This unit of work was created in partnership with The Garret and accompanies their interview with Morris Gleitzman. 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 teacher context. The activities have been formulated for use with a whole class or small groups, and a suggested grouping is individually noted in each activity. All activities can be adapted to suit smaller groups or individual students. Each activity is linked to a specific section of Morris Gleitzman’s interview and the relevant portion of the interview is noted at the beginning of the activity.
Getting to know the author, including:
Activity one: Alter ego
This activity relates to 2:15 mins–3:35 mins of the interview.
In his interview, Gleitzman references the storytelling of Richmal Crompton and her alter ego, William Brown, a ten year old boy who ‘wanted to right the wrongs of the world but managed to create so many more wrongs while he was doing it’. Crompton quickly became young Gleitzman’s favourite author. (Students should also listen to the Garret interview with Ursula Dubosarsky, which also deals with similar subject matter.)
- Discuss the idea of alter egos with your class. Draw the focus in on superheroes and their alter egos. Examples could include:
- Clark Kent (Superman)
- Diana Prince (Wonder Woman)
- Patience Williams (Catwoman)
- Bruce Banner (The Hulk)
- Susan Storm (Invisible Woman)
- Matt Murdock (Daredevil)
- Bruce Wayne (Batman)
- Jean Grey (Phoenix)
- Peter Parker (Spiderman).
- In small groups, assign each group a specific superhero to find out the answers to the following questions:
- What are their dual identities?
- Why do they have a secret identity?
- What kinds of skills/powers/qualities does each of their identities have?
- Individually, instruct students to complete a spider map to create an alter ego of their own using the inspirations of the superheroes as a guide.
- What things do they care about?
- Who/what would they like to protect?
- What might their special power or skill be?
The writers’ journey, including:
- early work
- development of approaches, style and individual writing characteristics
- themes, issues and motivations.
Activity two: Secret lives of teachers
This activity relates to 5:20 mins–6:55 mins of the interview.
Gleitzman asserts that humour was one of his preferred writing techniques as he could ‘protect [himself] and even achieve some degree of power through the use of humour’. Using humour came quite naturally to him, and he used his sense of humour to create stories about the imagined lives of his teachers.
- As children, your students may have believed that teachers never left the classroom and slept in the cupboard. Discuss with your students some of the things they believed about their teachers from primary school.
- Show students clips of various teachers as portrayed in films. Some examples you could use include;
- With your students, brainstorm ideas about the lives these teachers may lead outside of their jobs.
- How did they draw these conclusions?
- What examples from the clips can they infer about each teacher?
- Have students write a short paragraph after each clip hypothesising about the secret lives these teachers may lead.
Have students write about one day in the imagined life of their teacher. To avoid insult or injury, provide your students with some strict guidelines for tackling this task depending on how comfortable you may be with them writing about your imagined life. You may wish to discuss the importance of using humour for entertainment, but not making fun of people or placing them in situations that are offensive or harmful in their writing. Some ideas for students include writing about:
- their teachers’ alter egos,
- a hobby their teacher has,
- a trip their teacher takes.
You could scaffold this task even further by having students suggest a location, an object and an event that need to be included in their stories – such as a football game, a mobile phone, a fan running across the field – to which they could write their teacher’s and their own reactions into this story.
(ACELA1529) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1625) (ACELY1722) (ACELY1725) (ACELY1726) (ACELY1728)
Activity three: 30-second trailers
This activity relates to 9:13 mins–10:15 mins of the interview.
Gleitzman talks about his early ‘break’ in television production where he was responsible for making promotional trailers for The Norman Gunston Show.
- Prior to this activity, ask your students to find a television promotion or film trailer that captures their attention. Ask them to take notes about the features that they find engaging to bring to class.
- In small groups, students should discuss the promotional trailers they have found and compile a list of techniques that are common across all the trailers. These could include:
- use of anticipatory language,
- reference to associated programs or movies,
- reference to books or other media linked to the trailer,
- names of stars/directors/characters,
- links to social media platforms to find out more.
- Show your students a range of trailers for television shows and for films. Have them look for the characteristics they identified in their groups in these promotional trailers. Some suggestions include:
- After watching, finalise a list of ‘must have’ components for promotional trailers.
In small groups, students work together to prepare a 30-second trailer of their own using the criteria that you have developed together. The trailer could be for:
- a movie or television show they have watched and enjoyed,
- a book,
- a musical or theatre performance,
- a class that they take or extra-curricular group,
- a social justice cause.
After completing their promotional trailer, students should compose a statement to accompany their work that explains their choices for engaging their anticipated audience and from where they gained their inspiration for their work.
(ACELA1764) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1625) (ACELY1721) (ACELY1722) (ACELY1725) (ACELY1726) (ACELY1728)
Activity four: Friendship
This activity relates to 23:37 mins–24:30 mins of the interview.
Gleitzman cites friendship as one of the main themes he hoped to explore through the Once series, through the character of Felix and the circumstances he found himself in. Gleitzman refers to the enduring power and importance of friendship, particularly for his young readers, throughout his interview. You can read more about Gleitzman’s take on friendship in this series here.
- Pose the following statement to your students: ‘How tough can friendship be in a world full of opposites?’
- Give students some time to reflect on this statement and think of friendships, real or imagined, that they can think of that celebrate this statement to share with the class.
- As a class, come up with a list of qualities of the ideal friendship as exhibited in the relationships they see around them.
- Read Gleitzman’s quote to your class, ‘I thought if I take the very best friendship I can write between two young people and I’ll place that friendship in the middle of the worst human behaviour on the largest possible scale.’
- Discuss this with your students to pull apart the meaning of this quotation and what the worst of human behaviour might be
- Guided by Gleitzman’s choice to start each chapter with ‘Once…’, challenge students to write a short story starting in the same way describing a friendship they had or wished they had.
- Students to write a short story taking inspiration from Gleitzman’s decision to describe a best friendship amidst a difficult context
- Students to write a letter to a character from a book, television series or film asking about their friendship.
- Students to write a series of exchanges between two characters pinpointing the characteristics of their friendship and what makes it so successful.
- Students to put together their own Tumblr of images and quotes that celebrate friendship.
The writers’ craft, including:
- Language and style
- Meaning in context.
Activity five: Role of fiction
This activity relates to 27 mins–28:30 mins of the interview.
In the interview, Gleitzman discusses the role of fiction in exploring the best and the worst that human beings are capable of and the humanity that can be conveyed through stories. He also references the role of fiction in helping readers identify similarities and differences between themselves and other people and how people like us might solve problems and escape predicaments.
- Play students this excerpt of Gleitzman’s interview for context.
- Break the class into small groups to further discuss the ideas raised from this.
- Prompt students with questions to consider, such as:
- What is the best and worst human beings are capable of?
- What have you learned about yourself from reading a story?
- How might stories help people find their identity?
- How might stories help people solve a problem they’re in or are struggling with?
- Describe a character with whom you have identified?
- Can you give any specific examples from your own life?
Gleitzman says that once we have found enough of ourselves inside characters, then we start to care about them. Using the alter ego students have created in Activity one, students should write a short piece where their alter ego solves a predicament or problem that students have been in before or currently find themselves in.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1625) (ACELY1725) (ACELY1726)
Activity six: Truthful writing
This activity relates to 28:04 mins–29:24 mins of the interview.
Following on from the above, Gleitzman explains that he ‘wouldn’t dream of only writing about one side [of the story] because it is only one side and it’s therefore not truthful’.
- Read The Enemy to your students
- Discuss the initial perceptions of the book and then explore some of the following questions:
- How does this story convey war?
- What does it tell us about our ‘enemies’?
- How does our enemy perceive war?
- What similarities are there between the two soldiers?
- How is this story an example of telling the other side of the story?
Students write two newspaper articles that tell ‘both sides of the story’. Encourage your students to plan their stories first by considering how something may be perceived by the two parties involved. You could brainstorm an example as a class on the whiteboard to give them some ideas, such as how two parties involved in a car crash in a supermarket car park reported the event to the police. Both stories should convey the truth.
(ACELA1764) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1625) (ACELY1725) (ACELY1726) (ACELY1728)
Culminating rich assessment task
This task is inspired by one of Gleitzman’s early pieces of work, a script called The Other Facts of Life that was later published into a novel.
Download Rich Assessment task (PDF, 122KB)