Connecting to prior knowledge

Girl on Wire is a beautifully and carefully illustrated text, with powerful opportunities to connect with Elise Hurst’s meaningful illustrations. Colour, image and symbol are used meaningfully throughout the text, giving students the chance to explore visual literacy and multimodality in picture books. This unit uses a mixture of individual responses and think-pair-share activities to support whole group discussion.

Looking only at the front cover, use the following questions to guide students’ thinking in a class discussion. Encourage the use of evidence in their responses:

  • What do you notice about the illustrations and the style used? What could this mean?
  • How is colour used in this cover? What is interesting about this? The girl is in red – why? What does this tell us?
  • What do the colours make you feel? How has the illustrator worked to create that mood?
  • What do you predict will be significant about the birds?
  • Can you think of another example where birds are used to symbolise deeper meaning?
  • What big ideas do you think might be represented in this text?
  • Using evidence from the cover, what predictions can you make?

(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)

Explore the title: Girl on Wire vs Girl on a Wire

The author has chosen not to include an article in the title. Why? What is the feeling we get when we read that? Is it simply stripped down to the most basic form to highlight what matters?

Have your students think-pair-share using the following question:

What do you think will be the significance of the wire? How does the idea of walking across a high wire make you feel (scared, worried, overwhelmed, fearful or another emotion)?

Ask students to share their responses to these emotions. What body messages do they get? What happens to their senses? Ask:

  • If you were to feel emotions that are opposite to these, what would you experience?
  • When you feel those things, how do your body messages change?

When looking at the picture of the girl on the cover, what can students see in her body language? The character has her chest pushed forward and her head raised high; she is balanced and stabling herself with her arms. Her eyes are facing directly forward and she is blazing red.

Does she appear bold/brave/confident? How do we know?

(ACELT1795) (EN3-1A)  

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

Read and discuss the blurb (or play the preview on Story Box Library). Prompt students with some questions:

  • What do you think the girl is feeling?
  • How has the author let us know what the girl is feeling?
  • What language device has the author used to describe the breeze (answer: personification)? Why is this an effective way to communicate what is happening to the girl?
  • What other environmental elements could be personified to communicate a similar message? Brainstorm examples as a class.
  • Could the author have used a different literary device? Discuss similes and metaphors.

Invite students to form pairs and rewrite the blurb using a different literary device. This could be done on post-it notes and collated to show examples of the three different devices mentioned above (personification, simile, metaphor). Share students’ responses and discuss the varying impacts of the different devices.

(ACELT1795)   (EN3-1A)   (ACELT1611)   (EN3-3A)

Rich assessment task

Have students respond individually and in writing to the following questions:

  • Do you think the girl is facing a fear? What makes you say that?
  • Think of a time when you were afraid to do something. What did you feel? What did you think? How did your body respond?
  • What helped you to ‘begin’ or to face your challenge?
  • Do you have any advice for the girl? You could write this to her as a note.

Provide an opportunity for students to share their responses in pairs or small groups.

(ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)

Responding to the text

Begin this session by reading Girl on Wire aloud to the students. For this first reading, do not show students the visuals. This reading is purely to take in the story. Encourage students to use the comprehension strategy of visualising to imagine what the character is experiencing.

Following this reading, use the following questions to guide a group discussion:

  • Do you think the girl actually walked on wire? Why/why not?
  • Why do you think the girl needed to walk the wire alone?
  • To whom was the girl speaking?
  • How do you think the girl’s emotions changed from the beginning of the story to the middle and towards the end?

(ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Inferring character emotion

Put students in groups of two or three. Allocate each group a section of the text. Ask the groups to identify three emotions that the character could be feeling based on what is said in that part of the story. Consider using the following guide to split the text (where indicated, a = left-hand page, b = right-hand page):

Page 4 Page 23a
Page 7 Page 23b
Page 9 Page 24
Page 10 Page 25
Page 12 Page 26
Page 15 Page 29a
Page 16 Page 29b
Page 19 Page 31
Page 20a Page 32
Page 20b

Have one representative from each group stand up in the order that their allocated page(s) appear. As you read the text again, have each representative share the emotions that they decided would demonstrate the way that the main character’s feelings evolved throughout the text.

(ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)

Emotions continuum

Using the emotions that you brainstormed together in the previous activity, debate the ten most relevant emotions that the main character experiences throughout the text.

First, create a continuum that ranks the emotions from ‘most commonly felt’ to ‘least commonly felt’. Then create a continuum that charts the most uncomfortable feelings through to the most comfortable feelings.

Encourage students to debate and share their opinions about why they think an emotion belongs in a specific place. The focus is on what the students know and can say about the emotions, rather than having a pre-set ranking system. This can then be used for the rich assessment task.

(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)

Rich assessment task

Students are to create a line graph that plots the character’s emotions against the main events in the story. You could use this template (PDF, 109KB), or students could create their own graphs on blank paper.

Step 1

Complete the aforementioned Emotions Continuum as a class, ranking the girl’s emotions from uncomfortable to comfortable, and keeping the centre of the graph neutral. You may wish to limit the continuum to ten emotions, though students could adjust these for their own graphs, based on their interpretation of the text.

Step 2

Have students independently identify the story’s main events, and label these on an X axis. Encourage them to focus on the beginning, middle and end of the story to include a wide range of events.

Step 3

Students should then plot the events against the changing emotions of the character, listed on a Y axis.

Step 4

Have students choose one plot point on their graph and provide some more detailed analysis by answering the below questions:

  • What evidence can you use from the text and/or illustrations to show that this event would make the character feel this way?
  • How do your own experiences help you to connect to the emotions the character is feeling in this moment?

(ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELT1798)   (EN3-2A)

Introducing an allegory

An allegory is a story in which there is a deeper meaning at play. The story can be read at the surface level, but if you read deeper and explore further, you can find symbolism woven throughout the text. The characters, events and places can have additional meaning. This is true of Girl on Wire.

For many students this will be a new text type, so it will be worthwhile exploring the deeper layer to this story. This can be done by comparing the literal interpretation of particular events with their allegorical meaning. Encourage students to unpack the deeper meaning and find the bigger message behind this beautiful story. This can be done independently or as a class, according to student ability. Here are some possible events to explore the literal vs deeper meaning (PDF, 85KB).

(ACELT1609)   (EN3-1A)   (ACELA1505)   (EN3-6B)   (ACELY1703)   (EN3-3A)

Visual literacy

Girl on Wire is a beautifully illustrated book that lends itself to rich discussion of how the illustrator, Elise Hurst, has added meaning to Lucy Estela’s words. Below are some points of interest to examine with students.

Begin by showing students the trailer for the book. Discuss the different modalities that are used to help the viewer make sense of the story.

  • How does the music add to the viewer’s experience?
  • What does it make you feel?

Ask students to consider how adding an audio element to the text adds to the viewer’s emotional experience.

Provide students with a broad overview of the semiotic systems used to make meaning: visual, gestural, audio, linguistic and spatial. See the First Steps Viewing Resource Book (page 129 onwards) for a good overview.

Let students know that you will be looking closely at the way Elise Hurst has used visual and gestural modality to create meaning. Below are some topics for discussion, but you should allow students to share their own observations connecting to the semiotic systems introduced above.

  • Visual:
    • Colour
    • Lighting
    • Viewpoint
    • Texture
  • Gestural:
    • Facial expression
    • Posture
Pages 4–5 The main character stands in the shadows. What can you tell me about her body language? How is she holding herself? What can you see from her facial expression?
Pages 6–7 Nobody notices her. The other people’s body language seems depressed. She is higher up where there is more light. For the first time, we see the birds starting to surround her. What do they represent? Symbolic of freedom?
Pages 8–9 The wind has picked up. Her hair swirls around. Line leads us to look up. We follow the girl’s gaze to the birds.
Pages 10–11 Close up of her feet, and then suddenly pulled back to worm’s eye view. We are close and can feel the tension in her toes, and then we see what will happen should she fail.
Pages 14–15 We can see how high up she is now. How is the viewer positioned to experience this moment? How does this add to the feelings? We see there are onlookers – why don’t they help? Why must she do this alone?
Pages 16–1 The town has disappeared altogether. Why? The clouds look like monsters – dark and threatening. How has the illustrator used colour, texture and light to show us the character is alone and frightened? What does her body language show?
Pages 18–19 There is a lady holding up a lamp. How is light used in this image? What does it represent? What does the darkness show? What messages do we get from the contrasting light vs dark?
Pages 20–21 How has the light changed in this image? Why? What does this new character’s body language/expression tell us? Here she releases the birds. What is the meaning of this?
Pages 22–23 There are chaotic lines (big paint strokes) all around the girl. What might this represent? What do you think the girl is thinking? What is she feeling at this point?
Pages 24–25 Who are these people and what do you think they might represent? Why are the feathers significant? The girl is now beginning to look strong and focused. How do we know this (focus on body language and facial expression)? The challenge seems to be psychology (mind) over physicality (matter) at this point.
Pages 26–27 Look at the use of colour in this image. How has light and shadow been used? What can you see in her body language? Is she still in danger? Has the threat disappeared? She is still on the wire, but something has changed. Why does she feel okay now, even though she is not yet safe on the other side?
Pages 28–29 Discuss the colour on this page. It is remarkably different to the other pages. What does this tell us? How has her body language changed? Is there a connection between her body language and the birds? What does this tell us?
Page 31 On this page we notice that there is another figure on the wire. What big message does this send us?

(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELT1609)   (EN3-1A)

Colour, symbol, image

This task is designed to continue developing students’ understanding of symbolic or metaphorical thinking. Work with students to develop a list of themes that they believe are explored within the story of Girl on Wire. This could include:

  • overcoming anxiety
  • taking risks
  • bravery
  • facing the unknown
  • facing fear
  • developing resilience

Students will select one theme and utilise the Colour, Symbol, Image (CSI) thinking routine to represent this big idea from the text. Allow time for students to share and discuss their CSIs to further deepen their understanding of the themes within the story.

(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELT1609)   (EN3-1A)

Rich assessment task

This task requires students to home in on the gestural modalities of facial expression and posture. They will analyse a series of images of the main character at various moments in the story, and share their understanding of what is being conveyed through the visual images. The above session provides the model for students to really unpack an image using this template (PDF, 91KB).

(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELT1609)   (EN3-1A)

Playing with personification

There are many good examples of personification in this story. Identify some of these with students:

  • The biting breeze
  • The prowling clouds
  • The snapping storm
  • The kissing breeze

Emotions can be very hard to express, and personification becomes a good writing tool to show readers the feeling, rather than simply telling them.

Discuss the idea that good authors know how to draw their readers in, and that careful word choice is a tool for positioning readers in a purposeful way. Show students an emotion wheel and have them select an emotion to try to articulate. They are to use personification to create emotion, rather than just naming it.

Use the final pages from the text as an exemplar. What is the character feeling and how do we know? Is there only one way to interpret the character’s feelings, or might different readers make different interpretations? Discuss.

Using a maximum of five sentences, have students write about their emotion using at least two examples of personification.

(ACELT1612)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELA1502)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELA1505)   (EN3-6B)


When the students have finished writing their passage, encourage them to edit carefully. They will perform two edits in total.

The first edit will focus on the authorial aspects of their writing.

  • Can I change any words to make this more powerful?
  • Have I varied sentence beginnings, always commencing with the most important idea?
  • Does my sentence beginning give prominence to the message within the text?
  • Does my sentence beginning allow the reader to predict how the text will unfold?
  • Is there any unnecessary information I could delete?

The second edit will focus on the mechanical aspects of their writing.

  • Are there any spelling errors? Can I use a strategy to correct them?
  • Are each of my sentences correctly punctuated?
  • Have I left out any words?

(ACELY1705)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELT1611)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELA1505)   (EN3-6B)

Provide time for students to share their writing to see if others can guess their emotion.

Reading like writers

To support students to access the rich assessment task, spend some time together analysing Lucy Estela’s writing style. Ask the following questions and make a list of your collective observations:

  • What do you notice about the way that Lucy Estela writes Girl on Wire?
  • What language features can you observe?
  • From what point of view is this story written?
  • What do you notice about the sentence lengths and types of sentences (simple, compound, complex)?
  • Do the sentence beginnings give prominence to the message?
  • Do the sentence beginnings allow the reader to predict how the text will unfold?
  • What do you notice about the author’s word choices?

(ACELY1701)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELA1505)   (EN3-6B)

Rich assessment task

Students will emulate Lucy Estela’s writing style from the part of the story where the girl looks back at the wire, knowing she is safe on the other side of her challenge. They will do this by creating a six-page storyboard, including illustrations that attempt to demonstrate some use of the semiotic systems explored during this unit. This piece of work can then be published digitally using Book Creator, or in the written format of a six-page book.


Have students brainstorm the girl’s feelings as she looks back at the wire:

  • What would the weather be like now?
  • What would the birds be doing?
  • How could you represent these ideas?


Students will write their six pages of text, including examples of personification, simile and metaphor. Encourage students to vary their sentence types and lengths for maximum effect (e.g. long sentences for description, short sentences for drama).


Students can independently edit their own work as they did earlier, first focusing on the authorial features and then on the mechanical.


Provide opportunities for students to give and receive feedback from their peers. Take time to celebrate and share their writing with their classroom community.


Review the semiotic systems explored in previous lessons. Have students select a simple colour palette that creates the mood they wish to convey through their writing. If possible, provide students with a range of artistic mediums, including water colours. Encourage students to use visual and gestural modalities to convey their message.


Present the students’ final pieces of work using either digital or physical formats. Make sure students have time to share and read these pieces of work together.


Have students select one of the pictures they created and annotate it, explaining how they used the different semiotic systems to add to the meaning of their story.

(ACELT1611)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELY1705)   (EN3-2A)