the class to consider their group response.
(ACELA1502)   (EN3-8D)

Ask students to present a point-of-view on the pearling practices in the 1880s by pretending that they are journalists at the time, writing a newspaper editorial on whether the practice of using Aboriginal people as free divers should be banned. Students create their article by outlining the treatment of Indigenous pearl divers, with fictitious accounts taken from characters in Free Diving. Students may also draw on evidence gained through their research into pearl shell diving in the 1880s on the west coast of Australia.

To support students to write their newspaper article, have them first write a mock newspaper article using the resource: ‘Point of View: Editorial’.

View and examine Kevin Rudd’s apology to Indigenous Australians (2008). After discussing the significance of this historical speech with your students, ask them to write a similar speech, apologising to the ancestors of Indigenous Australians involved in the Western Australian pearl shell industry in the 1880s.
(ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)

Using a Futures Line template ask students to consider two questions:

  • What would we have liked to have happened to the pearl shell diver?
  • What did happen to the pearl shell diver?


Rich assessment task

Drawing on the research and discussions, ask students to write a letter to the Indigenous people of the Pilbara and Kimberley regions and across the north of Australia, apologising for the treatment of their ancestors who were enslaved and used as free divers to collect pearl shell for European markets. Remind students that there is also a history of pearling in the Torres Strait Islands. Australia Post provides useful information about letter writing and may be a useful resource to prepare students for this task.

Prior to this task, involve students in designing an assessment rubric focusing on student understandings of exploitation, letter-writing format, text structure and language features appropriate to purpose and audience.
(ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)