This unit of work was created in partnership with The Garret and accompanies their interview with Christos Tsiolkas. Please click here to access the Interview, Bibliography, Show notes and Transcript, and Author profile.
The following activities and tasks have been designed to be studied and used in full or in part, depending on the teaching context. Each activity has been formulated for use with whole class, small groups, pairs or individuals, and details of the suggested groupings can be found in each activity. Each activity directly corresponds to a section of the Christos Tsiolkas interview and this is noted at the beginning of each activity. A broad range of synthesising tasks has been developed, from which teachers may choose as they think appropriate.
Getting to know the author, including:
- cultural background
- personal experiences
Activity one: Perspective
This activity relates to 24:05 mins–25:46 mins of the interview.
In his interview, Tsiolkas describes trying to capture the expression of his mother and the little boy from the infamous slap incident. He speaks of trying to capture each person’s history and perspective growing up in different times. Tsiolkas says, ‘both of their perspectives are true, and both of their perspectives are part of what it is to be Australian.’
Discuss the notion of perspective with students – reviewing first-, second- and third-person perspectives and their use in literary works
Give examples of evidence of perspective in different texts, particularly when two people reflect or comment on the same event. Examples could be:
- two different newspaper articles about the same event
- contrasting interviews of celebrities
- staging an argument/disruption in your classroom and asking students to document what happened and then share the responses
- sharing specific moments from The Slap.
Give students an excerpt from a text of your choice where an event is described and allow them time to read for understanding.
Individually, students write about the event in their excerpt from the perspective of another person who may have been there. Students could also attempt to write from a different perspective, such as the second person.
Activity two: Migrant experiences
This activity relates to 26:15 mins–28:06 mins of the interview.
Tsiolkas discusses the role that migrant cultures and migrant experiences play in forming national identity and national story, and the universality of the themes of The Slap.
Brainstorm inherently Australian characteristics, values and qualities. Create a list for reference. Draw out responses that make reference to literature students may have read that promote a version or particular vision of Australia.
Discuss how people from different cultures contribute to and enhance these qualities. How might their experiences of living here be impacted by the values of European Australia?
Provide students with an excerpt of migrant literature. You may find Sweatshop a useful starting point for contemporary migrant works (poetry, prose, short story, video and podcast samples are available on this website). Other writers who describe the migrant experience, such as Alice Pung or Julie Koh, could also be good sources here.
In pairs or small groups, students should read and annotate the excerpt so as to identify the following:
- values inherent in the writing
- descriptions of place and/or landscape
- characteristics ascribed to particular characters within the text
- similarities to other texts they may have read/watched
- descriptions of the author’s identity.
Students should select a classic Australian poem and contrast it with an example of migrant literature of their choice (another poem would work well). Poems by A. B. Paterson and Henry Lawson would suit, or songs by John Williamson or Slim Dusty. Students should first annotate the poems for their relevant poetic devices and meaning and then contrast them with their chosen example of migrant literature, paying attention to:
- the representation of Australia
- the views, ideas, attitudes and values conveyed in each
- drawing comparisons between the landscape or place.
Students could then write an essay or prepare a presentation that draws out the differences between the stereotypical, classic and enduring imagery of bush poetry and the more realistic, contemporary and metropolitan migrant poetry.
(ACELR037) (ACELR039) (ACELR040) (ACELR044) (ACELR045) (ACELR046) (ACELR047) (ACELR052)
The writers’ journey, including:
- development of approaches, style and individual writing characteristics
- themes, issues and motivations.
Activity three: Hooking into place
This activity relates to 16:25 mins–18:40 mins of the interview.
Tsiolkas discusses the important role that place has in his stories, particularly the influence of Melbourne. Tsiolkas asserts that The Slap was ‘a Melbourne story’.
Provide your students with excerpts of vivid descriptions of place. Some examples include:
- J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts in Harry Potter
- Favel Parrett’s descriptions of Cloudy Bay in Past the Shallows
- Charles Dickens’ description of London in Oliver Twist
- David Malouf’s description of his boyhood home in 12 Edmonstone Street
- Dickens’ sensory description of Coketown in Hard Times
- Margaret Atwood’s description of Offred’s sparse room in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Students read the excerpts once for understanding, before engaging in a class discussion about the importance of place.
- Why is place essential to a story?
- How does place work to enhance a story?
- What happens when a reader does not, or cannot, connect to place?
Re-read the excerpts identifying devices that help the student attach or relate to the place that is being described.
Inspired by their analysis of place in an excerpt of text, students should practise creating their own description of a place. They could describe their home, their neighbourhood or town, or even a place they have travelled to. Alternatively, students could describe a place from their imagination that they may have plans to use in their future writing.
(ACELR038) (ACELR040) (ACELR044) (ACELR048) (ACELR049) (ACELR051)
The writers’ craft, including:
- Point of view
Activity four: Character study
This activity relates to 9:53 mins–14:51 mins of the interview.
Tsiolkas speaks of his first novel, Loaded, as a character study, where he was able to write about a character who was ‘me-not-me’, and talks about the impact not studying creative writing at university had on his storytelling.
List well known literary characters (class- and text-dependent) on the board.
- Discuss their qualities, appearances, values, relationships, etc.
- Discuss admirable attributes, professions, strengths and weaknesses.
Give students an excerpt from Tsiolkas’s Loaded. Teachers should use their discretion here as there is some strong language and adult themes throughout the novel.
Students read the excerpt from Loaded and record their thoughts about Ari, including:
- Who is Ari?
- List stated and implied characteristics.
- What and whom does Ari value?
- Actions Ari undertakes in the excerpt.
- Flaws, strengths and weaknesses of Ari.
- Conflict that drives Ari’s behaviour.
Discuss and unpack Tsiolkas’ statement that Ari is a character who is ‘me-not-me’ – what does this mean for the novel?
Students create their own ‘me-not-me’ character for a short story.
- How can they create a character that voices the concerns they have, mimics their flaws, strengths and weaknesses and behaves in a way that they are too scared to or may not be able to due to their context?
Workshop this idea with the students and have them present in one of the suggested ways:
- an interview with their character
- a character profile for a magazine
- a description.
Inspired by the structure of Loaded, students experiment with writing in the ‘stream of consciousness’ style or writing a story set within a 24-hour time period. Discuss the stylistic features of both of these styles with your students and challenge them to describe an event that occurred in their own lives, or describe a scene in a short story they may be working on.
(ACELR043) (ACELR049) (ACELR051) (ACELR052)
Tsiolkas decided with The Slap that he was going to ‘take every voice and continue it along’. Using this as inspiration, your class could engage in the following tasks:
- After creating their ‘me-not-me’ characters, students could take it in turns to write a section of a story from their own perspectives. Guidelines would need to be established about what plot was going to be followed and described.
- Students break into small groups and select an event together. This could be based on something they have read or watched on television, or experienced in real life, such as a car accident or an argument in the supermarket. Students then take turns to tell sections of the story, following on from each other.
Tsiolkas draws similarities between his characters Danny (Barracuda) and Ari (Loaded). Using a character that students have created in a previous story, transplant that individual into a new plot. Try to keep the character’s qualities and traits as they were initially and base their behaviours and reactions on how they were created in the first instance.
(ACELR049) (ACELR051) (ACELR052)
Comparison with other writers and texts:
- aspects of genre
- other writers using similar approaches or dealing with similar ideas.
Tsiolkas sites the Japanese film style, Rashomon, as his initial inspiration for composing The Slap before deciding on a different direction. The Rashomon effect is a literary style where an event is given contradictory but plausible interpretations by the different individuals involved. Teachers could experiment with this in their classroom by:
- adapting some of the previous tasks where students are imagining events to describe by adding instructions to include a contradictory description by one character;
- watching examples of Rashomon film and analysing the storytelling;
- rewriting literature to include a different and contradictory perspective by one character.
Culminating rich assessment task
This task includes both receptive and productive language modes. Click to download the Rich Assessment Task (PDF, 108KB).