Connecting to prior knowledge

Reading Detectives

Explain to the students that you are going to read the first few pages of the book, One Tree, and their job is to be a reading detective and listen for clues that might help them identify the time period and setting of the story. Make sure you hide the book cover as you read the first three double-page spreads. After reading these pages ask students to record their ideas on large sheets of butchers’ paper in small groups. Include headings such as ‘time period,’ ‘setting’ and ‘wonderings’.
(ACELY1680)   (EN2-4A)

Once students have completed this task, have students select a partner (who was not in their original brainstorming group) to engage in a Rally Robin cooperative learning strategy. It is helpful if a prop (such as a stone, bean bag or peg) is used to identify who is to take a turn of talk. Ask the students to share ideas from their group with their partner based on prompts from the teacher. Questions could include:

  • Where were some of the settings suggested by your team?
  • When do you think the story was set?
  • What clues gave you this information?
  • What were your wonderings about this story?

Read One Tree, starting at the beginning of the story so that the students can see how the images enhance the story and may answer some of their wonderings and match their predictions. Conclude the session by returning to the student’s predictions and discuss.
(ACELY1676)   (EN2-6B)


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

Connecting to Feelings

Re-read One Tree. Prepare the students for the re-reading by telling them to focus on the emotions displayed by Grandfather. Discuss how Grandfather displays strong emotions and that these emotions change throughout the story. As a class create a list of emotions experienced through reading the story. This could include cheerfulness, worry, joy, sadness, surprise or trust. Then either record (PDF, 134KB) as a class or as individuals the emotions they experienced after reading the story and an example of when this occurred. Using an iPad the students can record each other in an interview style recording.
(ACELY1680)   (EN2-4A)

Connected to People

Have students list the people in their life that matter most to them. Then choose one person from the list and write some of the memories they have with them. Model this to the class using an example they could connect to such as one of your colleagues or a known member of the learning community.

Select one memory and model how to extend this by including extra details related to emotions or sensory experiences. Have students extend on their memories related to their special person. View George Ella Lyon’s website and the ‘Where I’m From’ page and review the collection of poems using this structure. Draw attention to the use of metaphors in the phrase ‘I am from fudge and eyeglasses’ etc. Model how your example can be crafted into this structure.

Ask students to craft their own example of a ‘Where I am From’ poem that is based on their special person and their memories of an event spent with them.

Some students may need to be scaffolded through this, such as the topics that George Ella Lyon covered in her poem, for example, her family, her culture, and her environment. Once these inclusions are understood, make a list of the family, the culture, and the environment of the student’s special person. If this would benefit from support from the parents/community members, it might be set as a task for students to do at home. Then the crafting can begin.
(ACELY1682)   (EN2-2A)

Once their writing is complete have students read their writing aloud to a partner. Each student should have a copy of the writing so that the listener can read along with the writer. When the listener hears something that is of interest to them, both partners should mark it on their copy. This feedback helps both the writer and the reader.
(ACELT1596)   (EN2-11D)   (ACELY1792)   (EN2-1A)


Rich assessment task

Revisit the crafting of the ‘Where I am From’ poems and the need to have memories that evoke emotions in the reader. Re-read One Tree with the class, asking the students to write down parts of the story that capture events that are and will become memories for Grandfather.

Explain that students are now going to create a poem using this structure for Grandfather from One Tree. This may need to be scaffolded as in the last activity.

Have students share their writing with a partner, just as they did earlier, to record feedback.
(ACELY1682)   (EN2-2A)   (ACELT1596)   (EN2-11D)

Responding to the text

Character Comparisons

Ask students to think of the two main characters in the book. Then consider some areas that allow us to compare them, such as their likes and dislikes, interests, how they manage challenges, and their individual traits. Divide the class in half with the two groups taking on a different character. Encourage students to share ideas about each character to build their understanding of them. Prompts to facilitate the discussion could include:

  • What are some words to describe your character?
  • What interests does your character have?
  • What problem does your character overcome?
  • How does your character respond to challenges?
  • How does your character treat others in the story?

Introduce the drama concept of Hot Seating to the class. Explain that this approach involves someone taking on the role of the character and then answering questions while channelling that character. It may be helpful to use props to remind students that they are in character when sitting in the hot seat. Ask for volunteers to take on the roles with the other students asking the questions. Remind students that their goal is to ask questions that require the person in the hot seat to infer the answers. They are encouraged to use details from the story to add more information to what the characters might say, feel or know.
(ACELT1594)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELY1677)   (EN2-6B)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Plot and theme

Distinguishing between plot and theme allows students to consider author’s intentions. Plot is what happens in the story and the theme represents the overarching ideas of the story. Recognising that themes are rarely explicitly stated and must be inferred, supports students in their understanding of texts and in their own book selection choices. Re-read One Tree and complete a whole class reflection sheet (PDF, 83KB) identifying plot (what happens) and theme (the big ideas).
(ACELY1680)   (EN2-4A)

Connecting across stories

Connecting themes and lessons learned from other stories allows us to see the links between issues and interests across stories. Read a selection of stories over a few days, recording titles and themes as a whole class on large sheets of paper or in reading journals. Titles to use could include:

  • The Secret Sky Garden by Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers
  • The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton
  • Florette by Anna Walker
  • A Patch from Scratch by Megan Forward
  • The Lorax by Dr Seuss
  • Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (wordless picture book).

Ask students to include their personal preferences for the stories read to them.

Traits and feelings

Characters can be very complex, displaying traits that provide insight into their decisions and actions across the whole story. By gathering examples of their behaviour you can create a theory about who the character really is. Feelings are different to traits. Complete a word sort (PDF, 109KB) that allows students to sort traits and feelings. This could be done as a whole class, small group or partner work either using plastic hoops or Venn diagrams to assist in the sorting. Students may identify some words as both feelings and traits and justify their decision. Encouraging conversation about this allows students to see that character feelings are fleeting, showing an emotional response to the action around them, whereas character traits tell us who the character is and are seen through characters’ actions.
(ACELY1680)   (EN2-4A)


Rich assessment task

Trait theory

Students identify a character from One Tree and then list traits that the character displays in the book. They are encouraged to look for traits that are not similar and depict different sides to the character. Once they have done this they need to provide (PDF, 87KB) a theory about their character. This theory represents the bigger picture of that character. It is more than a trait that they demonstrate in one situation in the story, rather it is a pattern across the story.
(ACELY1680)   (EN2-4A)

Examining text structure and organisation

But, So, And, Then…

Identifying the structure of a story allows students to enhance their understanding and use this knowledge in their own writing. Enlarge a copy of this planning (PDF, 86KB) page and then re-read One Tree. Model how to summarise the information so that it fits into the box. More information about summarising can be found in the resources section. Using post-it notes, have students record responses that could be placed on their own pages. Allowing students to see the planning and pacing of a story supports them to use, or challenge, this framework in future writing events.
(ACELT1594)   (EN2-10C)

Repeating Symbols

Discuss the decisions the illustrator and author have made in how the characters are represented throughout the story. Focus on including the metalanguage of visual literacy including shot size, vertical camera angle, character positioning, distance between characters, gaze, body gesture, etc. in the discussion. Vignettes (small free-floating illustrations) occur on many pages throughout the book. Discuss with students how these vignettes can be written or visual and have a purpose (for more information see the More Resources section located at the bottom of this unit). The discussion could be guided by the following prompts:

  • What pages have the vignettes on them?
  • What is repeated?
  • What is the importance of the images selected?
  • Why has the author and illustrator selected these images?
  • How could we find out more about the vignettes?

Conclude the discussion by asking the students to consider how the vignettes and other visual elements affect the viewer/reader. Utilising the text-analyst role from the Four Resources Model, pose the question: ‘What does this text do to me and why?’
(ACELA1483)   (EN2-8B)

Focus on the Images

Provide the text of several pages to small groups. Ask students to think about what is most important or significant to the story at that point. It may be something the character is experiencing or reminiscing about. Students are encouraged to focus on the text and consider what image comes to mind to symbolise the topic. Have students discuss ideas and come to consensus about what vignette they could use. Working collaboratively, students create vignettes. Share ideas with the class.
(ACELA1483)   (EN2-8B)


Examining grammar and vocabulary

In One Tree, Christopher Cheng has created a sense of dynamic action from his choice of verbs throughout the story. Look at the following pages for examples:

  • ‘He tended (doing verb) his fields and talked (doing verb) to his plants to help them grow.’ (page 3)
  • ‘Father says (saying verb) Grandfather’s were (relating verb) the best, especially his stories about trudging (doing verb) through mountain snow and catching (doing verb) river fish for dinner.’ (page 3)
  • ‘He shuffles (doing verb) now, so it takes time.’ (page 9)
  • ‘Grandfather and I watch him preen and chirp and scratch, (doing verbs) and we laugh (doing and thinking verb) together.’ (page 19)

Students might recognise that the verbs in this story can be classified in multiple ways. For example laugh could be considered to be both a doing and thinking verb. In this sentence it is not a saying verb. Discuss how the sentence would need to be rewritten if it was to be considered as a saying verb.

Similarly, watch is a doing verb in this example but students might classify this as a thinking verb while tended is a doing verb but could also be a thinking action.

Write out the verbs on post-it notes and ask students to classify them using four hoops to form a Venn diagram.

Write out the sentences and ask students to identify the action verbs in the sentences. By highlighting the action verbs, students are able to act out the scene exploring the meaning conveyed by this word choice and ensuring the mood is appropriate.

Ask for substitutions for the verbs and see if the meaning is maintained or if the mood changes.
(ACELA1482)   (EN2-9B)


Christopher Cheng has crafted his writing to create the mood and tone of the story. Read through One Tree and ask students to consider how the author has done this. Discussion starters could include:

  • What is the effect of the different sentences (simple and compound sentences for example)?
  • What do you notice about the pacing?
  • Is there a rhythm to the writing?

Then construct a class chart that identifies a range of examples from the book. Make sure you explain that when ‘and’ is used in a list, it does not mean there are multiple clauses.

Single Clause Sentences Multiple Clause Sentences
  • Grandfather loved this land                                                  
  • Ten people, one dog and two goldfish lived there
  • Long before I was born, Grandfather lived in a mountain village

Discuss what students notice through this experience. Next to each sentence write what mood or tone is experienced by the students.
(ACELA1478)   (EN2-8B)   (ACELT1599)   (EN2-8B)


Rich assessment task

Think like the author!

Photocopy a range of turning points in the story and show these to studentsStudents select one page and then deconstruct the use of verbs, sentence structure and mood or tone created by the author. In some instances there may also be a vignette they can discuss. Provide each student with their own copy of the text so that they can highlight or annotate the example. Students record their observations in the table. 

Christopher Cheng’s Writing My observations








(ACELY1682)   (EN2-2A)


More than pictures

Explore the technique used to create the illustrations throughout One Tree by reading the interview with Bruce Whatley. Then investigate the symbol that is next to the author’s name on the title page. Name chops or seals have a specific purpose. Why do you think Christopher Cheng chose to include this symbol next to his name? Review the history and possible methods of creating a name seal/chop. You could have students create their own stamps using stickers. Place symbols on desks and encourage students to engage in a gallery walk, discussing in small groups what they noticed and their wonderings.
(ACELA1483)   (EN2-8B)   (ACELY1685)   (EN2-3A)

Two stories

Using the two main characters of One Tree, map their journey throughout the book identifying the emotions they feel at key points. As a class, identify the key points in the story. This can be done as a role play experience with different students acting as the boy and Grandfather at the various points in the story. It could also be recorded on large pieces of paper or using the Scribble app. Discuss how the emotions experienced by the characters are not always the same.
(ACELY1675)   (EN2-11D)

Multiple perspectives

Select a range of images (the Once Upon a Picture website offers an extensive range of images – be sure to include the artists’ names when sourcing and printing out images to acknowledge their copyright), print and then cut them into quarters. Model to the students how you can take one piece and using your inferring skills, complete the picture by extending the illustration. Use think alouds (see the First Steps Writing Resource book, page 8, for more information) to model how you are inferring as to what else could be captured in the illustration, e.g. other characters, different props that connect to the story and even the choice of colour and tones you use.

Provide a quarter image to each student and ask them to complete the picture. Once completed, organise the four children who had a part of the same picture into a small group. Have them share their illustrations and discuss similarities and differences. Then ask them to suggest what the original illustration might look like based on their discussion. Ask each group to present the points from their discussions to the class.

Introduce the concept of perspective. Seek a definition from the group for perspective. Use a dictionary if consensus cannot be reached and note that it is a point of view or stance. In the book, One Tree, the characters have specific feelings and opinions about the situation. Provide real life examples of using perspective that could include:

  • talking to two students about a disagreement (where both feel they are correct in their understanding and recollection)
  • the need for additional referees (e.g. video referee) at sporting matches to ensure one decision is made
  • when visiting a local area, people notice different elements of the environment.

Create a class anchor chart that defines what multiple perspectives are and provides information on what you can do to consider different ideas and possibilities. List instances in their lives where different perspectives were noted or were needed. For additional information in unpacking visual literacy, read this article.
(ACELY1675)   (EN2-11D)


Rich assessment task

Opposites attract

Think of the key points of the story from the earlier experience, Two Stories. How could you write about one of the events in a completely different way from a different perspective? Using this table record a few ideas with the class, before they have a go at creating their own examples.
(ACELY1676)   (EN2-6B)

Have students select one part of the story and rewrite it from a different perspective. Options include the boy, mother, father, Mrs Choy, Mr Tan or Mr Li. Revisit the experiences that were created in the earlier learning sequence in the Responding section of this unit.

Discuss with students the elements that should be present in their writing:

  • they present the same story but from a different character’s point of view
  • they maintain the setting and time period of the story
  • they use the traits of the character
  • they maintain the theme of the story.

(ACELY1675)   (EN2-11D)