Introductory activities

Students need some understanding of the world of bees to identify the parallels in the narrative How to Bee. They will use the information gained from this introductory activity to understand the development of the plot, characters, setting and themes in the novel.

Activity 1

Before introducing the theme of bees (and the novel itself), play the audio of this animated clip without showing students the video or identifying the title. To enable everyone to hear the piece before revealing its name, ask students to listen for a minute and display a thumbs up if they think they know it. Talk about what the music sounds like and its associations. Now, introduce ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and the topic of bees.

Divide students into groups of three or four and allocate a specific area to research:

  1. A bee’s body
  2. Different jobs in a hive
  3. Pollinating plants
  4. How do bees make honey?
  5. Significance of bees in different cultures
  6. Beekeeping

Working as a team, students are to research information associated with their allocated topic, keeping a record of the key points on the world of bees graphic organiser (PDF, 89KB). Before students begin working on this task, discuss how they can keep their summaries brief, economising on word use and including diagrams. After students have researched their topics, allocate each group a maximum of five minutes to share key information with their peers. Students are to update and complete their own graphic organisers as they listen to information from the other groups’ presentations. To support students in finding information from a range of sources, liaise with the school library to provide a box of non-fiction texts related to bees (if available).

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Activity 2

How to Bee directs its audience to ask the question, ‘What are the consequences of having no bees?’ The novel delves into the theme of sustainability and excessive demand on our limited resources, and the many different people impacted as a consequence.

As a class, read and discuss ‘What are native bees?’ and ‘Why bees are so important to the environment’ so students understand the difference between native and introduced bees. Students should summarise the importance of native bees.

What is the consequence of having no bees? Encourage students to think about ecosystems and food chains as studied in their science classes. Using the World Bee Day website, students are to write three sentences that identify the causes for declining bee numbers and the effects of this situation. Use this as an opportunity to develop students’ use of cause and effect connectives.

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Activity 3 (optional extension)

In this activity, students explore the devastating consequences of disrupting ecosystems through the 1958 Four Pests campaign to eradicate flies, mosquitoes, rats and sparrows. When reading the novel, students will be able to relate the events of this campaign to the description of what will happen if the farm’s ‘overlapping circles’ are interrupted (page 14).

  1. Introduce this activity by displaying the 1960 propaganda poster (‘Eradicate pests and diseases and build happiness for ten thousand generations’). Based on its visual clues, students are to predict what they believe the Four Pests campaign was about. Discuss the layout of the poster and the information that can be gathered, linking it to knowledge of persuasive language.
  2. Tell students about the Four Pests campaign.
  3. Discuss the consequence of the Four Pests campaign in relation to the disruption of an ecosystem, and link the discussion back to what would happen in a world with no bees.
  4. Students are to imagine that they run a history page on a social media platform, and create a post about the Four Pests campaign. They can use a maximum of 50 words and include a relevant image and/or emoticons.
  5. As a class, research case studies relevant to your state/community. This is also an opportunity to arrange a guest speaker (e.g. from Parks and Wildlife) to talk about conservation. Constantly remind students to link the discussion back to the concept of balanced ecosystems and the threats of adding/removing animals, insects, etc. Some Australian examples could include:

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Personal response on reading the text

The check for understanding questions (PDF, 146KB) are intended to support students in following plot and character development, and should be completed as students read the text.

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Synthesising task

Using the synthesising task (PDF, 123KB) provided, students are to inform and/or persuade a chosen audience of the importance of bees. They have a maximum of 200 words to achieve their purposes and can select images, colours and symbols to create meaning (making sure they observe appropriate copyright restrictions by selecting Creative Commons licensed materials).

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Before delving deeper

Be aware that there are references and themes relating to domestic violence in How to Bee. There are descriptions of physical altercations between Peony’s mother, Rosie, and her partner. Rosie dies at the end of the story after giving birth to her third daughter; the circumstances surrounding her death are not explicitly stated, but we can assume that it was likely at the hands of her partner. The theme of loss is also evident in the death of Applejoy’s mother, who succumbs to an illness.

Teachers need to be sensitive to the needs and circumstances of class members, and make appropriate allowances for any student who is potentially distressed by such material.

Pre-close reading prediction activity

Students are to study the cover page, blurb and opening paragraph on page 1 before answering the following questions:

  1. What do you think the title might mean?
  2. What does the cover make you think? Why do you think this?
  3. Why do you think the designer/illustrator used these pictures/images/symbols? What do you notice about the illustrations on the individual pages? Discuss why there are no symbols or pictures of bees, except for Peony sitting in the tree. What was the illustrator’s purpose in this?
  4. What do you think this book will be about? Look at the cover and the blurb.

Students are to complete a prediction table in their notebooks. Encourage them to track, adjust and adapt their thinking as they read the novel and record this on the table, using evidence to support their thinking and ideas.

I think the book will be about… The reason I think this is because of the following evidence… Is my prediction confirmed or not? How do I know?




Optional task

After reading the book, ask students to revisit the cover and the blurb and come up with a different cover for a second publication.

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The writer’s craft

This close study is focused on characterisation, specifically that of the protagonist Peony. The narrative structure follows Peony’s experiences and relationships on the farm versus those in the city, exploring the major themes of hope, loss and belonging.

The story takes place across two distinct locations: the free, open space of the farm and the closed-in, barricaded house in the city. Descriptions of the transition between the two places reinforce the differences and distance between them; there is a strong contrast between the natural and built-up environment.


The contrast between the farm and the city is explored through the ideas of wealth and poverty – both financial and personal. An example of this is Peony’s relationship with her mother. Throughout the novel, there is a struggle between the opportunities for financial stability in the city compared to the contented, idyllic, family-centred life in the country. ‘Ma’, like many other people from the farm, goes to the city to make money and create a better life, leaving behind the security of family and the safety of community. She finds herself in a volatile relationship and accepts poor treatment as she believes it is her means to an end. She is also painfully aware of the ‘raggy’ people. Peony’s ma understands that it is hard work, and consequently is prepared to sacrifice her relationship with her children – who do not share her dreams – to make enough money to fulfil her desire for material wealth. We see this through the constant conflict and the often-violent attempts to kidnap Marigold and Peony to go and work in the city. This theme is further explored through Jonagold, who has a balanced relationship with both the farm and the city.

By the end of the novel, we can see that this is an ongoing cycle of people being teased and tempted by their hopes and dreams. Honey (a contemporary to Peony who is initially chosen as a bee over her) also feels the call of a better life in the city, and dreams of all the material possessions that she can have by leaving the safety of her community. This opens up the possibility for the cycle in which Peony’s mother was caught to repeat.

What is characterisation?

Activity 1

Introduce the main character, Peony, by reading pages 1–3. Model what we learn about Peony from the first paragraph; for example, the verbs ‘bursts’, ‘busting’ and ‘scramble’ create a sense of excitement, rushing and urgency. The short sentences of ‘Today!’ and ‘It’s here!’ show that the first-person speaker has been anticipating this moment. The use of the exclamation mark highlights strong emotion and excitement.

Students are to work with partners to find other clues about Peony’s character up to the end of page 3. Record this on the character study worksheet (PDF, 98KB). As you progress through the text, continue providing students with opportunities to track Peony’s character development, and perhaps that of other characters as well.

After reading that Peony does not become a bee, discuss the concept of resilience. Ask students to reflect on a time when, despite effort, they narrowly missed out on something they really wanted to achieve. Ask them to think about how they felt at the time and what they did thereafter, if anything (there is an opportunity to link this to the 24 character strengths). As an optional task, students could write a recount about this time. If they cannot think of an example or prefer not to write about their own experiences, they could think about the advice they would give Peony to persevere and not give up.

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Activity 2

Students are to complete the cross-off activity (PDF, 176KB) by thinking of the single-word answer to each clue and crossing it off from the list. Then they can identify the link between the remaining words.

Revisit the meaning of the word ‘characterisation‘. Direct students to revisit Activity 1 and identify how many examples of characterisation were evident in the opening three pages. It is important that students know the difference between character and how that character is developed through characterisation.

Divide students into pairs or groups of three and assign a character for them to explore. The characterisation to character task (PDF, 117KB) outlines the page references for major characters. Students will then complete the associated worksheet (PDF, 81KB). Model the example of Peony (PDF) using this template, demonstrating think-aloud techniques. Complete this exercise using information from Activity 1 and the text as a whole. Explain specific language features used (for example, descriptive language) and how this helps to create character.

After pairs/groups have completed their character worksheets, ask them to regroup with others who have focused on the same character to discuss similarities and differences.

Students are to write a paragraph explaining why, in their opinion, the character has been included in the story. Support students to identify ideas (themes) and how the character supports the development of the theme.

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Comparing and contrasting the characters of Peony and Esmeralda

Activity 1

As a class, discuss the various parts of the narrative and revisit the terminology: introduction, development, conflict/climax, falling action and equilibrium. Students are to complete the plot outline of Peony and Esmeralda’s friendship development (PDF, 97KB), from the time they first meet to when they become close friends. Prior to completing this activity, discuss the chapter titles and the clues given about their blossoming friendship. Students are to identify a descriptive word that summarises their relationship at each stage, and then label these words on the outline. Encourage students to use a thesaurus to find synonyms for ordinary words (for example, ‘courageous’ instead of ‘brave’).

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Activity 2

Peony and Esmeralda come from very different backgrounds but share many similarities. Despite having their own unique challenges to overcome, in their moments of need they help and support each other and become best friends in the process.

Before starting this task, refer students back to the work already completed in the Initial Response section (Synthesising Task).

Part 1

Students are to complete a comparison of Peony and Esmeralda (PDF, 88KB) and the corresponding Venn diagram. Using the Venn diagram as an anchor chart, students write a minimum of two paragraphs to compare and contrast the two characters. Before writing, discuss and record/display the key elements of a ‘compare and contrast’ piece, including the use of supporting evidence and connectives. As a class, construct an example and record this on butcher’s paper or the whiteboard as a point of reference. When students have completed their paragraphs, allow them to peer assess each other’s work using the listed elements as a guide.

Part 2

Working in groups of three or four, students are to identify the characters’ different roles and how they are similar to jobs fulfilled in a beehive. Introduce the concept of a metaphor and discuss imagery from the novel that shows Esmeralda needing Peony to blossom and grow. Direct students to collect breadcrumbs from the text demonstrating the strong link between Esmeralda as ‘Queen Bee’ and Peony as a worker bee. Also explore reasons why Esmeralda is seen by Peony as ‘The Beetle-Haired Girl’ (whereas adults see her as a ‘Delicate Flower’) and why, in their final meeting, Peony refers to Esmeralda as the ‘last honey bee’.

Students should present their ideas in a visual way, using a diagram or mind map. Ask them to consider the other people of the farm and how they might fit into the beehive structure.

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How do characters help to develop the ideas (themes) of the text?

As a class, discuss what is meant by the term ‘theme’. Using a narrative outline, briefly recap the major events in the book. Then identify one major theme as an example.

  • Explain to students that they are going to work independently to think of three additional themes explored in the novel. Instruct them to keep their ideas private.
  • Provide each student with a blank piece of paper folded to make a grid of eight boxes. An example (PDF, 149KB) has been provided.
  • Write the class theme in one of the boxes. Students are to record their additional ideas in three other boxes. They should have four empty boxes left.
  • Students are to then move between their peers and share their ideas, adding new themes they have not yet recorded in the empty boxes.
  • Monitor students’ movement and tell them not to remain with one person; they can only collect one idea per person.

After this activity, place students in groups of four to discuss the themes on their pages. Each group is to share their top three themes with the class, briefly justifying their choices.

Assign groups a specific theme to focus on. Students are to investigate how and where that theme is evident across the text. Before starting this task, model the initial major theme as an example. In so doing, take the opportunity to explore the differences between a theme and a symbol.

Students are to present their ideas and work to the class.

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Thinking about our belonging and place

In the novel, there is a strong sense of belonging and knowing that in our own places, you can do amazing things. To explore this concept, show students the quote attributed to Albert Einstein:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.*

As a class, discuss this quote in relation to the novel. Examples can be found on pages 88 and 102, where Peony struggles to show that she is capable in the kitchen, despite her success as a pest and hopeful bee.

*As an extension, this task also provides the opportunity to show students how to check the accuracy and truth of quotes online.

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Synthesising task

Using this writing task (PDF, 112KB), students are to consider the dedication written by author Bren MacDibble at the beginning of How to Bee. They will then select and write about one character from the novel who, in their opinion, will help a kid to face hard times with courage. Should students require modelling to plan their response, work together on a character such as Applejoy or Marigold.

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Ways of reading the text

Whilst How to Bee tells the story of Peony and the ways her determination and strength of character supports other people in her community, there is a strong message about the impact of climate change on communities and the way in which we live. Before exploring the concept of climate change, students are to work through the text, identifying the different communities in the novel (PDF, 110KB) and their experiences. Revisit the communities through the lens of what we mean by climate change and, as a class, discuss how MacDibble explores the idea/theme of sustainability.

Activity 1

Ask students to define the term ‘climate change’ and record their ideas on butcher’s paper. Then watch this introduction to climate change. As a class, edit and adjust the definition as is relevant to your circumstances and context. Provide students with the climate change knowledge chart (PDF, 81KB) to complete independently. They will then work in groups of three or four to identify their top three questions. As a class, share, collate and display the questions students have posed. Conduct a whole class vote to decide which question will be researched all together, which will be answered with a partner and which will be researched individually. Determine the format for presenting answers, allowing students to offer suggestions, e.g. pamphlet, cartoon, documentary, article for school newsletter, etc. Encourage students to think about how this information may be used to educate people on the urgency of climate change and the need for action.

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Activity 2: actions speak louder than words

With consideration to the school community, plan a campaign to create awareness of climate change and how students can take steps to make a difference. It is important to begin with a simple idea or plan, such as:

  • Plastic-free lunches on a selected day of the week
  • Lights off when a room is unoccupied
  • Recycling paper and plastics
  • Compost bins (if your school has an existing garden)
  • Less to Landfill Challenge

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General note

How to Bee offers a range of strong and meaningful cross-curricular opportunities. When addressing climate change in relation to the novel and as a concept, there are several authentic opportunities to work with different learning areas as follows:

Comparison with other texts and concepts

Peony shares the courage and determination of characters in other dystopian novels, such as Jonas in The Giver (it is worth comparing Bren MacDibble’s dedication in How to Bee with Lois Lowry’s dedication in The Giver).

The theme of place and links to belonging are ever-present, as the protagonists of both novels try to find their place while navigating challenges and factors outside their control (including relationships with others).

There is also an opportunity to explore the concept of the hero’s journey, and whether Peony and Jonas can be seen as heroes – particularly as they both leave and return transformed by their experiences and interactions throughout their respective novels.

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Evaluation of the text

By exploring the characters and their experiences, and by locating both explicit information and inferences, students have considered and developed multiple perspectives on how the characters behave and how, together, these elicit an overall response from the reader. The audience is well-positioned to describe the feelings and motivations of characters in a range of challenging situations throughout the text, and to identify their responses (and the reasons for their responses) to these characters. This approach enables and supports the reader in being empathetic and understanding of the characters’ experiences, while also exploring the notion of cause and effect.

How to Bee provides an opportunity to explore the Australian Curriculum general capability linked to Intercultural Understanding, and the cross-curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. The novel encourages its audience to consider traditional ways of doing things (in this case, farming), along with the importance of elders’ knowledge (the foreman) and of sharing/saving that knowledge for future generations.

How to Bee also creates an opportunity to explore the importance of respecting and recognising all living cultures. It demonstrates why we should learn from the strong, resilient, rich and diverse ways of Indigenous peoples – in the past, present and future.

Rich assessment task (responding)

Students are to imagine that they work for a casting agency and have been approached by a director. In this two-part rich assessment task (PDF, 130KB), they are to select and explain a key event from the novel and then develop a script for an audition. In the script, students are to capture Peony’s character through the dialogue, stage directions and actions.

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Synthesising core ideas

As a class, revisit How to Bee’s plot, characters and themes. Have students identify their interpretations and understanding of each, asking them to support their ideas with specific examples from the text. Together, discuss how the themes developed, then rank them and group them according to similarity. Students are to write a paragraph explaining the main theme of the novel and how one of the characters contributes to its development.

Optional task

Students are to write a review of the novel, containing an overview of the plot and a summary of its themes and characters.

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Rich assessment task (creating)

Students are to work independently to explore an aspect of bees that resonated with them in How to Bee. They will prepare a display for the school library by creating a diorama in the shape of a hexagon. The class’ hexagons will then be joined to form a honeycomb that represents the different areas of interest expressed by students. Follow this tutorial to ensure the correct sizing and uniform appearance of the hexagons.

The display will require some preparation. Where possible, explore opportunities for cross-curricular involvement (e.g. with art teachers) to support the creation of the project.

Explain the rich assessment task and rubric (PDF, 129KB) to the students. It is important that individual students select just one topic and do not repeat the same content. Discuss, plan, moderate and record who is working on what.

Explore the following examples of dioramas, and list the key features of a successful diorama. Students can use this list as an anchor chart when completing their work:

Set students the challenge of using recycled materials to complete their projects. Each diorama must be accompanied by a 100-word explanation. Before working on the final task, students must prepare and present their plan to a partner.

Once the dioramas are completed and the hexagons assembled to represent a honeycomb, number each cell and its corresponding explanation so they can be easily linked.

Arrange for the completed dioramas to be displayed in the school library. An opportunity could also arise to lend the display to feeder primary schools from which the Year 7 students came, or else to your local or state library.

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