Connecting to prior knowledge

Prior to introducing the book, teachers should view this unit and consider what is appropriate for the children in their class. Children and their parents/carers need to be aware that the incidents and the history of the Holocaust may be upsetting for some child readers.   

In order to understand the themes of the narrative and the central character, Felix, the students need to have engaged in preliminary reading and viewing of information about the Holocaust and the persecution of Jewish people during World War II. The narrative’s protagonist, Felix, creates stories to help him process the events which happen to him and the other characters. An understanding that Felix is experiencing historical events as his lived reality/perception is an important element in comprehending this narrative. Prior knowledge about the historical facts helps the reader to empathise with the situations in which Felix finds himself.

One way to connect to children’s prior knowledge is for the teacher to write the word ‘holocaust’ in the centre of a sheet of poster paper or on an interactive Padlet. In groups of no more than four, ask the students to brainstorm what they know about the Holocaust. They may consult a dictionary or online wikipedia. By this age, children should be familiar with word webs and the construction of word web major and minor themes.  

Now ask the children to decide on a font and rewrite the word ‘holocaust’. Emphasise the importance of choosing a font that deepens the meaning of the word.

View the following links on an electronic whiteboard, or on individual devices.

After viewing, students regroup and return to their word webs and add information to the notes made. This can include personal reactions, facts and references to text connections they have made.

Complete this session with a class circle sharing and question time. Finish by introducing the book Once and showing them a page of quotes by Morris Gleitzman. This will help set the scene and give some insight into why a children’s author might choose to write about this topic.

Display the front and back of the book. Ask students to make predictions about the book based on their contextual knowledge from the previous lesson. Allow approximately ten minutes for students to individually write their predictions. Each student could also include two ‘I Wonder…’ statements.

These statements could be collated and added to a class display to refer to and add to throughout the unit. The statements could be added to the class blog site so children can respond to each other’s posts.

Refer students to Morris Gleitzman’s official website. It discusses his reasons for writing the book Once. Allow students to read in pairs or small groups and discuss.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-8D)


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

Ask the students if they have read or seen any other texts about the subject of the Holocaust. These may include books or movies such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (John Boyne), The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), Let the Celebrations Begin (Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas), Hana’s Suitcase (Karen Levine); Rose Blanche (Robert Innocenti, Christopher Gallaz an Ian McEwan).
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-8D)


Rich assessment task

Ask students to create three pages in their reading journals:

  1. Text to Self Connections: record any personal stories, responses and opinions which are triggered by engaging in prior knowledge research.
  2. Text to Text Connections: record any books, movies, songs, pop-culture images which share a common theme.
  3. Text to World Connections: record any thoughts about what the research makes them think of in the world, for example, people being persecuted because they are different.

Again in the reading journal ask students to introduce the book by writing a short summary of their knowledge of the holocaust and offer an opinion of why an author would choose to write a children’s book about such a terrible historical event.

Look for evidence that students can connect their prior knowledge of the events of the Holocaust, the author and their own informed opinions and responses. They will demonstrate their understanding of the historical significance of the Holocaust and consider their personal reaction to the text making reference to the rationale offered by Morris Gleitzman, when explaining his reasons for writing the book.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-8D)

Responding to the text

The students may use reciprocal teaching groups to engage with the text. If this group process is new to the children, the teacher will need to provide a scaffold until students are familiar with the four roles:

  • predicting,
  • questioning,
  • clarifying,
  • summarising.
  1. Working with a group of 5–6 students, assign a section of reading (e.g. a main event over a few paragraphs). It is important to keep the text selection short so students can reread at the start of the activity.
  2. Before reading one or two students share their predictions.
  3. After all the students in the group have finished reading the selected text, ask if anyone needs clarification of any words or phrases.
  4. Next group members may pose questions about ambiguous parts for discussion. In the beginning the teacher should model asking questions around various aspects of the passage read.
  5. Finally invite a group member to offer a summary.

The students engage in the processes as they move through the text with the teacher leading, prompting and modelling high-level questions. When the teacher is confident students are ready they can be put in groups to continue. It is essential the predicting and questioning remain at a very high level.

The teacher will work with one group per session to guide the discussion to ensure the students are engaging with the text at a deep level.

At the end of each group discussion invite students to complete a journal entry focusing on their thoughts, emotions and unanswered questions. The complexity of the themes in this narrative plus examples of language structure, provide ample opportunity for a range of responses.
(ACELY1709)   (EN2-11D)   (ACELA1523)   (EN2-9B)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

At the conclusion of the first two chapters, the students in pairs sculpt each other as Felix then draw a picture of him and begin to add character traits and information they have gained from reading the text. This can include physical characteristics, religion, age, personality traits and factual information about his circumstances.
(ACELY1713)   (EN3-8D)

Reread the passage on pages 12–15.

Model some prompting questions to encourage the students to make inferences about Felix.

For example:

  • Why did Dodie ask Felix to help him to save Jankiel from the torture squad?
  • What do we learn about how Felix deals with the problems he faces?
  • How do the other characters respond to Felix?

As a class, create a ‘T’ chart to compare life in the orphanage with Felix’s life prior. In pairs, ask students to write an opening sentence that could introduce the chapter if Morris Gleitzman had started the story whilst Felix still lived with his parents.
(ACELY1713)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELT1618)   (EN3-7C)


Rich assessment task

Students independently create a chart that explains the contrast between Felix’s explanation for what he experiences and the reality of what is happening. Examples of this might be:

Felix’s Explanation of Events  What Was Really Happening 
On page 31 Felix hears gunshots and thinks the family is out hunting rabbits. Soldiers are shooting people and forcing them into trucks to take them away.
The men with arm bands are librarians. The men are Nazi soldiers destroying Jewish books.

Conclude by sharing some of the examples and discuss.
(ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)

Examining text structure and organisation

The author begins each chapter with the word ‘once’. Ask students to consider why this might be. Draw links to the words ‘Once upon a time’ which often begins a fairy tale. Storytelling is a theme throughout the narrative and adds a naivety to the challenging topic of the Holocaust, told through the eyes of a ten-year-old child who is experiencing the horror without a complete understanding.

Watch the following clip. In small groups allow students time to discuss the clip and make connections to the book and their earlier discussions.

Whilst this discussion is taking place, have one child from each group videorecord the discussion for editing and adding to the online class repository for further sharing and discussion. The edited clip should be about two minutes in length and can be supplemented with visuals and musical interludes as shown in the demonstration clip. It will be useful to have a permanent artefact of the discussion for later referencing. The discussion is focused on the way the author uses visual imagery, background music and vocabulary in the clip.

During the discussion of the clip, focus on new vocabulary words such as ‘inherently’ and the repetition of the word ‘once’. Talk about the way the sentences are set up as comparisons and how this works to make meaning for the viewer. Discuss how conjunctions are used in these sentences.  

Group students and give each student a sheet with the first line of each chapter written on it. Students depict three critical moments as freeze frames from this chapter. Record these images and later use the images to prompt students to write a brief summary of their chapter in their reading journals including the main events they have depicted as freeze frames, in particular the main characters and the setting.
(ACELA1518)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELY1711)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELT1615)   (EN2-9B)


Examining grammar and vocabulary

Once is written in the first person. Introduce the concept of first, second and third person pronouns to the students. Discuss why the author has chosen to write a narrative in first person and how this affects our connection with the story and the characters.

Share the picture book The Journey by Francesca Sanna. This text is written in the first person and follows the journey of a mother and her two children as they flee from war as refugees. Conclude with a think-pair-share.

Ask the students to read a short passage from a favourite book from the classroom collection and read it aloud to a partner. Identify if it is in first, second or third person. The students should then practise changing the passage to the first person, or to the second or third person if the passage is written in the first person.
(ACELY1801)   (EN3-5B)

The relationships that the main character, Felix, develops as the plot unfolds are key to his survival. In the same groups used for reciprocal teaching, ask students choose a character, or group of characters and a setting to explore and analyse. Character choices might include: Mother Minka, Zelda, Felix’s parents, Barney, the Nazi soldiers. Setting choices might include: the orphanage, Felix’s family home, the city, the dentist surgery, the cellar, or the train.

Analysis includes use of pronoun choice and the way characters use evaluative language. Allow the children to videorecord these discussions and edit to produce a two-minute vignette of the main points of the discussion for the online class repository.

Using a sheet of white poster paper ask students to add a silhouette of the character or setting. They should reread the sections of the text that are relevant to their choice and select key vocabulary and add the words to a strip of white paper that will be pasted onto the silhouette. These will form a word wall and summaries of the characters and settings that can be used for writing tasks and journal entries. The posters can be joined with string to form a visual summary of the main events and the key relationships that Felix forms throughout the book.
(ACELA1525)   (EN3-6B)


Rich assessment task

Ask students to create a book trailer using a program such as iMovie or photo story. The following link gives tips and examples on how to create a digital book trailer.

The students will need to add photographs, music, sound effects and text that depict and summarise the themes and events of the narrative. Use this example made by students as a model.

Students should use the first person pronoun and follow the narrative structure discussed in the lessons. The word wall will help to remind them of the key events, characters and settings and vocabulary. They can also refer back to class videos uploaded in the online class repository.
(ACELY1711)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELY1714)   (EN3-2A)

Put students in groups of 4–5 and ask them to choose a section of the narrative and perform their interpretation of a scene. Reader’s Theatre enhances comprehension of the text and develops fluency. In order to portray a scene the students need to think about how they will depict the characters and the events using their voice, face and simple gestures. They can create simple props and use a digital imagery slide show to provide an appropriate and well-timed backdrop. The performance should be no more than five minutes. They will need to think about how their voices and expressions will represent emotional responses of the character, the interactions with the other characters, how the setting will affect the atmosphere and if the characters are hiding and whispering, scared or encouraging one another. The students can choose how they will dramatise the scene. They may choose to have a narrator, or to show the events through the actions of their characters.

Before beginning, model creating a dramatic scene using Reader’s Theatre. Use the scene on pages 76–77 where Felix is waking up in the cellar after becoming ill in the city and being rescued by Barney. Work through the following steps for ‘Creating a Storyboard’.
(ACELY1710)   (EN3-7C)

Creating a storyboard

There are many free storyboard templates available to download and print.

  1. Display a story board template on the white board or create a poster sized version.
  2. Read the passage on page 77 and discuss how this might be portrayed using dramatic techniques to depict the characters and create the mood and atmosphere of the scene. Demonstrate ways they could portray the first two lines. Will they have the student role-playing Felix, narrate them, or will they show him waking up in darkness in a panic? Invite students to get into pairs and act this line to each other.
  3. Using the storyboard, break the scene up into sections. Add the spoken script to each section. Students can draw or describe the action for each section in the boxes. Model this on the board, or sheet. They can include simple diagrams of props, e.g. the silver locket, a flickering candle or a metal cup.
  4. Identify key vocabulary which can guide the way a character is portrayed, e.g. whisper, concerned, demanding.
  5. Complete the storyboard as a class.
  6. Invite students to be the characters and co-create the scene asking for student suggestions in the process.
  7. In their groups, students will choose a short scene to recreate. They should follow the steps outlined above. Each group will perform their scene to the class. This task will take several sessions including the performance.
  8. Allow the children to videorecord their scenes so as to encourage critique and re-design as needed. The goal is to have a culture of sharing to allow a focus on technique and craft.

To prepare for the assessment task, reread the passage on page 10 and 11 and the passage on page 25 which refers to the stories Felix has written to explain why his parents are still absent and have stopped writing to him. These involves his parents being in remote places and engaging in dangerous missions to save their precious books and maintain the supply of books to their bookshop. Brainstorm ideas as to where they might be. Add these to a chart to display as writing prompts for the assessment task.
(ACELY1714)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)

Using a think-pair-share strategy, students brainstorm everything they know about Felix’s parents. Write each of the ideas on a sticky note to add to a poster. Create a class poster to display the ideas to assist students with the assessment task.
(ACELY1709)   (EN3-1A)


Rich assessment task

Ask students to write a narrative to explain the whereabouts of Felix’s parents. Each student expands on one of the ideas from the book. The narrative should be about the whereabouts of Felix’s parents and the plot should follow the theme of a heroic mission to rescue books, supply books in dangerous areas or rescue an author in peril, for example. The individual narratives can be edited and compiled to form a class book.

The children can create front and back covers to resemble Felix’s notebook. The art movement during the holocaust is known as ‘Socialist Realism’. Google search images of ‘Socialist Realism Holocaust’. Discuss if the art works are fact or fiction. Talk about the common themes in content, the interpersonal relationship between participants in the art works and the technical devices that create a reading path (e.g. viewing angle, framing, colour, composition, balance, layout, etc). Use an app to prepare the art work, for example ‘Tayasui Sketches‘ or the black and white charcoal sketching app called ‘ASKetch‘. Working with digital charcoal allows the children to keep their work clean whilst also capitalising upon the starkness of black and white and all the shades in between.

The completed narratives can be read on audio file and supplemented with static images from creative commons or art works from the ‘Socialist Realism’ era. The audio files can be uploaded to the class online repository for sharing. 

Discuss the assessment rubric with the students negotiating additional elements. Half-way through the exercise, facilitate peer-on-peer assessment on each student’s assessment manuscript.

The learning intention is:

Using the ‘voice’ of Felix, students will compose a narrative to explain the whereabouts of his parents.

Success criteria might include:

Text structure & organisation:  

  • Plays with text to achieve particular effects such as Felix’s vivid imagination.
  • Keeps to a theme that fits narrative, e.g. preciousness of books

Expressing & developing idea:

  • Careful choice of expressive verbs to portray Felix’s parents as heroes
  • Careful choice of expressive verbs to manage Felix’s introspection
  • Use of adverb groups/prepositional phrases to add detail
  • Command of simple present verb tense for main plot
  • Command of past verb tense for reflection or future verb tense for prediction
  • Use of evaluative language to show how character assess the quality of things

Creating literature:

  • Uses imagery to portray setting and to make comparison between settings more vivid
  • Uses sentence variation to effect (copies Gleitzman’s habits)
  • Uses metaphor judiciously to enhance meaning

Creating texts:

  • Uses modal verbs and modal auxiliaries to enhance the persuasive nature of the narrative

(ACELY1714)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELT1800)   (EN3-7C)