Introductory activities

Content warning

Here Come the Dogs is an important and rich text for study; however, it contains material that may be offensive to readers, with some content being particularly confronting and explicit. Certain sections of the novel can be concerning, and would not be recommended for close study in the classroom. Teachers and schools should be highly discerning when selecting this text for study and particularly mindful of certain groups within their cohort.

Activity 1

It would help to start your students’ study of this text by having them look up some terminology. There is a lot of slang in the text, mixed with highly expressive and implicative language, so setting out a table as below and encouraging them to research a mix of words would be of benefit.


Source word










Activity 2

Poetry and expression are key ways that Musa develops his characters in the novel. Encourage students to draw on previous knowledge of poetry to recall how writers use language for implying ideas, situations, personal circumstances, thoughts and attitudes.

Activity 3

Understanding a little about hip hop music will help students appreciate a lot of the references made in the text and the meaning of these artists to the characters. Ask students to write a profile of one of the hip hop artists listed below and to develop an album cover and bio for Spotify for them.
Start with Australian hip hop/rap artists, having them choose from the following, or assign students an artist each or in groups. Some of the artists are popular internationally and will be much easier to find information on.

Ask students to research the following details about them:

  • born/lived
  • age
  • gender
  • influences
  • topics explored in music
  • exemplar song/lyrics.

For interested students, there is mention of many international acts in the novel. On page 202 they are: Gang Starr, Nas, Cam’rom, Jurassic 5, J. Cole, Verbaleyes and Mute, The Tongue, Talib Kweli, Home Brew Crew, Method Man Redman, The Roots, Moos Def, L-Fresh the Lion. Students could follow up with some extra research if so desired.
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Activity 4

Reflecting on culture and identity will provide an important base for your students’ understanding of this text. To start, have them come up with their own definitions and then research the actual definitions of the following terms:

  • culture
  • identity
  • cultural identity
  • migrant
  • diaspora
  • heritage
  • family.

Another option here is to run a class discussion prior to their researched definitions where students share their opinions and understanding of what the terms mean. Guide this conversation in a way that enhances their appreciation of identity being largely influenced by culture and place in the world.
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Personal response on reading the text

The novel is separated into three parts, each charting a different section of time in the sequence. It would make sense to separate students’ study into these three sections and have them analyse the development of plot and character in each. The novel can be classified as polyvocal, as it shifts between the first-person narration of the protagonist and then third-person omniscient narration of all main characters.

It helps to note:

  • Text written in stanzas, or clumps that are left-aligned and do not fill the page, is non-rhyming poetry. These sections signal the first-person narration, or thoughts, of Solomon, and establish him as the protagonist. These sections most often contain headings, much like song titles, and are laid out like individual rap songs that are designed to punctuate Solomon’s point of view and experiences. Rarely do other characters shift into verse.
  • Text written in left-to-right-justified prose is third-person narration that overlooks all three characters. It is through this narration that we get a good sense of the motivations of the other characters. The prose most often follows Aleks’s or Jimmy’s stories.
  • Sections of text written in italics signal prose that is either a flashback or a memory injected into the narrative. These memories come from, or are influenced by, Ulyses Amosa, Solomon’s father.

1. End-of-chapter post-it reflections

Encourage chapter-by-chapter reflective reading as your students move through the text. This can be done a number of ways, depending on their reading level and engagement with reflection. The following sequence works best in order to get students thinking deeply about their personal response to the text:

  1. Something that surprised me about this chapter.
  2. Something new that I learnt about a character.
  3. What I think might happen next.

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2. End-of-part paragraph reflections

Students should also be encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and how they compare with those of the characters. This might be better done after each part of the novel, so that they have a decent grasp of the characters and the motivations for their actions as they unfold.

First, hold a class discussion with your students about the world that the text has established in Part 1. Consider aspects such as setting, character, environment, and relationships.

Then ask students to pick a style of writing (poetry, prose, or memories, like in the text) to write an addition to the text as themselves. They should present a narrative that charts events in just one moment or day, and they should aim to embed their narrative in the world of the text. So, things to mimic are:

  • Setting
  • Language/style
  • Characterisation.

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Questions and comments while reading the text

Part 1

This section largely establishes characters and how they differ from one another. It has 19 chapters in total in which students will see very quickly the polyvocal nature of the text, as well as its shift between poetry and prose in order to establish who is speaking.

Chapter 1, for example, is a good starting point to discuss poetry and how Musa uses this to signal that Solomon is speaking. Some questions to guide students through Chapter 1:

  1. What do you notice about the layout of text in this chapter? What does the layout achieve?
  2. Why has the author segmented off separate stories with their own headings in this chapter? What does this achieve?
  3. What do we learn about the character Solomon Amosa through this chapter?
  4. What do we learn about other characters through Solomon’s voice?

Chapters 2 and 3 are written in prose, signalling the novel’s third-person narration. They each focus on the next two significant characters Aleks and Jimmy, respectively. Here are some questions to lead discussion around these two chapters:

  • What signals do you detect in these chapters that suggest Aleks and Jimmy are feeling lost?
  • How would you summarise the personalities of Aleks and Jimmy from these two chapters?

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Closer study of Part 1

Prior to moving to Part 2, it is important to discuss the problems that are raised with each of the characters by the conclusion of Part 1. Chapters 16, 17 and 18 each charts a problematic shift for each of the characters that provides a good point for students to consider as turning points, or plot points that could have greater consequences later. Reflecting on these decisions is a good way for students to consider their understanding of the characters and to pre-empt where they may go next. Chapter 19 then concludes Part 1 with a politician, Damien Crawford, making a statement outside Parliament House about ‘the plight of ordinary Australian families’, suggesting a political tone that is to come.

Activity 1

For Chapter 16, ask students to analyse the language that Solomon uses to describe events. In particular, encourage them to dissect phrasing like so:

Phrase Likely meaning
‘We turn to steam.’
‘…waiting for something that this time, I don’t hear.’
‘The moon outside the size of a bullet hole.’
‘…and this time our skin stays cold.’
‘…as if she is watching me through a bullet hole moon.’
‘Who is Scarlett? What is this?’
‘He’s not smiling this time, just watching, eyes full of longing.’
Activity 2

For Chapter 17, focus students’ attention on the shift in language from Chapter 16. In particular, students should focus on the juxtaposition of slang and obscene language alongside the eloquent prose of the narration. Have students reflect on the following questions about this chapter:

  1. What sort of language does Musa use to communicate Aleks’s attitude?
  2. What is the point of Aleks’s story on page 127?
  3. How unreasonable is Aleks’s ‘disgust’ for Mark, at the bottom of page 126?
  4. What are the definitions of:
    • Neznam
    • Kako si
    • Dobar, brat
    • Kay si be
    • Eve be
    • Zhimi maika brat

Why does Musa embed other languages into the novel? What does it add to the characterisation or the narrative?

Activity 3

For Chapter 18, invite students to consider the dynamic of Jimmy and Solomon’s relationship. Both having different fathers (and Jimmy not knowing the identity or heritage of his father), how do we see the distinction between the two characters’ insecurities? Ask students to write down quotes that are characteristic of each.

Activity 4

For Chapter 19, invite a class discussion around how this chapter is a warning of what is to come. It is also worth discussing this chapter in relation to real-world events in Australia. Crawford’s language is not dissimilar to what was said later in 2017, when Tony Abbott and George Brandis moved to change Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Ask students to research one of the following, creating a simple single-page fact sheet using Piktochart:

  1. The Cronulla riots of 2005.
  2. The 2017 proposal to change Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
  3. Kevin Rudd’s Sorry speech in 2008.
  4. Operation ‘Sovereign Borders’.
  5. Alternatively, students could present information of importance from The Conversation’s Twelve Charts on Race and Racism in Australia with the aim to report on Australian attitudes towards differing races.

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Part 2

Activity 1

Part 2 begins with a memory from Ulyses Amosa. Start by asking students to reflect on what is happening in this small section. Before they start writing, encourage them to discuss the section in small groups. It would be good for them to then write two things:

  1. What they see as literally happening in the section; and
  2. What they think this is signifying.

Ask that in their writing they reflect on the language and metaphor of what is being described.

Activity 2

Part 2 sees a lot of character development for Solomon, Aleks, and Jimmy. Have students create a chart that maps the choices that the characters make. With Chapters along 0 of the X axis, and a scale of -10 to +10 on the Y axis to measure good choices (with -10 being very bad and +10 being very good), students should plot three separate lines across each chapter, one for each character. This will provide a good opportunity for students to discuss why they think certain choices are good or bad for each individual character.

Part 3

This section of the novel sees a shift in the structures that have been used in the previous two parts, with italics being used for memories other than Ulysses Amosa, and poetry being used for Jimmy’s chapter. It is also a section where a lot of what the characters have been working for seems to have unravelled, with them ending up in a state of misplacement and destruction. It would be worthwhile to discuss this structural aspect with your students and encourage them to see that authors often use such techniques to signal characters’ changes.

Activity 1

Have your students complete an end-of-text reflection that discusses their thoughts on the novel and its characters. Some ideas to prompt this:

  • Did things end up the way you supposed they would?
  • What surprised you?
  • What do you think becomes of each of the characters after the events of the novel?
  • In what ways does Musa use the landscape and geography to articulate his characters’ stories?
Activity 2

Facilitate a class debate that encourages students to explore how they feel about the characters’ choices. This can either be done as a typical debate with teams, or it can be a simple, ‘stand in the affirmative section or the negative section’ of the room, and encouraging students to share their thoughts and reasoning for their stance. Regardless of the question posed, they should always draw on examples from the text as a means to provide their reasoning. Here are some debate topics you could consider:

  • The characters themselves are not to be blamed for their errors.
  • The novel provides a distorted voice of the female experience.
  • Once born into a life, you cannot escape your destiny. 
  • It is impossible to adjust what others think of you. 
  • If one generation experienced hardship, so too should future generations. 
  • In order to have a sense of self, it is vital that we understand where we came from.

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Outline of key elements of the text


During a Sydney summer, three young men go about their lives, mixing hip hop music, basketball, and crime. All three struggle with identity and violence, despite their endeavours to forge connections with  those close to them. The novel charts the choices they make as they try to find a sense of self and identity in a hostile and unforgiving world.


All three men are dreamers. They appear to want something else from life, but it becomes apparent that not one of them will ever be able to make a sustained change for the better.

Solomon, the main character, is the most self-aware and charismatic of the group. He has a natural charm and energy that attracts him to others and makes him a favourite. He is half-Samoan, and in spite of having very little real connection to his heritage, he is clearly proud of this and identifies with being an outsider. Solomon went to a private school on a basketball scholarship, but after an injury rendered him unable to play, it is clear that he has struggled to find inspiration in his life again.

Jimmy is Solomon’s half-brother, whose father is a mystery, providing much anguish and pent-up confusion in his life. Never able to settle on his cultural identity and where he fully belongs, Jimmy struggles next to a more grounded brother and is taunted by the memory of a father who clearly abandoned him.

Aleks migrated from Macedonia as a child, where he had a history of incarceration. He is a family man, troubled by a partner in the throes of depression and a daughter whom he wants to support and bring up to the best of his ability. Aleks winds up in jail for drug use and violence, and he continues to be taunted by a history of crime and the temptation to solve his life’s issues as he always has.


Synthesising activity

Poetry/music study

Ask students to select a poem or song of their choice (offering the option of studying a chosen song will open up this activity to more students). Their selection should adhere to the following guidelines, though you may wish to modify these depending on the needs of your individual students. The work:

  • should be an Australian poem or song
  • should discuss a social problem (you may like to specify one of the themes of the text)
  • contain at least four examples of figurative language (e.g. metaphor, simile, personification, symbolism, alliteration, rhyme, etc; is a good resource to share some examples with your students)

Have your students prepare a presentation or an infographic (using PiktoChart or Adobe Spark; both offer free accounts) on their selected poem or song. It is up to you what specifications you want your students to include, but in order to synthesise their study of this text, here are some performance criteria suggestions:

  • the presentation contains at least 400 words
  • annotations are insightful and offer adequate commentary of the selected piece
  • the presentation discusses the author’s exploration of an Australian social issue
  • the presentation explains the author’s use of language for meaning and effect.

This is an example of an activity that you can expand over the course of a few lessons or lengthen it, depending on the needs of your classroom and students.
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The writer’s craft

The activities in this section focus on select chapters that are appropriate for classroom study. If you or your students select other chapters, be sure to vet these chapters for appropriate content.

Musa uses structure, language, and style to differentiate between his characters (and indeed, to characterise them), as well as progress his narrative. The chapters are laid out character by character, so to speak, so studying a triad of chapters together to dissect aspects of style, language, and characterisation would be best. The following three chapters for close study are taken from Part 1 of the novel. Use these close studies as exemplars of how you might delve deeper into any triad of chapters in the novel.

Close study of Chapter 11

Step 1: Reading

Read the chapter aloud to the class. Encourage a student to read the second section of this chapter (the section in verse) as a stand up poetry reading. You may wish to demonstrate the expression and punctuation required for such a reading.

Step 2: Identifying symbols

Ask students to read through the chapter and to identify anything Musa uses in this chapter as a symbol to communicate an idea. You might like them to just create a list for a class discussion, or they can work in groups or individually to fill out a table like this:


Potential meaning


Ball bearing



The ball bearing that Aleks handles in this chapter serves both as a reminder of his childhood, but also as a suggestion that breaking the rules, or being a ‘king cheat’ has always been a part of his character.

Icon of St. Clement

Petar’s Roman Catholic following/devotion

St Clement was said to be a martyr after his banishment from Rome, where he miraculously provided water to prisoners in a stone quarry and was sentenced to death by being tied to an anchor and dropped into the Black Sea.

Step 3: Relationships

Ask your students to list all the relationships seen in this chapter and summarise what each relationship presents. Have them write a statement that summarises what they think Musa is communicating with each relationship. They are listed below:

  • Aleks and Mila
  • Aleks and Petar
  • Aleks and Biljana
  • Aleks and Sonja
  • Aleks and Jimmy

Ask students to discuss the difference in relationships that Aleks has with women/his daughter over men.

Step 4: Parallels and contrasts

Ask your students to consider the purpose of including the story of Aleks’s parents in this chapter. How does their backstory mirror that of Aleks and his family? How is it distinctive? Ask your students to write a list of the ways that the two couples (Aleks and Sonja, and Petar and Biljana) are different, and then similar.
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Close study of Chapter 12

Step 1: Summarising 

There are three verses or poems in this chapter, where the reader sees some of Solomon’s most inner and darkest thoughts and demons. They are:

  • The hound
  • The gazebo
  • An argument with Georgie.

Ask your students to summarise what happens in each verse and to explain its significance by referring to the events that take place, and how the language of the verse communicates ideas. Setting their thoughts out in a layout like the table below will help them:

Verse: The hound

Summary: In this verse, Solomon watches as his greyhound, Mercury Fire, plays and runs outside. Solomon reflects on his own past athleticism and thinks about the pressures of a previous life of relative success and glory. Solomon admits to himself that he got Mercury Fire ‘to feel responsible for something again’, revealing his sense of feeling lost and alone after his basketball injury. This verse ends with him meeting Scarlett Snow, and it is suggested from his gaze that their meeting will be a next chapter in his story.

Notable or elegant language


‘We’re nothing but spray cans, used up and thrown away, creating something that gets painted over within a day.’ Solomon’s sense of feeling inadequate and useless is expressed here with his reference to something he knows in ‘graffing’. This is a poignant metaphor, in that graffiti art is important to Solomon – it aids in his expression of self and allows him to be creative – but like a wall that will be covered up by the next artist, he feels that life is ultimately fleeting and gets repeated with the next person.
Step 2: Choices

Go through each of the three verses and run a class discussion about the ‘sliding doors’ moments that are detected – moments where if a certain decision were made, a completely different path would have been laid for Solomon. Then ask your students to consider what will come next from the choices that have been made thus far.

Step 3: White guilt

Solomon’s argument with Georgie is both brutal and speaks of deep-seated hurt in Solomon. The argument confirms the couple’s incompatibility, but it would be an interesting class discussion to debate why this is. Ask your students to go back over the novel so far to assess both characters and how they respond to one another. Here are some questions to prompt this discussion.

  • What is Solomon’s issue with Georgie saying ‘bro’ (it’s not what he says it is)?
  • What hurt is there behind Solomon’s harsh words?
  • What is an egomaniac, and does Solomon show evidence of being one?
  • What do you think Solomon is actually angry with Georgie about?
  • What is white guilt?
Step 4: Further questions

Use these questions to keep the rich discussion going about this chapter:

  • What is Solomon’s relationship with Mercury Fire?
  • What is the significance of Mercury Fire’s name?
  • What parallel is there between man and dog?
  • Why does Solomon ‘fear’ Mercury Fire?
  • Why does Solomon have an affair?
  • Why is Solomon attracted to Scarlett?
  • Is there a way that Georgie and Solomon’s relationship could have worked?

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Close study of Chapter 13

Step 1: Narration

Focus your students’ attention on the different styles of narration seen in Chapters 11, 12, and 13. Ask them to discuss in groups how Chapters 11 and 13 differ, in spite of the fact that they are both told in a third-person limited perspective. They should be able to identify that the narration, while third-person, is limited to single characters’ observations or influences. In the case of Chapter 13, ask them to assess the language used that makes one sympathise with Jimmy. Ask students to list lines of the text that particularly achieve this. Here are some examples:

  • There is something about all the packets stacked up in supermarkets that he likes.
  • He wishes he could join her. He wouldn’t touch her. Not if she didn’t want him to.
  • He ignores the filthy look from a middle-aged shop assistant.

Students could add to these quotes small descriptions of what they think these quotes suggest about Jimmy’s character. For example:

“Jimmy finding pleasure in seeing how all the packets are stacked up in the supermarket suggests that he appreciates order, colour, and things making visual sense. In his own world he is unable to command order and harmony, so it makes sense that where he sees it elsewhere, he finds it calming.”

Step 2: Relationships

Invite a class discussion around the budding relationship between Jimmy and Hailee.

  • What seems to make them connect?
  • What does Jimmy want, and what does Hailee want?
  • Is Jimmy picking up on signs well enough for his long-term happiness?

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Text and meaning

Task 1: Scaffolding analytical writing

Start workshopping good writing skills and the use of evidence by using this chapter for an extended response. Ask your students to write two body paragraphs in response to the below prompt:

The past can be both empowering to one’s future as it can be crippling to it. 

Encourage your students to use the ‘Claim, Where, What’ method of making claims:

  • Make a claim (what is your claim or a statement about what you think)
  • Where do you see this (offer evidence/quote/references)
  • What might this mean?

As a general rule, each paragraph should have an overarching argument, and three to four claims should be made that contribute to that argument.

Task 2: Analysing the separate parts of the novel

Each part of the novel serves a different purpose to the narrative, characters, and style. It would be good for students to identify how these three things progress across the three different parts. Have them reflect on this by completing a summary of each part, but by separating the summary off into three, one for each character. They might lay it out like this:




Part 1

Part 1

Part 1

Part 2

Part 2

Part 2

Part 3

Part 3

Part 3

Then, have your students write ‘x learnt/knows/hopes’ statements, along with supporting quotes as their summaries. For example, for Solomon for Part 1:

X learnt/knows/hopes

Supporting quote

Solomon learnt that he does not love Georgie.

‘Can’t wait 2 c u 2nite. Luv, Porge x


I pocket the phone.’

Solomon knows that he is living in a racist society.

‘Wish we had a white person with us

Ten empty cabs have passed us by.’

Task 3: Analysing memories

The text presented in italics serves an important purpose but will require a little further dissection to understand these chapters’ place and function in the text. They are:

  • The prologue of Part 1 (p. 2)
  • Chapter 4 of Part 1 (p. 53)
  • Chapter 10 of Part 1 (pp. 88–89)
  • The prologue to Part 2 (p. 142)
  • Chapter 4 of Part 2 (pp. 162–163)
  • Chapter 25 of Part 2 (p. 260)
  • The prologue to Part 3 (p. 290)
  • Chapter 4 of Part 3 (pp. 310–311)
  • Chapter 7 of Part 3 (pp. 320–321)

Some questions to either prompt discussion or be answered individually:

  • Whose voice is contained in these sections/chapters? How do we know?
  • Read the prologues of each chapter. What do these prologues suggest about the upcoming Part of the novel?
  • What history do these sections/chapters give us about the characters?
  • What do we learn about Ulysses Amosa that is relevant to our reading of Solomon? Of Jimmy?
  • Why does Musa use these sections/chapters the way that he does?

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Synthesising activity

Graffitiing is an important outlet for the three main characters, but it is easy to miss this due to the clandestine and illegal nature of the art. Have your students research some prominent graffiti artists and study the form’s place in the art arena. Here are some artists to look into, with those in bold being significant Australian artists:

Have students create a biography of their chosen artist. It is important that, if possible, they access an interview with the artist so that they can examine the artists’ motivations and growth from street-tagger to prominent artist. Some sections that must be included in the artists’ biographies:

  • heritage
  • themes
  • beginnings
  • claim to fame
  • interview
  • influences

Display images of some of the artists’ work around the classroom and facilitate discussion around the distinctions in style and technique. It would also be interesting to tap into the artists’ messaging:

  • What do they stand for?
  • What do they call for?
  • What social attitudes do they espouse?

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Ways of reading the text

Have your students read Ruth McHugh-Dillon’s review of Here Come the Dogs, published in the Kill Your Darlings online journal. In this article, McHugh-Dillon makes a very good point, that the voice of the female characters in the novel are stunted and lacking in authenticity. This provides a good opportunity to use a feminist literary perspective and complete a theoretical reading of the text from this perspective.

Feminist Critical Theory

To start, your students will need a good understanding of how to apply this perspective. Purdue University’s online writing lab has a good run down of many literary perspectives, and provides an excellent summary of feminist criticism. Ask your students to read through this resource and answer the questions listed under the heading: Typical Questions.

Students should then apply these questions to Here Come the Dogs, noting and comparing their responses in pairs or groups.
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Following examination and discussion, have your students write an analytical essay using the feminist critical perspective. You can use any essay topic and ask them to use the perspective as a way into the topic, or you can give them more feminist therory-driven topics to choose from that will direct their discussion more easily. Here are some suggestions:

  • How are the women oppressed in Here Come the Dogs?
  • What is missing in Musa’s novel without any significant female characters?
  • Just like their main male counterparts in Here Come the Dogs, the females struggle to find a sense of self and place in the world. How is this so?
  • The gaze with which the reader views females in Here Come the Dogs is from a male perspective, therefore the representation of women is flawed. Discuss.

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Further investigation of theoretical literary perspectives

You might like to direct your students to other literary perspectives for extension or further thought and apply the same processes as above.

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Evaluation of the text

As a reflection on cultural identity

Organise your students into small groups of three or four and have them reflect upon their own cultural contexts, history and ultimately personal identity. They will need to share with the group:

  • where they were born
  • where their parents and grandparents were born
  • languages they speak
  • food they eat
  • customs they participate in
  • other things unique or special to their family/community.

It is important for your students to consider that even if they and their ancestors all identify as Australian, they all have or share languages, cultures, and customs that are specific to their cultural identity as Australians. All of these are are dependent upon their ancestry, immigration or Indigenous background, locations/communities, social/cultural/sporting groups, ethnicity, sexuality, religious affiliation or otherwise and many more factors, some of which are regional, others which are more international/racial/historical.

Provide the following discussion questions for each group to work through.

  • What is it to be Australian? (Everyone should identify as Australian, but possibly to differing levels.)
  • How might one measure how ‘Australian’ they are?
  • How important is it to know one’s heritage?
  • How can one’s heritage affect one’s relationships outside of the family?
  • What is it to be ‘home’?
  • How important is a sense of ‘home’ to one’s identity?

In considering all of the individual issues raised in the discussion groups, have students write a personal reflection of around 500 words on their own experiences in ‘identifying’, with those of any of the main – or even the minor characters – in Here Come the Dogs. Particular consideration should be given to the female characters in the novel, especially in relation to the Feminist critical perspective studied above, and also to the general ethos of the hip hop culture which is predominant in the novel.
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Synthesising core ideas

Here Come the Dogs is a confronting, yet exciting and innovative novel that blends prose and poetry and personal voice in lyrical and muscular contrasts as it struggles with issues of identity, family, racism, migration, violence, masculinity and escapism. Its relationships are very much bound by the hip-hop culture that drives its three young male protagonists and their struggles to find a sense of self and identity in a hostile and unforgiving world. In Christos Tsiolkas’ review on the back cover of the text, he said: ‘tough, and tender, harsh and poetic, raw and beautiful, it speaks to how we live and dream now…his voice is genuine…his voice roars.’

The following tasks seek to draw out students’ understanding of the text, whilst firmly embedding it into their own perspectives of current life in Australia. They also look to delve more deeply into one of the outstanding features of this text: the way Musa portrays language as identity and how that identity seeks to ‘fit’ with our world.

Rich assessment task (receptive mode)

Studying the language of the text

This task is designed to summarise students’ knowledge of the text while also focusing on language and identity.

Step 1

To start, show your students Vera Regan’s Ted Talk on language and identity. Before you show the video, ask that while they are watching, they write down:

  • five things they didn’t know before
  • five things they did know before
  • three things they want to remember
  • three questions they have.

After watching, you might like to run a quick class discussion around some of the salient points and the things they learnt. In particular, direct conversation towards:

  • the fact that language is central to one’s identity
  • language variations and patterns mark one’s identity
  • language can mark one as an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’
  • language is always changing
  • the way a person speaks can identify where they are from
  • the difference between referential meaning and social significance
  • what ‘transnationals’ are
  • what ‘ethnographic details’ are.
Step 2

Print off the following list of words and cut them into individual cards, one word per card. You will need one set of these per group you split your class into when running the activity.

bathers boardies cossie swimmers
togs budgie smugglers
potato cake potato scallop potato fritter fritter
bubbler drinking fountain drinking tap water fountain
sausage in bread sausage sandwich snag sanger
nose bleed blood nose bloody nose
canteen tuck shop cafeteria
smoko shop milk bar corner shop deli
icy pole ice block ice lolly

Ask your students to arrange themselves into ‘ethnographically diverse’ groups of three to five. That is, they should have a mix of cultures, languages, skills and interests. Note, if this is going to be problematic within your class context, arrange the groups yourself beforehand. Give each group of students a set of shuffled word cards and ask them to group them together in terms of the items. There are eight different items in total, each with a varying number of expressions for that item. The idea is to encourage discussion about the difference in expressions – each of them from a different city or region of Australia.

This list, along with some excellent graphical detail about expression and regions around Australia, has been taken from Pedestrian‘s article on the work of Linguistics Roadshow, who have mapped out geographically, specific Australian slang to demonstrate linguistic variation in Australian English.

You might like to show your students the maps on the above website and discuss some of the groupings of expressions, as well as some of the outliers.

Step 3

Have your students complete an ethnographic biography of each of the characters, including up to three secondary characters. The ethnographic biographies must include:

  • heritage/cultural background
  • language
  • education (if known)
  • occupation
  • skills/hobbies
  • passions
  • friends/family
  • role in social groups
  • identifying language markers.
Step 4

Have your students select one character whom they want to examine a little closer. Have them select ten quotes that the character speaks in the novel (or make them up, if they are a voiceless character, such as Sonja) that are exemplary of their ethnographic background.

Step 5

Ask your students to select one character (encourage some students to select the female characters, too, for an extension task), and have them write the transcript of a ten-minute interview that they conduct with this character. Their transcripts should include the language, style, and vocabulary of the character they are interviewing, taking into account the ethnographic details already identified. The interview could be about anything that is of interest to them, any aspect of the character or story that they would like to explore further. Some ideas for this:

  • Aleks’s plans to move back to Macedonia
  • Solomon’s thoughts on getting involved in professional basketball coaching
  • Jimmy’s first meeting with his father
  • Sonja’s hopes for her daughter
  • Scarlett’s thoughts on leaving to go to Western Australia.

As an added section to this activity, have your students either annotate or present their work to the class, explaining their reasoning for having their chosen character express themselves the way they do.
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Rich assessment task (productive mode)

Writing creatively

This task is designed to get students reflecting on their knowledge of the form and style of the text, and writing their own poetry. Poetry is a complex art form in which one could spend years refining the craft of writing it, but this task is more a starter activity – as a way in to some things to consider when writing in this form.

Step 1

Have your students watch Daniel Tysdale’s explanation of the power of poetry and how to write it. Ask them to record the following as they watch:

  • five things that surprised them
  • three things that they knew already
  • three things that they didn’t know
  • five things that they think will help them write their own poetry.

Run a class discussion around some of their answers. Encourage them to take further notes from other students’ discussion.

Step 2

Have your students write down three experiences that they could write about. For simplicity, they should be experiences independently engaged in, or maybe shared with just one other person. Some examples of what such experiences could be:

  • appreciating a sunset at the end of a hard day
  • sharing a pat and cuddle with a favourite pet
  • watching as a loved one leaves for a long holiday
  • finding a cherished item that was lost.

Once they have decided on an experience, they should chart out this experience by writing a couple of sentences about the emotion felt during this experience. They should write down the start, middle, and end feelings felt with that experience.

Step 3

Next, have your students add to the descriptions of their experiences by adding both physical and sensory details. These are the sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound explanations that will colour their descriptions, along with location/settings, people/characters, etc. Ask that they use three senses and three physical details per stage of the experience (start, middle, and end).

Step 4

Ask your students to select at least three nouns in their descriptions and replace these nouns with metaphors. The Literary Devices website has a good explanation of what metaphors are, with some solid examples for understanding. As a good writing technique, ask them to avoid adjectives and adverbs as much as possible and focus upon strong nouns and verbs to convey meaning.

Step 5

Students should write out their poems, now. As they write they should carefully consider wording and their language, refining their descriptions as they go. Encourage them to write in a way that is pleasing to hear, both in terms of sound as well as meaning. Length is dependent upon context and implied meaning, but following drafting have them share their work with a ‘critical friend’ with an emphasis on editing for meaning and effect.

Step 6

Following completion of the work, your class may wish to publish this anthology either physically or online, and also via a poetry slam or simple reading performance session. Students could also devise their own class performance rubric for each of the poems produced.
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