Connecting to prior knowledge

Before reading

One of the themes in Our Little Inventor is pollution in the environment. To engage with the story and understand the main character’s motivation, students may benefit from exploring the issue and developing a basic understanding before reading the text.

Building the field

Conduct a guided discovery process about pollution.

  • Display images of polluted skies. Ask students to talk in pairs about what they see.
  • Display a second set of images of polluted skies, this time containing signs of the possible causes (e.g. smokestacks releasing smoke, traffic jams with cars emitting fumes, smoke from a bushfire, smoggy skies over large cityscapes). Again, have students discuss what they see in pairs. Take the questioning further by asking what connections they can make between pollution and what they see in these images.
  • Watch ‘Air Pollution for Kids’ from 0:00–5:06. Guide the viewing experience by asking one half of the class to look for images that are similar to what they have seen so far, while the other half looks for images that they haven’t yet been shown. Students will sit in pairs and support each other to discuss what they noticed. They will then work with their partners to create a word cloud about pollution.

Students are now ready to discuss the impact of pollution on humans and the environment. Begin by reading out the following statement:

There is pollution in the air – so what?

Record students’ responses on a chart and display this in class.

  • Continue watching ‘Air Pollution for Kids’ from 5:06–6:09. Compare the students’ thoughts about pollution with the explanation provided in the video. Add to and modify the class chart as required.
  • Have students revisit and add to their word clouds to reflect their newfound knowledge.

(ACELY1666)   (EN1-1A)

Engaging with the text

Look at a range of endpapers in books. Discuss how these can sometimes be part of the story, foreshadowing or highlighting a particular aspect.

Display the endpapers in Our Little Inventor.

Ask students which layout they think contains the front endpapers (at the beginning of the book) and which contains the back endpapers (at the end of the book). Lead the discussion towards the question of the book’s genre: is it an informative, persuasive or entertaining text? Students should draw on their knowledge of these texts’ features to justify their decision. They might decide that:

  • The illustrations suggest that the text is fictional, not factual
  • The endpapers suggest that the text is a narrative

Now show students the front cover of Our Little Inventor. Conduct the ten times two thinking routine. Combine the information gathered from this process with the previous discussion about the endpapers and begin to make informed predictions about the text.

  • Discuss what the story might be about. What could the problem and solution be?
  • Who is ‘our little inventor’? Could it be the person on the front cover? Is she a child? Can an inventor be a child? What role might she play in the story?

Record students’ responses so you can refer to them after reading the text.

To finish the process of prediction, read the blurb on the back cover. Does this change any of the predictions? Can any more information be added? Modify the chart as required.

(ACELY1669)   (EN1-4A)

During reading

Read Our Little Inventor up until p. 20, where Nell walks out of the meeting and throws her machine in the bin. Do not show the adjacent page where Mrs Li writes her letter.

Stop and check students’ understanding. Ask:

  • What has happened?
  • What is Nell doing?

Ask one or two questions to encourage the students’ connection to Nell and her feelings. Ask:

  • How would you feel?
  • What would you do?
  • What do you think Nell will do now?

Study the next page, looking at what Mrs Li writes on the note. Ask:

  • Why is she writing that?
  • Do you think she will send it to Nell?

Read the remainder of the story. Some of the pages have no words and are set out in panels like a graphic novel. Let the pictures speak for themselves, but guide the students to follow the correct reading path. If you have a reflector for an IWB, use this to enlarge the illustrations for easier viewing.

(ACELY1670)   (EN1-4A)

After reading

Revisit the class predictions. Ask students:

  • What surprised you?
  • What was different, and what was the same?

Revisit the endpapers that show the Big City and the clean environment. Ask:

  • Do you think this was achieved in the end?
  • Do you think Nell’s machine was used? Do you think it worked?

Connect this discussion to what students learnt earlier about pollution in the environment.

As a class, create a flow chart to explore the process that Nell undertook to solve the environmental problem. It may look like this:

Identified a problem > Explored a solution that led to an invention > Took the invention to the people in charge > Was turned away without being heard > Improved the invention > Presented the invention again, this time directly to the people > Used her invention to solve the problem

Discuss the events in the flow chart in terms of a narrative with a problem:

  • What was the problem in the story?
  • Was the problem the polluted environment or was it the rejection of Nell’s invention?
  • What would the flow chart look like if her invention was accepted straight away?
  • What effect would this have on the story and its engagement with the audience?

Throughout all these discussions, follow up student responses (when appropriate) with open-ended questions such as:

  • What makes you say that?
  • Tell me more.

(ACELA1463)   (EN1-8B)

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

Nell initially takes her invention to a group of men referred to as ‘the people in charge’. For the purpose of this unit of work, we will assume that these men form the equivalent of our local government, and that ‘the man in charge’ is the mayor.

Turn to p. 13, where Nell is standing in front of the large building. Ask questions to gauge students’ understanding.

  • Why is Nell there?
  • What might the building be?
  • Who could the men in the building be (see p. 16)?
  • Who could the man with the moustache be? What is he wearing around his neck? Why?

Build on what students already know and fill in the gaps with information as required. If nobody knows what the chains around the man in charge’s neck signify, park that question for later.

Now ask:

If we saw a problem and we wanted to fix it, who could we go to for help?

List all the people in your community students could approach. Answers may range from parents to the principal to the Prime Minister. Explore the types of problems people may have and decide which figure is most appropriate to approach in each case.

Arrange for the mayor or a local councillor to visit your class. Brief them on the nature and background of their visit ahead of time. Ask if it is possible for them to bring the mayoral chain of office; if so, this is when the question about the man in charge’s chains in Our Little Inventor would be answered.

Jointly construct an invitation for your guest speaker. Before you begin, explain to students that they need to consider their audience and how that audience will influence their language choices.

Present students with a range of invitations for different events, age groups and audiences. Examine the wording and layout. Introduce the concepts of formal and informal language, placing these words on either end of a continuum. Guide students to place the sample invitations along the continuum, justifying their positions by looking at their language and layout features.

Now that students have an understanding of how language varies according to audience and purpose, lead them to jointly construct an invitation for your guest speaker, making the language choices clear.

Prepare the class for the visit by constructing questions ahead of time. Use the text as a starting point to formulate questions they may have about the role of a local council and the people who work in it. Practice asking questions using language appropriate to the audience. Roleplay this process with different audiences (e.g. asking parents about an upcoming holiday, asking a friend how to play a game, asking questions of the school principal). Again, notice the differences in word choice, tone of voice and body language when talking to different people.

Following the guest speaker’s visit, have the class write thank you letters. Ensure they take their audience into account and make appropriate language choices.

(ACELA1461)   (EN1-6B)   (ACELY1671)   (EN1-2A)

Rich assessment task

Revisit pp. 13–17 in Our Little Inventor, from Nell’s arrival outside the council chambers to the beginning of her speech. Follow her journey as depicted in the illustrations. Look closely at the page where she begins to address the people in charge, paying attention to her stance, open palm, direct eye contact, and positive facial expression.

Display the beginning of Nell’s speech. Note that she was cut off after her first sentence, and that the language used by the man in charge belittled her.

Deconstruct Nell’s language choices in this scene (see the Australian Curriculum English glossary entry for pronouns).

Sentences (nouns and pronouns underlined) Functional analysis of nouns and pronouns
Gentlemen! ‘Gentlemen’ is a noun; uses formal tone to show the men’s position in society
Your city is polluted. ‘Your city’ uses a possessive pronoun to show that the men are responsible for the Big City
The air is making your people ill. ‘The air’ is being blamed for making the people ill

‘Your people’ uses a possessive pronoun to show that the men are responsible for the people

Suggest other pronouns that could be used instead of ‘your’ (e.g. ‘our’). How would that change the tone and the responsibility in this scene? Suggest another noun instead of ‘the air’ that might be offered as a cause for illness, and discuss its effect on this sentence’s meaning. For example, students might nominate ‘your actions’ instead of ‘the air’.

In pairs, students are to write and then deliver the remainder of Nell’s speech, showcasing appropriate body language.

(ACELA1470)   (EN1-7B)   (ACELT1833)   (EN1-10C)   (ACELY1667)   (EN1-6B)

Responding to the text

Display the title Our Little Inventor alongside three similarly worded titles:

  • My Little Inventor
  • The Little Inventor
  • A Little Inventor

Identify that each title is a noun group (see the relevant entry in the Australian Curriculum English glossary). Have students identify the noun, adjective and determiner. Focus on the choice of the determiner and ask students if the four titles hold the same meaning. To assist with this discussion, display other book titles and together identify the determiner in each noun group. Experiment with different determiners and discuss how they change the titles’ meaning (see examples below).

Book title Determiner New determiner
You and Me: Our Place our You and Me: The Place
My Place my The Place
Diary of a Wombat a Diary of Our Wombat
Edward the Emu the Edward My Emu
Our Australian Girl series our An Australian Girl series
A Year on our Farm a, our The Year on A Farm
My Country my A Country
Our Home, Our Heartbeat our A Home, A Heartbeat
The Little Refugee the My Little Refugee
Sebastian Lives in a Hat a Sebastian Lives in Our Hat

Return to Our Little Inventor. Discuss any new insights students may have gained about the story based on the wording of this title.

Pose the question:

Who is using the word ‘our’ and who does ‘our’ refer to? Is it the city people, Nell’s family, the people in charge, or all of them?

Pose ‘I wonder’ questions to enable critical thinking:

  • I wonder when the people of the Big City would have begun to use the term ‘our’?
  • I wonder if they would they have given Nell this title if her invention had not worked?
  • I wonder what role Mrs Li played in coining this title?

(ACELA1468)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELY1670)   (EN1-4A)

Text-to-self connections

Nell was very confident that she had found a solution to the Big City’s pollution problem. Not everyone she encountered in the story believed in her. In this lesson students will connect with Nell by exploring times in their lives when they weren’t believed in or listened to.

To help students connect with Nell’s experiences and feelings, support them through a drama activity called thought tracking.

Choose five scenes that encapsulate Nell’s journey up until her rejection by the people in charge. These could include:

  1. Finishing her invention
  2. Looking at the Big City and seeing how bad the situation is
  3. Arriving at the council chambers
  4. Attempting to give her presentation
  5. Being rejected and leaving the council chambers

Students will devise a freeze frame that represents the main action in each scenario. Once they have created their freeze frame, tap the student who is playing Nell on the shoulder and ask them how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Transition through all five scenarios so students can experience the flow of emotions.

Discuss how Nell might have felt about her invention and the possibility of helping the people in the Big City, compared to the feeling of being ignored and sent away. Invite students to think of a time when they were excited about something, but they were ignored or their ideas were dismissed. Ask:

  • How did it make you feel?
  • What did you do about it?

In groups, have students create a freeze frame about one of these experiences. Once complete, tap the creator of the scene on the shoulder and ask what they are feeling and thinking. Then allow students to reset the scenario to show what its creator would have liked to have happened instead. Ask again what they are feeling and thinking, and ask them to explain what made the difference.

Examine the role that Ms Li plays in Our Little Inventor. Revisit pp. 20–21, where Nell leaves the council chambers and Mrs Li writes her a letter. Pose the questions:

  • Who else in the story believes in Nell?
  • How do you know?

Also identify the characters who didn’t believe in Nell.

Draw up the following table:

Character What they said Words they used to describe Nell Their actions What the pictures showed Were they supportive?

Y / N

Did their support change?

Y / N

Nell’s parents  


Little Brother  






Mrs Lilith Livingston Li  


The people / man in charge  


As a class, investigate the behaviour of Nell’s brother and complete his row in the table. Note that his support for Nell changes between the beginning and end of the book. Repeat this process with one other character, then have students investigate the remaining characters in small groups. Once they have completed the table, they will share their responses with the rest of the class.

Conclude by writing statements about each character’s level of support, justifying these statements with evidence from the text. For example, Nell’s uncle was supportive because he helped Nell take her invention to the Big City.

Help students make the connection to self by asking:

  • Who in your network believes in you?
  • How do they show this?
  • What impact does it have on how you feel?

(ACELA1467)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELY1670)   (EN1-4A)

Text-to-world connections

Pose and discuss the following question:

Can children make a difference in the world?

Introduce Greta Thunberg and listen to her speech at the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference.

Introduce the concepts of ethos, pathos and logos, and discuss the feelings and emotion that a speech can stir. Illustrate this by rewatching Greta’s speech and identifying any emotions that it brings up.

Discuss any concerns and actions that Nell shares with Greta. Construct a Venn diagram with Nell on one side and Greta on the other. Highlight the connections between the two.

View the Time magazine cover that named Greta its Person of the Year for 2019. Have students create a similar cover for Nell. This may involve using a picture from the book that best highlights her qualities and achievements, along with phrases or words that describe her.

Revisit the question of children making a difference in the world. What new thoughts do students have, and what real life examples can they draw on in their discussions?

(ACELT1591)   (EN1-4A)   (ACELY1670)   (EN1-4A)

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

How an author creates a character

Share the following statement from Sher Rill Ng, the author-illustrator of Our Little Inventor:

I hope you’ll enjoy this story about Nell. She has definitely inspired me.

How actions build a character

Ask students what words they would use to describe Nell. Answers may include:

  • persistent
  • dreamer
  • clever
  • independent
  • strong
  • determined
  • brave
  • caring
  • polite

Use this initial brainstorm to determine how much guidance students need to understand character traits.

Model the process of choosing a trait and finding evidence of where and how Nell displays it in the text. Locate the best example (sentence or image) and display it alongside the corresponding trait, then model a sentence starter that incorporates this evidence (e.g. ‘Nell is brave because she spoke to a large crowd of people’). Working in small groups, students will follow the same process to find evidence of and make statements about Nell’s character. Collect the responses and group them under the relevant traits to show how evidence from the text can be used to justify opinions.

(ACELY1670)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELA1468)   (EN1-9B)

How illustrations build a character

Show students the picture of Nell on the front cover. Conduct the ten times two thinking routine to record all the things the class notices about her.

Follow this with a sculpting drama activity. Working in pairs, students are to recreate Nell as she appears on the front cover. One student will become Nell and the other will act as the sculptor, positioning their partner based on observations from the ten times two routine. Encourage the use of props, including the pencil behind the ear, the rolled-up papers and the mask around the neck. Ask the students playing Nell how they feel standing with their hand on their hip, looking straight out at the audience, papers in hand and pencil behind ear. Lead a discussion about how this image creates a sense of character.

Conduct a picture walk through the book and examine how Nell is represented in the illustrations. Look at the expressions on her face, the activities she undertakes and the interactions she has with other characters and the audience. If the class has begun studying visual literacy, include observations about the techniques Ng has used. What can be learnt about Nell from these images?

How words build a character

How does Ng position Nell through words? Find instances where Nell is referred to by other characters. Organise the information in a table like the one below. Try substituting some words with others and note the impact (e.g. why is it important that Grandmother calls Nell ‘our little inventor’? What difference would it make if she said ‘this little girl’ or ‘my granddaughter’?).

Words that refer to Nell Person who is speaking Are they positive words?
Nell Mama (once), Mrs Li (once) Yes, and very personal
our little inventor Grandmother (to uncle), Mrs Li (once) Yes
Little Inventor Mrs Li (twice: once aloud, once in a letter) Yes
little girl The man in charge (twice) No, it belittles Nell
your nonsense (‘your’ refers to Nell) The man in charge (once) No, it suggests that Nell is nonsensical
a child’s toy (‘child’ refers to Nell) The man in charge (once) No, it belittles Nell

Display the following sentence from the text:

The smoke and soot stung her eyes, but she continued towards the lights of the Big City (p. 10).

Assist students to construct meaning by analysing the sentence.

  • Identify the compound sentence by finding and highlighting the conjunction (a coordinating conjunction).
  • What are the two happenings in this sentence? If students have been taught about verbs, find the verb groups: ‘stung’ and ‘continued towards’ (highlight the verb processes in green; ‘towards’ is part of the circumstance of place).
  • Deconstruct the first clause by asking what stung Nell: ‘the smoke and soot’ (highlight in red to indicate the participant). Ask what was stung: ‘her eyes’ (highlight in red to indicate the participant).
  • Deconstruct the second clause by asking who continued: ‘she’ (highlight in red to indicate the participant). Ask where Nell continued: ‘towards the lights of the Big City’ (highlight in blue to indicate circumstance of place).
  • Ask students to imagine how Nell might have felt in this moment, continuing her journey despite her discomfort?
  • What character traits does Ng want readers to see in Nell when they read this sentence?

Now that students have participated in a rich deconstruction of Nell’s character (both what it is and how it has been built), guide them to create extended noun groups and phrases that describe her.

(ACELT1591)   (EN1-4A)   (ACELA1462)   (EN1-10C)


The setting of Our Little Inventor is intriguing, as it is not clear where or when the story takes place. The illustration style borrows from the steampunk genre and appears to reference the Victorian era through clothing, architecture, technology, and the presence of a male-dominated council.

Ng has commented on the setting in Allen & Unwin’s teaching resource for the book:

The city the story is based in is Melbourne, but in an alternate universe. One where White Australia didn’t really take full control. It isn’t immediately obvious, but hopefully I’ve left enough hints to suggest it. Cultural diversity is an issue that is personal to me, and I hope the younger readers will see the diversity in this alternate universe and comprehend it as normal.

Show students examples of other steampunk texts and explain the genre’s features (see The Children’s Book Review, B&N Reads and Geeks for ideas).

Conduct another picture walk through Our Little Inventor and encourage students to become detectives, looking for clues of the steampunk genre so they can deepen their understanding of the book’s setting (both time and place).

(ACELT1591)   (EN1-4A)

Rich assessment task

Revisit Ng’s statement about being inspired by Nell (How an Author Creates a Character). Invite students to write a personal response to this statement.

Scaffold this piece of writing by creating a connection web. Write the words ‘inspiration’ and ‘Nell’ in the centre and draw connections to all the things that have been discussed about her character. Remind students of their previous learning about justifying their opinions and writing compound sentences.

(ACELA1467)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELT1590)   (EN1-11D)

Examining text structure and organisation

Our Little Inventor is a multilayered and multimodal text, combining elements of a graphic novel (PDF, 120KB) with features of the steampunk genre. There is a strong emphasis on visual imagery as the dominant mode in which the story is told. Teachers will need to provide guidance and highlight key aspects of how meaning is constructed through the interaction of textual and visual grammar.

Deconstructing visual features

Without speaking, turn through the pages of the book so that students can see them all. On completion, ask:

  • What did you notice?
  • What is different from, or the same as, other picture books you have read?
  • What stands out the most to you?
  • What do you feel when you look through the book?

Record students’ answers and keep them visible somewhere in the classroom. You can treat them as a formative assessment to help guide the focus when studying different aspects of visual literacy. They can also be used to assess learning once visual literacy strategies have been explicitly taught.

Together enjoy another reading of the text, this time without the illustrations. Discuss what information is missed when the words are read by themselves. What parts of the story are told through the illustrations? When students identify missing elements, find the illustrations that tell those parts of the story. Discuss why these parts are told in picture form rather than using words.

The grammar of visual literacy


Framing refers to the outlines around images that separate and highlight certain elements of the story.

Select a double page spread that has frames but no written text (see pp. 20–25). As a class, follow the reading path and orally retell the story frame by frame. Discuss what the author is highlighting by putting certain scenes in frames. Why are these events important? Students can work in pairs to repeat this activity with another layout from the book.

Give each pair a cardboard frame that has been cut in half (which they can slide together to make a frame of any size), plus three illustrations from the book. For each picture, students are to create a frame around an element that they want to highlight. Introduce the term ‘salience’ (referring to an image’s main focal point) to assist with the rigour of the conversation. Guide students to photograph their frames and insert them into a PowerPoint presentation with the sentence stem ‘I framed … because I wanted you to notice …’ (written or recorded as a voiceover).

For example:

  • I framed Nell sitting at her desk because I wanted you to notice how hard she is working.
  • I framed Nell putting her invention in the bin because I wanted you to notice what she did after the men in charge wouldn’t listen to her.

Play the PowerPoints and allow students to comment on the effectiveness of the framing.


Colour helps create the atmosphere and tone of a story. It can also elicit an emotional response that impacts mood or tension.

With reference to students’ initial impressions of the book, discuss what they first thought of the colour palette. Display the final page where Mrs Li is talking with Nell. What colour is the background? Compare this with every other page in the book. How does seeing the stark white background at the end make students feel? Why might Ng have chosen this colour? Look through the book for other pages with a light background. What does it highlight? How does this help the reader focus on particular items and people to create meaning?

Turn through the pages of the book again, this time looking for illustrations that depict the sky. Note which colours are used, and how they reflect the setting and support the message about pollution.


Camera shots/angles determine how relationships are portrayed, and how interactions between characters and the reader are constructed.

Display side-by-side the picture of the man in charge looking down at Nell, and the picture of Nell looking up at him (pp. 18–19). If these were photos, where would the camera have been positioned to take them? Ask:

  • What does it make you feel when you look at each picture?
  • How does this reflect what is happening at this point in the story?

Explore this further in groups of three. Give students iPads (or similar devices) to take photos of objects from three different positions:

  • One person takes photos from the position of the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk
  • One person takes photos from the position of an ant
  • One person takes photos at their own eye level

Compare what can be seen in each image and how this might affect what the audience thinks and feels.

Display the close-up shots of Nell’s face in the council chambers and when she arrives home (pp. 19, 23). Describe the different expressions on her face. There are no words on these pages; are the illustrations enough to tell the story? What can students observe from them? Add thought bubbles to the images to express what Nell may have been thinking.

Choose one of these events from the story:

  • Nell has just finished her invention (p. 3)
  • Nell is looking at the Big City for the first time (p. 10)
  • Nell leaves the chambers after the people in charge refuse to listen to her (p. 20)

Students are to take on the role of Nell. Working in pairs, they will photograph each other making facial expressions that reflect how Nell would react to the chosen event. Students should make decisions about how to stage the photo by thinking of framing, camera angle and distance. Display the photos and, as a class, decide which photo matches each event. Discuss the elements of a good photo and allow students to re-take theirs, making changes according to class feedback. Compare the old and new photos and discuss how they have improved.

Text and illustrations working together

In a multi-modal work, the illustrations and text work together to create meaning.

Display the page where Nell leaves home and the text reads: ‘The journey was long.’ Discuss the fact that there is limited text, and identify what visual literacy techniques have been used to support and highlight what is written.

There are many points in Our Little Inventor where there are no words and illustrations are used to advance the story. The reader needs to make inferences and connections from these illustrations.

Show students the page where Nell leaves the council chambers (p. 19). Look at the actions of the men in charge; ask students to describe what each man is doing. Synthesise what is happening into a sentence or two, such as: ‘The men in charge were tired and bored. They were not interested in what Nell had to say.’ Look at the words that precede this illustration: ‘No. Go away, little girl! We are very, very busy’ (p. 18). The author could have written a sentence explaining that the men were not, in fact, busy. Discuss the impact of bringing words and pictures together in this way.

Find other pages in the book that have no words. Describe what is happening and then synthesise it into one or two sentences.

(ACELA1469)   (EN1-8B)   (ACELY1670)   (EN1-4A)   (ACELT1593)   (EN1-2A)

Examining grammar and vocabulary

Conventions of dialogue

Identify a section of the text with some dialogue. Display this in a form that can be seen by the whole class, such as on the IWB. Read the text with students, then highlight the dialogue using a different colour for each speaker, including the narrator.

Ask students how they know who is speaking. Direct their attention to the speech marks and ask about their purpose. Also ask students to explain the role of the narrator. Then discuss the purpose of the word ‘said’. What other words are used instead of ‘said’ in the story (e.g. asked, scoffed, shouted)? Discuss how these words carry different shades of meaning. Sometimes the narrator does not tell us who is speaking; when this happens, how do we know who is saying what? Discuss the need to look for clues and continuity.

Once the text has been colour coded, invite students to undertake a play reading, taking on the role of the characters and the narrator. Afterwards, discuss how students could use their voice to display emotion and convey what is happening in the story. Model reading with no expression and discuss how this affects meaning and engagement for the audience. Highlight the grammatical features (e.g. question marks, exclamation marks, dashes) and key words that help the reader to use appropriate expression. With this new understanding, invite students to read the text again.

To extend students’ thinking, pose the questions:

  • What is the impact on the reader when there is a lot of dialogue?
  • Why might the author have chosen to use dialogue in addition to the narrator’s voice?
Practise creating dialogue

Choose three scenes from the book where there is no dialogue (this task can be differentiated according to the scene). For example:

  1. Nell leaves the council chambers and Mrs Li looks angrily at the men in charge
  2. Nell returns home and her family hugs her
  3. Nell arrives in the city for the first time and meets some other children

In small groups, students are to recreate one of these scenes by constructing dialogue between the characters. Each group will perform their scenario for the rest of the class. If appropriate, this task can be taken further by having students record their dialogue using correct writing conventions.

(ACELT1833)   (EN1-9B)   (ACELY1669)   (EN1-4A)


Look at the title of the book and highlight the word ‘inventor’. Discuss what an inventor is. Record and display students’ suggestions, which may include words like ‘invent’ or ‘invention’. Ask what is similar about these words and decide what the base must be (you may need to explain the concepts of base words, suffixes and prefixes if they are new to students). Once agreed upon, build a meaning and morphemic word family:

invent invents inventor
invented inventing invention

To show how these words are connected yet different, support students to use these words in sentences that relate to the story. For example:

  • Nell invented a machine to clean the air.
  • Inventing a machine to clean the air is a hard thing to do.

Look at the word ‘inventor’ and discuss the meaning of the suffix ‘-or’. Adding ‘-or’ to a verb turns it into a noun that describes someone or something that does the action. Investigate if this is the only suffix that has this role; the other option is ‘-er’. Create a list of words that describe a person who does a job. Sort them into two columns depending on the suffix at the end of the word.

-er -or
teacher actor
hairdresser inventor
dancer commentator

Further investigations may naturally arise as students discover words that show the action a person takes by adding the suffixes ‘-ist’ and ‘-ant’.

Use this process of inquiry to explore the words ‘pollution’ and ‘environment’.

(ACELA1472)   (EN1-5A)

Rich assessment task

Students will draw on their knowledge of visual literacy strategies to complete the following task.

Putting it all together

Show students the double page spread where Nell arrives in the city, interacts with some people, then stands outside the council chambers (pp. 12–13). Analyse the visual literacy techniques used in this spread. As a class, revisit the purpose and effectiveness of framing, colour and different camera shots and angles. Discuss the impact of not having any text on these pages.

Ask students to select another spread from the book and perform a similar analysis. Upon completion, they will share their discoveries with the rest of the class.

(ACELA1469)   (EN1-8B)   (ACELY1670)   (EN1-4A)

Reflect on the character of Mrs Lilith Livingston Li. Is she an important character? She has few lines but appears in many illustrations. Trace Mrs Li’s role and relationship to Nell throughout the story, referring to students’ previous work on her level of support (Responding > Text-to-Self Connections). Take note of the last page where she is wearing the mayoral chain (p. 32); based on this, what inference can be made about what happened after the events of Our Little Inventor?

Display p. 21, where Mrs Li is writing a letter to Nell. Invite students to complete this letter, basing its contents on inferences about Mrs Li’s feelings and her actions towards Nell.

(ACELT1833)   (EN1-8B)

Imagination, invention and innovation

Share the stories of two child inventors: Louis Braille (who invented braille in 1824) and Shubham Banerjee (who invented a braille printer in 2014). Find the similarities between their stories and Nell’s story. Use these as motivation for the following activity.

In small groups, set students the challenge of designing something that could solve a problem. Watch ‘See How These Little Inventors Will Create Our Future’, and look at some of the design challenges on the Little Inventors website. It may be appropriate to show students the Climate Champions Invention Challenge; you could then encourage them to design something that will solve an environmental problem. This can also be combined with Science and Technologies outcomes.

  • Show students the pages where Nell redesigns her invention (pp. 23–24). Using the details in the illustrations as a starting point, describe the process Nell went through to bring her invention to life and relate this to the process students will be working through.
  • Once students have planned and made a prototype of their invention, they should aim to present it to an organisation for further development. This is a good time to revisit previous learning about writing for certain audiences and purposes (Literature > Exploring the Text in Context of Our Community, School and ‘Me’).
  • Have students prepare their presentations. As a class, develop a checklist of information that should be included in each group’s talk.
  • If possible, arrange for students to present their inventions to a panel of parents and community members who represent local business or council, or who actively contribute to environmental sustainability.

(ACELY1667)   (EN1-7B)   (ACELY1666)   (EN1-1A)   (ACELY1668)   (EN1-11D)

Innovating on the text

Students can now use their invention as the centrepiece for their own text based on Our Little Inventor.

Before they begin, immerse students in hearing and retelling Nell’s story. This is an important part of scaffolding in preparation for writing, as much of the story is told visually rather than through words.

  • Orally retell the story of Our Little Inventor to the class, without using props or pictures.
  • Following the retelling, have students work in pairs to create a story map. They will use this as a scaffold to practise retelling the story to each other.
  • Now lead a joint construction of a story that follows the same structure as Our Little Inventor, but revolves around a new invention made up by the teacher.
  • Students will then independently plan and write their own narrative based on Our Little Inventor. In choosing a title, they may like to revisit their previous work on analysing the words in Our Little Inventor (Responding > Responding to the Text).

(ACELY1671)   (EN1-2A)

Rich assessment task

Once students have written their own text, their final task is to choose a scene from their story and create the illustrations to support the events.

Students can take photos of their invention and combine this with drawings to create illustrations. Alternatively, encourage the use of green screen technology to combine their photos with appropriate backgrounds using apps like Chromavid or Green Screen by Do Ink.

To support this task:

  • Conduct a learning walk to review lessons from this unit. Revise learning about visual literacy and re-examine images created for these activities.
  • Jointly create success criteria to clarify understandings and expectations for the task.

(ACELY1671)   (EN1-2A)   (ACELY1674)   (EN1-3A)