Connecting to prior knowledge

A note from Magabala Books

Dreamtime stories are different for all the various Aboriginal language groups. No two Creation or Dreamtime stories are the same. They may share similarities but due to belief systems and religious significance, these stories will differ. Landscape and country differ, so will the reason why these features came into being and how they were created.

Please note there is no one creation story that fits Australia. And any Dreaming story must be attributed to the language group it comes from. That’s its precedent. Every story has context. And this context needs to be understood by the education specialists teaching our children. As this will allow the correct information to be passed on and taught.

Note to teachers: The term ‘Dreamtime’ is used throughout this unit. This is a term often used to describe Creation stories, Creation beliefs and spiritual philosophies that came into being for the many and various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. There is a variety of terms, that are used to describe these events, including ‘Dreaming’. Individual creators and communities will use terms that suit them, where they are from and where they are on Country. It would be advisable to have a conversation with the Creator of any of these titles (where possible), or a person from the community where you are from as to what would be appropriate to use.

Before reading

Show the students the cover of the book and using think-pair-share, ask the students to record their predictions about the book on a pre-reading (PDF, 91KB) worksheet. Look for clues in the words and the illustration on the front cover.

Then turn to the back cover and read the blurb to the students. What else do we know now? Students add predictions to their pre-reading (PDF, 91KB) worksheet.
(ACELY1670)   (EN-4A)

As this part of the lesson includes content about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, provide an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’. Discuss the language used in an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’. 

Lead a discussion around students’ understanding of the Dreamtime and Dreamtime stories and the Elders in Aboriginal culture.

  • What do you know about Dreamtime stories?
  • What do they teach us?
  • What are other Dreamtime stories you have heard or read? Explain to students that Mad Magpie is a story like a Dreamtime story.
  • Who are the Elders? Who are your elders? What do they mean to you? What do they mean to the Aboriginal culture?

(ACELA1460)   (EN1-6B)   (EN1-7B)

List some of the key words in the text for the students to listen out for during the first reading of the story: Dreamtime, the Elders, munjerible, a creature, calm, the current.

Reading the text

Read the story aloud to the students without interruption for discussion or questions, reminding them to listen for the words you listed.

After reading use pairs then whole class to discuss:

  • What did you learn or understand about the words on the list?
  • When did the story take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • What was the problem in the story? (Some students might say Magpie was the problem because he was always angry. Some might say the butcher birds were the problem because they were bullies. Discuss how both sets of behaviour needed to change.)
  • What happened because of the problem? (Magpie would attack other animals and the butcher birds made Magpie angry.)
  • How was the problem solved? (Magpie listened to the Elders’ advice and the butcher birds learnt to love singing.)
  • How did the story end? (All the animals were happy, there was no more bullying and Magpie learnt to control his temper.)

As a whole-class activity, discuss and record answers. These will be referred to in a future lesson in the Examining tab.
(ACELT1587)   (EN1-11D)


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

The text begins, ‘Way back before Once-upon-a-time, there was the Dreamtime…’ Read this a couple of times before asking: What is the difference between ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘the Dreamtime’?

Using a ball of string and post-it notes, construct a timeline that indicates the existence of Aboriginal people in Australia, and the Dreamtime, at least 60,000 years ago and the time when ‘Once upon a time’ started to be regularly used in fairy tales and folk tales in European culture, in 1600 (according to Wikipedia). Add the current year to it as well as the students’ birth year in an approximation of scale to indicate the history of the Dreamtime.

Look at other Dreaming stories and books by Gregg Dreise, or look at the images of them on the last pages of Mad Magpie. Compare Mad Magpie with more traditional Dreamtime stories, for example The Rainbow Serpent.

  • What is similar about these texts?
  • What is different about these texts?
  • How do we know that the stories and illustrations refer to Aboriginal culture?

(ACELY1665)   (EN1-11D)

How do we know Guluu is angry? Discuss in terms of the elements and principles of design. Elements of design include point, line, shape, form, space, color, and texture. Principles of design include balance, proportion, perspective, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, rhythm, variety, harmony, and unity. In a teacher-led class discussion, record the pictures and words that tell us Guluu is angry.
(ACELA1469)   (EN1-4A)


Rich assessment task

Have students draw themselves on an occasion when they were angry, encouraging them to use the illustrations in the book as inspiration (colour, facial expression, body language space on the page). Have them write two or three sentences about what made them angry and what they did when they were angry.
(ACELA1469)   (EN1-4A)

Responding to the text

Retell the story using only the illustrations. Invite students to contribute to the retelling by explaining either what is happening on the page and/or how they know this. For example on the first page Magpie is angry, and we can tell this by his dominance on the page, angry expression on his face and the large font of the word ‘Attack’. Use the summary (PDF, 96KB) of the story illustrations.

Ask: are the illustrations enough to tell the story? The task in the next tab, Examining, continues to explore the contribution illustrations make to meaning in picture books.
(ACELA1469)   (EN-4A)

On the first page we learn that Guluu is so angry that he swoops down and pecks other animals. Encourage students to share their experiences of magpies swooping during the nesting season. Look at YouTube videos of magpies swooping.

As a class or in pairs or small groups investigate the appearance and behaviours of magpies and butcher birds, using books in your school resource centre or on the internet or here. These sites have recordings of the bird calls.
(ACELA1469)   (EN1-4A)

Making connections

In small groups give students sentence starter strips to use as discussion starters:

Text to Self

Have you ever felt like Guluu?

I felt like Guluu when…

This story makes me feel like the time when…

Text to Text

This story reminds me of a book I read or a film/television program I saw…

A character who is like Guluu is… from…

Text to World

Things like this happen in the real world, like when…

This is different from things that happen in the real world because…
(ACELT1589)   (EN1-11D)

Each group could select one of their responses to share with the class. This involves negotiating which response to share and which student to deliver it.
(ACELY1666)   (EN1-1A)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

The word bullying isn’t used until the last word of the narrative, but throughout the text the butcher birds do things that constitute this. As you read the story invite students to add the butcher birds’ actions to a list (they teased, acted tough, called out insults, laughed at Guluu, stole his worms, followed him).

Students then add what Guluu did: what he did that didn’t work, and what he did that did work to stop the bullying.

The butcher birds… Guluu’s response: what didn’t work Guluu’s response: what did work
teased Guluu acted tough began to feel calm (when he looked at the river)
acted tough got angry sang
called out insults

(ACELA1469)   (EN-4A)

Ask students to offer other suggestions to add to the list. What else do bullies do? Provoke students with the statement: ‘Sometimes bullies are very kind’. What other strategies are effective to combat bullies? What are some ineffective strategies for combating bullying?
(ACELY1666)   (EN1-1A)

The information on the last page of the book tells us that the animal names used in the story are the traditional names of these animals in the Gamilaraay language, and that the author’s family comes from the Gamilaroi (also Kamilaroi) people. Use the map to show the location of Gamilaroi and Yuwalayaay people of south-west Queensland and north-west NSW. Enlarge and display a map of Australia in your classroom with this region marked and add your location and the name of the Aboriginal people on whose land you are located. Discuss the importance of using Indigenous land names in an Acknowledgement of Country.

In pairs or small groups students fill out the advice chart (PDF, 89KB) where they record the advice the Elders gave to Guluu.
(ACELT1591)   (EN1-7B)

Visual elements

Lead the students in an exploration and analysis of the fonts used in this book: the large colourful font that resembles hand drawn lettering that has been used for the title and for keywords through the story, the serif font used for the extra information in the book and the sans serif font used for the story itself.

  • Why have different fonts been used?
  • What effect do they have on the reader?

Look at the motifs repeated throughout the book, particularly those of the bird footprints and the circles of dots. Find other examples of Aboriginal art that feature similar motifs and invite students to interpret what they could mean in the context of this story. Use art lessons to make simple potato prints of bird footprints and colourful acrylic paint and cotton buds or the flat ends of pencils to make dot circle patterns. Discuss the history of Aboriginal dot art. Traditionally, Aboriginal dot art was drawn in the sand for educational purposes by people of the Central Desert. Then Aboriginal artists started to use the ochre from the natural environment to create very precise and intricate paintings.

Instructions for making potato prints.

Invite students to locate some information about Aboriginal art.
(ACELY1670)   (EN-4A)


Rich assessment task

On the last page of Mad Magpie there are some words in colourful font that describe how the birds created a happy mood: SING, DANCE, LAUGH, LOVE! Brainstorm other words that could also create a happy mood (whistle, hum, smile, skip, help, etc.)

Have the students either individually or with a partner create a poster using four positive words and decorate it in the style of the book using dot painting, print making or drawing, or any combination of these.
(ACELT1593)   (EN1-10C)

Examining text structure and organisation

Read the text again and identify the parts of the narrative. Discuss and record the structure of the narrative. Using the information recorded in the Literature tab, discuss and extend if necessary and have the students record the elements of the narrative structure (PDF, 91KB) on a worksheet.

Ask: are the illustrations enough to tell the story? Go through the text again and discuss what extra information is given through the words. Also look at the information included in the illustrations that is not included in the text and record these observations on a large chart.

Page Words Illustration
1–2 Once upon a time, Dreamtime, Guluu, swoop and peck. The word Attack! is being used like a picture. Outstretched wings and tail. Facial expression.
3–4 Elders, munjerible, butcher birds, tough and angry. Angry magpie, dot painting, green grass with butterflies and ladybird.

Invite discussion about how the text and illustrations work together to create the narrative.
(ACELY1670)   (EN1-4A)


Examining grammar and vocabulary


The wide range of nouns used in this text contributes to the richness of the story. Lead students in an examination of the text to identify the different types of nouns (common, proper and pronouns).

With a copy of the book, students can work in pairs to find nouns on the page of the narrative they have been given. Have students write each noun on a separate piece of paper that can then be pasted onto a large sheet under the appropriate heading. Example:

Common nouns Proper nouns Pronouns
magpie Dreamtime he
heads Guluu it

Once the list is completed, discuss the effect of authorial choice. Find a page with proper nouns and replace with common nouns. Talk about the apparent ease of reading pronouns, but the inherent difficulties of referencing the pronoun to either a common or proper noun.
(ACELA1468)   (EN1-4A)

Literary language

Both personification and simile are used in Mad Magpie. 

Personification is when human qualities are given to an object or animal to create imagery. In Mad Magpie the personification is most effectively used in describing the river – how it rages through the mountains and over the waterfalls and then calms down. Identify and explain this during a reading of the book and discuss why and how authors use this. List other examples of personification that students can think of, or have come across in other texts, for example:

The wind howled through the trees.

The moon played hide and seek with the clouds.

Other books that feature personification include The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and The Dark by Lemony Snicket.

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things that are not alike. A simile usually includes ‘as’ or ‘like’. Guluu is advised to stay calm like the water and to be powerful like the water’s current. Again, alert students to this in the book reading, or ask them to identify it as you read the story.

Print the personification and simile worksheet (PDF, 91KB) and cut into strips. Give each pair of students a different sentence. Students discuss their sentence and decide whether it is an example of personification or a simile and come up with an explanation of what it means. Students can present their understandings to the class as a short oral presentation.
(ACELY1670)   (EN-4A)


Rich assessment task

Choose one character from the text to write a character analysis. Ask students to choose a character that they admired or that they thought was interesting, and give reasons for the choice.

Show students work sample 2 from the ACARA portfolio.

Jointly deconstruct these to make the language and structure clear.

Provide this character analysis sheet (PDF, 92KB) for students to use for planning before writing their character analysis. Devise, deconstruct and distribute a rubric that will support students in their writing. You can refer to the rubric (PDF, 93KB) provided as an example.
(ACELT1593)   (EN1-10C)

Investigating the text structure

Review the narrative structure of Mad Magpie.

Read other Dreamtime stories in shared, guided and independent reading sessions and analyse their structure, noting similarities. Use the narrative structure worksheet (PDF, 91KB) to record findings.

Other books by Gregg Dreise also explore a themes similar to the wisdom of the Elders and the importance of heeding this. Jointly construct the retelling of one of these stories using the narrative structure worksheet (PDF, 91KB) as a guide. Students can have their own copies of the worksheet on which to write the notes as they are jointly composed. Remind students of the language features that have been studied in previous lessons and encourage students to innovate on the story by adding other elements of bullying that the butcher birds could have done and other advice from the Elders.

As a class compose the orientation and complication sections. Then students work in pairs to compose the resolution section. Share with the class and then as a whole class compose the conclusion, or coda jointly.
(ACELT1833)   (EN1-10C)


Rich assessment task

Have students innovate on Mad Magpie to create their own narrative with a theme of anti-bullying, standing up for yourself, friendship, or listening to the advice of Elders. They could use an incident from their own lives and use Australian animals as the characters and use the narrative structure worksheet (PDF, 91KB) for planning.

This rich assessment task could be a differentiated activity, with some students retelling one of the stories that have been read and analysed in class and others writing original stories.
(ACELT1833)   (EN1-10C)