Introductory activities

Here on Earth is a complex argument about having hope for the future. It is much longer than many arguments students will have read in the past and involves quite lengthy explanations of scientific concepts and processes. Moreover, it marshals evidence from a range of disciplines and sources in order to convince the reader. As such, many students will probably need careful preparation for reading, including:

  • tapping into their own values and beliefs about the future;
  • background knowledge about some of the key figures mentioned in the book;
  • an awareness of how the book is structured, as well as the sort of challenges they might face reading this text and how they can be confronted.

These three areas are the focus of the activities below. However, they will also be useful to help teachers identify additional preparation that some or all students may require. It should be noted that an assumption has been made that teachers would prepare students for vocabulary as a standard practice. Therefore, no activities of that type are included here, although they may be essential.

1. Visions of the future

Ask students to write a description of the world in which, ideally, they hope or expect to live in the future. Use the visualisation process (PDF, 100KB) to encourage rich responses. This activity works best if you have a large, carpeted space available and writing materials are out and ready for Step 6.

In groups, students should now reflect on their responses.

  • What did the responses have in common? In what ways were they different?
  • Were the futures envisaged mainly positive or negative?
  • What might have influenced their responses? Students should relate specific examples of the future that they have seen depicted or read about in newspapers, magazines, books, television shows, on the Internet and in films. Discuss whether these depictions are mainly positive or negative and reasons why. For example, stories about danger and despair ‘sell’ better; science fiction (especially in popular films) usually taps into contemporary fears.

At this point, students should:

What are the possible consequences (strengths and limitations) of believing too strongly in either a negative OR positive view of the future?

2. Tuning in (background and frontloading)

Given that this is quite a complex non-fiction text, provision of background information and other frontloading will likely be essential for most students. These could include the following.

Working in groups, students study the cover (front and back), scan the table of contents and flick through the images in the centre of the book. On the basis of their observations, students can make predictions:

  • Genre and purpose: What type of writing does this appear to be? Why might it have been written? Why might I read it? Given the genre, how do I expect this book to be structured?
  • Subject matter: What do I think the book will be about?
  • Roles and relationships: Who is Tim Flannery? What do I know about him? What can I expect of him? Who does the audience appear to be?
  • Mode and medium: Will this book rely on words alone to communicate its message?
  • Language: Given my other predictions, what can I expect of the language used? What might this mean for the way I read the book and strategies I might need to employ?

Answers to these questions can guide teachers in other preparation (beyond that listed here) that might be be necessary.

It is recommended that students view an interview between Tim Flannery and Australian science journalist Robyn Williams and/or academic Anne Summers. Depending on the skills and prior learning of the students, the teacher may need to preview each chapter, conducting a guided reading, drawing students’ attention to the structure (including relationship of the chapter to the overall argument), key aspects of language, important points raised, and any other note-worthy elements. Finally, students might benefit from a video of Flannery summarising his case. A more detailed overview of the book can be obtained by scanning the comprehensive “Table of Contents” that is reminiscent of the type found in early books (including Voyage of the Beagle and On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin).

3. Background to historical and contemporary figures

Students will imagine that they work for a company that creates content for third-party websites. Text Publishing has commissioned them to produce materials for a website to support Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth. In particular, the publishers want short videos or presentations to provide background on a number of scientists who feature in the book:

  • Charles Darwin
  • Alfred Russell Wallace
  • James Lovelock
  • Peter Ward
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Bill Hamilton
  • Rachel Carson

If desired, students could also research these significant mythological figures:

  • Medea
  • Gaia

Videos could be produced using software such as iMovie or VideoScribe, and presentations created using Prezi and PowerPoint.

Drawing on information from reliable sources, the video/presentation needs to include:

  • brief, relevant biographical information;
  • for Darwin and Wallace, reference to the relationship between them;
  • a summary and overall evaluation of their key contributions to science.

Students should consider the role of words, images and sound in their video/presentation. When completed, students should have the opportunity to view each others’ presentations and ask questions.
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Personal response on reading the text

1. Summarising and reflecting on the book

The argument developed by Flannery is complex and students will need to read actively and attentively by:

  • identifying key messages;
  • selecting important, illustrative quotations;
  • making connections (within and beyond the text, to their own experiences and understandings, and the world beyond the text);
  • making comments and drawing conclusions;
  • and asking probing, critical questions.

The Graphic Overview (PDF, 143KB) will assist them to do this. Teachers will need to undertake modelling and guided practice to ensure students complete the overview effectively.

After students have completed reading a ‘chunk’ of Here on Earth (e.g. a chapter or section), it is recommended that students share and discuss their Graphic Overviews in small groups (or Literature Circles). Continue doing this until the whole book has been read and discussed.

2. Immediate response (Paper Ball Throwing)

Once students are finished, they share their immediate response: Were you persuaded by Flannery’s argument? Why or why not? What was the big message you took away from Here on Earth? These questions can be displayed on a whiteboard or screen and will ensure that students move beyond simple like/dislike responses. To ensure honest answers and a degree of privacy, use the ‘Paper Ball Throwing’ strategy (PDF, 107KB). This will also ensure that students are exposed to a range of other views in the class.

After a few rounds of paper ball throwing, the teacher should collect the written responses and form students into groups of three. Each group will be given three, randomly assigned slips. Using the retrieval chart (PDF, 99KB), students working in groups sort and categorise the responses. After appropriate time, each group joins with one other group of three and combines their findings into one table. Continue with this process until there is one, whole-class table summarising and classifying all responses. Discuss:

  • Do any patterns emerge?
  • How did most students in the class respond to the arguments in Here on Earth? Is there unanimity in response?
  • What were the most common reasons given for being persuaded or not?
  • Why might different people in the class respond differently (or similarly)?

Use this information as a starting point for detailed, close reading and analysis.


Outline of key elements of the text

Here on Earth is an extended argument that there is hope for the future of humans here on Earth. However, Flannery argues that, along with hope, climate ‘catastrophe can only be avoided with goodwill and understanding’. Thus, this is not a book about science, but rather a book that draws on science, history and even literature for rhetorical purposes. It will be of interest for exploring the:

  • ways science can be used and read;
  • skilful manipulation of persuasive strategies and devices, for example via ethos, logos and pathos;
  • reasons responses to a text might vary;
  • status of non-fiction texts in relation to fiction.


Synthesising activity

If there is time, students could be asked to create and screen a book trailer for Here on Earth in order to summarise and synthesise their initial reaction to the book. To make the task more challenging, the intended audience could be people whose response to the book might be different from their own (see the Paper Ball Throwing activity). This will also encourage students to recall persuasive devices and strategies before moving on to a close reading of the text. If a quicker activity is required, ask students to write a blog-style entry summarising and synthesising their reactions. The blog should be one devoted to books and literature.
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Preface: Positive Discourse Analysis

Tim Flannery has been a very public, but sometimes controversial, face of science in Australia, partly due to his advocacy of action on climate change. There is no doubt that the arguments (and facts) that he marshals in Here on Earth should be open to scrutiny and challenge. While there will be the opportunity to do that in this unit, to do so comprehensively is beyond the scope of the unit and subject English. Instead, the focus will be on language and the way that Flannery – a skilled communicator – uses it to create a particular image of the future (and the present).

Moreover, the emphasis of these activities will be on exploring the text for what we can learn about the power of language to sway opinions and shape the world for the better. Professor James Martin from Sydney University calls this Positive Discourse Analysis: ‘we do need to move beyond a preoccupation with demonology, beyond a singular focus on [meaning making] in the service of abusive power – and reconsider power communally as well, as it circulates through communities as they re-align around values and renovate discourses that enact a better world’ (2004: 197). This does not mean a naïve acceptance of everything that Flannery tells us, but rather recognition of his attempt to promote a sense of hope about the future, in the same way one might use Luther’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, Churchill’s ‘We will fight them on the beaches’ speech or Jonathon Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’.


The writer’s craft

This is a long and complex book that provides a treasure-trove of elements for study in an English classroom. To make the current task manageable, this section will focus on only a selection of Flannery’s use of persuasive language and strategies, namely:

  • Genre and structure (The unfolding of the argument).
  • Evaluative language, including grading, modality, concession and use of sources.
  • Metaphor, personification and analogy.
  • Literary language, including biblical language and references.

As students examine these features, discuss their contribution to: (a) the logic of the argument; (b) the credibility of Flannery and his sources; and (c) the emotional engagement of the reader. If desired, you may prefer to use Aristotle’s concepts of logos, ethos and pathos.

As students complete Activities 6 to 9, they should summarise and reflect on what they have learnt using a retrieval chart (PDF, 173KB). [see Here on Earth: Reflecting on the Writer’s Craft].

1. Genre and structure

At a global (whole text) level, Here on Earth exhibits the typical structure of an argument or, more technically, an exposition:

Stage  Description 
Thesis The author states their main message or belief and might also preview their supporting arguments.
Arguments The key reasons for believing what they do with supporting explanation, elaboration and evidence.
Reiteration The author concludes by restating their thesis and summarising the key arguments. Often, he will also make some recommendations, a call to action, or provide an observation.

Using the Graphic overview (PDF, 143KB), students can identify this global structure in Here on Earth.

However, unlike arguments in magazine, newspapers, in blogs etc., Flannery must fill a whole book. He does this by adding detail that:

  • elaborates, i.e. restating information in other ways, providing more specific information, exemplifying, and making comments.
  • extends the text, i.e. adding information (‘and…’), providing alternatives (‘or…’), and contrasts (‘but…’).
  • enhances, i.e. providing more information on how, when, where, why, with what etc.

So, whilst Here on Earth is structured as an exposition at a global level, Flannery weaves together a complex pattern of genres in order to elaborate, extend and enhance his arguments. Two chapters from Here on Earth (PDF, 116KB) are used to exemplify this and suggestions for further small group and/or individual work are provided.

2. Evaluative language

A vital part of any argument (including Flannery’s) is the use of ‘evaluative language’ to convince readers/listeners that some behaviour, emotion, phenomenon or idea is good or bad, to a greater or lesser degree. A significant area of study by some linguists in Australia, a good, technical introduction can be found in Working Grammar: An Introduction for Secondary English Teachers by Sally Humphrey, Kristina Love and Louise Droga (Pearson Australia). For Here on Earth, fruitful analysis and discussion might occur around the strategic use of evaluative language to:

  • evoke emotional reactions;
  • judge people and their behaviour;
  • appreciate artefacts, phenomenon, ideas, facts and research and performances;
  • source and give credibility to ideas;
  • grading of evaluations (i.e. turning the ‘volume’ up and down);
  • high, medium and low modality (degree of probability, usuality, obligation);
  • concession (through conjunctions such as but, however, although) to raise an idea/point of view etc. in order to provide a contrast, challenge, dismiss or ridicule.

Examples (PDF, 173KB) are provided for each of these.

After the teacher explains these resources, and models how to identify them in a text, students should work in groups to analyse sample extracts from Here on Earth. Then, they can make some tentative generalisations and evaluations about Flannery’s use of these resources in constructing his argument. For example, students might note that:

  • the various language resources are used in conjunction with each, rarely in isolation;
  • as one would expect given Flannery’s scientific credentials, there is minimal use of language to explicitly evoke emotions;
  • Flannery rarely (if ever) uses negative judgement. So, for example, he does not personally attack critics of his ideas. (One exception is p. 34 when Lovelock is quoted reflecting on critics of the Gaia hypothesis.)

3. Metaphor, personification and analogy

Three other significant resources that Flannery uses are metaphor, personification and analogy – see examples (PDF, 173KB). Teachers should ensure that students understand the distinction between these concepts. Then, they can locate and discuss further examples from Here on Earth. To help students evaluate Flannery’s use of metaphor, personification and analogy, students should read about the fraught nature of metaphors and the productive use of metaphor and analogy in science.

4. Literary language

In an interview with Anne Summers, we discover that Flannery originally studied literature and history at university with a plan to become an English teacher. It is not surprising, therefore, that he appropriates literary references and language as a vehicle for argument. In fact, in a Guardian article, Flannery is quoted as saying that he ‘chose this language, with all its biblical baggage . . . “because it resonates with people and is beautiful and carries with it a sense of relationship with each other and the world that is tremendously important.”‘

In addition to the metaphors etc. examined in Activity 8, in Here on Earth readers will find the use of:

  • biblical/religious language,
  • literary and historical sources,
  • storytelling techniques,
  • evocative imagery (or word paintings).

Examples (PDF, 173KB) of each of these are provided.


Synthesising task

As the title makes clear, Here on Earth is an extended argument and written by an Australian scientist who, while not a climatologist, is a passionate advocate for positive action on global warming. Whether or not one accepts his argument and whether or not one might challenge some of the facts marshalled to bolster this argument, Flannery’s skill and success as a communicator cannot be denied. In this light, organisations and individuals interested in promoting change within the community have much they might learn from Flannery’s techniques and strategies.
So, having examined Here on Earth closely and analysed some of the reaction to it (and Flannery more generally), students will write a critique of Flannery’s book, focused on:

  • the structure of the argument;
  • the range of persuasive strategies (including specific language resources) employed. Students could comment on how these strategies work to create a logical argument (logos), bolster the credibility of Flannery and his sources (ethos), and to engage readers emotionally (pathos);
  • evaluating the overall success of the argument as presented in the book. This should include (where appropriate) advice on how Flannery might have addressed concerns raised by his critics and a general summary of features that appear to be critical to the successful prosecution of a case.

Specific, properly referenced quotations and examples should be included to add credibility to the critique.
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Ways of reading Flannery

Like any text, readers will understand and interpret Here on Earth differently depending on their own background, knowledge, values, beliefs and affiliations. However, with texts with an environmental message, these differences are likely to be quite polarised and even extreme. Students should read reviews in The Guardian and New York Times newspapers responding to Here on Earth specifically and a very negative analysis of Tim Flannery’s ideas more generally.

After reading these, students should discuss:

  1. What do others consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of Flannery’s ideas?
  2. Who are the writers of these articles? What do we know about their background, knowledge, values, beliefs and affiliations? Some basic research on the Internet should be sufficient to answer these questions.
  3. Based on the answers to (2) above, what might explain their various readings and reactions to Flannery’s ideas?
  4. Are the readings/reactions fair and reasonable? Can they be trusted?
  5. Whose interests might be served (and not served) by either accepting or rejecting Flannery’s ideas?
  6. If there are such polarised reactions, how can a regular reader decide what to accept and reject in Here on Earth and other non-fiction books?

Before considering these questions, students should read and discuss the following articles. They provide an analysis of why people may not accept the consensus science of climate change and summarise strategies that have been used to discredit the science and those communicating it (you may prefer to use this summary.) Although climate change is only a small part of Flannery’s argument in Here on Earth, many of the key messages are still relevant and useful.


Evaluation of the text

Joining the ‘Canon’

For complex and sometimes controversial reasons, some books are highly valued and might continue to be read for centuries after they were published. Especially in the digital age, there are multiple lists of ‘the best books’ and the Reading Australia site is, in effect, a canon of Australian literature. If students peruse the Reading Australia site, they will no doubt notice that fiction books far outnumber non-fiction. In groups, discuss:

  • Why might non-fiction not be as highly valued on the site (despite the fact that it is popular with readers)?
  • What qualities should a non-fiction book have to be highly valued?
  • Is Here on Earth a suitable choice for the site? Why or why not? Do you think it will still be read in 100 years (or even more)?

When considering these questions, students should compare Here on Earth with the qualities of other highly valued non-fiction texts, for example Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin and A Modest Proposal by Jonathon Swift.


Rich assessment task 1 (Responding)

Convene a panel discussion on Here on Earth, based on the approach taken in a television show such First Tuesday Book Club. In order to ensure a range of perspectives are heard, students should adopt different roles within the discussion, for example:

  • moderator,
  • an environmentalist,
  • a scientist (climatologist),
  • science journalist,
  • a climate warming sceptic and/or known critic of Flannery,
  • a literature professor,
  • perhaps the author himself, Tim Flannery.

In role, each person on the panel should prepare a 2-3 minute speech responding to the book. Then, each panel member asks one question of another panel member in order to clarify or challenge a point made. Questions must be answered in role, i.e. students must respond in a way that is aligned with expectations based on research. The discussion can also be opened up to give the audience the opportunity to ask questions. The rubric (PDF, 104KB) will help to prepare and grade students on their achievement.


  • Students can work in groups to research the role and prepare for the discussion. That is, three or four people might help prepare for the environmentalist role, but only one person is required to participate on the panel. However, this ensures that audience members are better prepared to ask appropriate, probing questions.
  • When asking questions, students should use their developing understandings of how to read research, as well as commonly used strategies used to undermine scientific findings.
  • The moderator should prepare a short introduction to the book and a summary of reactions to it. They should also have five or six open-ended questions prepared to keep the discussions moving.
  • If students are well-prepared, they find this a challenging and enjoyable task.
  • Students are often very passionate in the free-discussion component, really ‘throwing themselves’ into their adopted role. Therefore, ensure that protocols for the discussion are established, well understood and agreed to beforehand.
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Synthesise core ideas

1. Reviewing predictions and immediate responses

At the beginning of the unit, and while they were reading, students completed a number of activities, especially:

  • Making predictions (Initial response)
  • Graphic overview (Close study)
  • And book trailer/blog (Initial response synthesising task).

Now that they have studied Here on Earth in some detail, it would be a good time to revisit these, considering what changes and modifications they would make. Students should share and discuss their ideas in small groups.

2. Poster summary

In order to synthesise their understandings of Here on Earth, students can work in small groups to create a chart summarising Flannery’s argument and key messages. If they use software such as Glogster, they will be able to integrate words, sound, images, graphics and video.

3. Futures wheel

In small groups, students can use a Futures Wheel to reflect on Flannery’s central premise that we need to take action NOW to avert environmental disaster (not just climate change). Students need to draw on everything they have listened to/read/viewed throughout the unit and think about a range of possible consequences (social, personal, economic, environmental etc.), both positive and negative. Teachers can read an explanation of the technique or download a PDF template. As a class, discuss:

  • Is there a middle path?
  • What might it look like?


Rich assessment task 2 (Creating)

Imagine a new website will be published on International Youth Day. Drawing on the ideas and techniques they have explored in this unit, students are to argue for their idea on making the world a better place. Students should assume that their audience includes people who are not aligned with their own views, and in fact may be antagonistic towards them. Length should be 1000-1500 words
Students could:

  • outline their vision of the future (e.g. from the first visualisation activity) and provide reasons it is viable and worthy;
  • advocate for action on a particular issue (environmental, social, economic);
  • challenge ideas presented by Tim Flannery and present positive alternatives;
  • challenge Flannery’s critics and present positive alternatives.

As an alternative to a purely written argument, students could write scripts for a persuasive speech and then deliver these (e.g. as a video blog or as a TED-style speech), paying attention to presentation techniques. The rubric (PDF, 104KB) will assist in preparing students for the task and grading their achievement.
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