Connecting to prior knowledge
Explain that students will be reading Sally Morgan’s Sister Heart and that, throughout the unit, they will be discussing matters relating to Australia’s First Nations peoples.
NOTE: This includes matters of grief; be aware that the topic of the Stolen Generations may be distressing for some students.
To build context read the following picture books:
- Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy
- Finding Our Heart by Thomas Mayo, illustrated by Blak Douglas
The AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia is embedded in Finding Our Heart (p. 7). Explore the map as a class and locate the name of the language group where your lesson is taking place.
Sister Heart’s setting is not explicitly stated, but we can assume (based on some of the dialogue and the publisher’s teaching notes) that it opens in north-west Western Australia and moves south, possibly around Perth. Talk about the physical distance between these regions, the sea route from one to the other, the different language groups, and the changing landscapes and climate.
Also embedded in Finding Our Heart is the Uluru Statement from the Heart (pp. 16–17, 38–39). Read the enlarged text from the Uluru Statement at the back of the picture book.
Start a class KWL chart for this unit. Encourage students to record any knowledge, wonderings, key words, and learnings on sticky notes and add them to the chart throughout the unit. This will be a visible tool to track their thinking throughout the unit.
Some prompts to get students thinking include:
- What do we know, wonder or want to learn about the author of Sister Heart?
- What do we know, wonder or want to learn about the images on the cover?
- What do we know, wonder or want to learn about the idea of sisters and hearts?
It would be interesting to return to the chart once students finish the book and see what they add.
Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’
One of the themes in Sister Heart is the importance of a person’s name. Have the class sit in a circle and share with them your full name, how it was chosen, what it means, and if you have a nickname (these often vary according to audience and context, e.g. among family, among friends, at sports). Invite students to share information about their own names, encouraging discussion and questions along the way.
- Not all cultures adopt family names; in Bhutan, for example, a first and second name is chosen for the newborn baby. Indonesian people may have up to three names, all of which are considered part of a single personal name.
- Many Greek people are named after their grandparents or Orthodox Christian saints.
- In Iceland, surnames often consist of the father’s name followed by ‘-son’ (son) or ‘-dottir’ (daughter), e.g. ‘Jonsson’ or ‘Jonsdottir’.
- Sikhs who have undergone initiation may have a Khalsa name, which is normally ‘Singh’ for men and ‘Kaur’ for women.
To prepare students for the sensitive content of this unit, set some guidelines for participating in class discussions (e.g. listen respectfully, do not interrupt, disagree respectfully, do not use inflammatory language). You can help students to reword questions and statements, if necessary, as well as locate factual information to clarify misunderstandings. After each discussion, help students to summarise the main points by writing reflections on new ideas, learnings, and points they may or may not have agreed upon.
NOTE: Teaching sensitive content fosters creative thinking, facilitates students’ sense of fair-mindedness, and encourages them to think about diversity and their role in contributing to a better world. Make sure you check your school’s guidelines for managing sensitive content in class.
As an optional activity, read the picture books Stolen Girl, written by Trina Saffioti and illustrated by Norma MacDonald, and Took the Children Away, written by Archie Roach and illustrated by Ruby Hunter. Both will add to students’ understanding of the themes in Sister Heart.
As a class, discuss key vocabulary for this unit. You can display the following table and ask students to turn and talk about five terms that interest them, OR five terms that they know something about. Follow up with a whole class discussion to ascertain students’ background knowledge.
|First Nations communities||Indigenous||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples|
|oldest living cultures in the world||Country||diversity|
|colonisation||government||White Australia policy|
|family||Stolen Generations||institutional care|
Explain that students will continue to explore these terms in context over the course of the unit.
Rich assessment task
Investigate the author, Sally Morgan. Where in Australia is she from, and from what language group is she descended? Where might the characters in Sister Heart come from? The AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia may be useful here.
How do those lands and languages differ to where your class is studying the book?
Students will start an individual KWL chart (A3 size) with three columns:
|What I know about First Nations peoples and cultures||What I wonder about First Nations peoples and cultures||What I have learned so far about First Nations peoples and cultures|
They can add their first notes to their charts, reflecting on the author and any other books they have read so far. Also prompt them to think about the diversity of places and peoples across Australia.
Ask students to date their notes, as they will revisit this chart throughout the unit.
WHOLE CLASS LEARNING GOAL: Read Sister Heart as a class serial text over the next two weeks. If copies of the text are available, this could be undertaken independently.
Sister Heart is a verse novel. Instead of paragraphs, it is composed of stanzas. Morgan leaves space between stanzas to move the story along, changing the protagonist’s thought processes or her interactions with other characters. Dialogue is indicated by italics rather than quotation marks; readers must use their comprehension skills to determine who is speaking. Regular font indicates the protagonist’s inner voice. The text is written in first person, so the reader doesn’t know her real name, but we can make inferences about her circumstances and her relationship with her kin.
Introducing the book
Show students the front cover and read the blurb on the back. Remind them that author is Sally Morgan. Spend a few minutes recalling other books she has written, including:
- My Place (and My Place for Younger Readers)
- Benny Bungarra’s Big Bush Clean-Up, illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina
- Little Bird’s Day, illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
- The River, illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
- Thank you rain!, illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
Responding to the text
Together discuss what we can learn from this practice, then conduct a yarning circle focusing on why relationships, connections and communication are important to all peoples. Finish by reflecting on the importance of yarning circles in First Nations cultures.
Following the discussion, explain that Sister Heart is written in free verse and was inspired by Morgan’s great-grandmother.
Begin reading Sister Heart as a whole class (or independently, if possible). There are four sections:
- Part One (pp. 8–53)
- Part Two (pp. 54–169)
- Part Three (pp. 170–233)
- Part Four (pp. 234–251)
Part One follows the boat trip from north-west Western Australia to the south-west. Discuss the protagonist’s experiences in this section. On pp. 48–49 Reverend Dale gives her an English name, ‘Anne’, even though she already has a name in her own language that she loves.
Ask students to reflect on the earlier name-sharing activity (Literature > Exploring the Text in Context of Our Community, School and ‘Me’), then on the protagonist’s situation in Sister Heart. How do they think we should refer to the protagonist? Using her language name would be respectful, but we don’t know it; using ‘Anne’, or referring to her as ‘the girl’, are both problematic. Ask students to discuss this dilemma in small groups and come up with a possible solution. Also discuss why Morgan would deliberately not mention the girl’s language name.
NOTE: This unit will follow the author and publisher’s lead in referring to the protagonist as ‘Annie’.
Working individually, students will record relevant vocabulary from the book in alphaboxes (PDF, 76KB). Revise the key vocabulary identified at the start of this unit (Literature > Exploring the Text in Context of Our Community, School and ‘Me’) as it arises in students’ reading and learning.
Explore the significance of storytelling and truth-telling for First Nations peoples. You might also like to share some information about rock art and other forms of Aboriginal art as they relate to storytelling and traditional knowledges.
For your own understanding, watch Jacinta Koolmatrie’s TED talk (approx. 11 minutes) on how storytelling connects with knowledge about Country (refer to her examples about megafauna and uranium). You might like to select a few appropriate sections to watch and discuss in class.
Other useful resources for exploring First Nations storytelling and connection with Country include:
Exploring plot, character, setting and theme
Give each student a storyboard-style graphic organiser with six frames (PDF, 74KB). They will use this to visually represent what they are learning as they read Sister Heart. They can fill the boxes with illustrations of important events, scenes or concepts from the book, and use the space underneath to explain what they are portraying.
You can decide when during their reading students should add to their graphic organisers, as well as when they should think-pair-share to discuss their notes.
Continue reading Sister Heart as a class or independently.
Have students construct a character traits web to capture information about Annie. They will make notes about:
- her appearance
- her thoughts and actions
- her words
- how other characters react to her
Remind students to include evidence from the book in their notes.
Now ask students to mentally picture ‘Annie at home on Country’ and ‘Annie at the government institution’. They will illustrate each of these settings under the headings ‘then’ and ‘now’. They can then respond to the following questions in a reading journal:
- Why was Annie taken? Was the government right to take her away? How would anyone feel in that situation?
- How does Annie feel about having been taken from her family? Find examples from the text.
- Have you ever been separated from your family OR can you imagine being separated from them? How did you OR how might you feel?
NOTE: Be mindful of any students who may have experienced traumatic separation; modify or omit these questions as appropriate for your class context.
To better understand some of the themes in Sister Heart, students will work in small groups to identify elements of the plot. Using the Five Ws, they will consider:
- What happened?
- Who was there?
- Why did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Where did it happen?
Students will realise that the children at the government institution are not known by their birth names, but rather by names that the authorities have given them. As readers, we never find out Annie’s real name. Why do you think she keeps her name to herself? Students can write a response in their reading journals.
If appropriate, you may wish to share some information about one of the first known government ‘schools’ for Aboriginal people: the Blacktown Native Institution in New South Wales (formerly the Parramatta Native Institution).
Students can respond to the following questions: first orally in pairs, then independently in their reading journals. Remind them to include evidence from the text.
- What is your reaction to Sister Heart? What does it make you think, feel and wonder?
- Explain any connections (text to self, text to text, text to world) that you can make with Sister Heart.
- What points of view are presented in Sister Heart?
- What are the big ideas or themes in Sister Heart? What do you think Sally Morgan wants you to think about?
Students can then revisit and add to their individual KWL charts (Literature > Rich Assessment Task). They should think about what they have learned from reading Sister Heart as well as what they have learned about yarning, storytelling and truth-telling. Ask them to date their comments.
Rich assessment task
As a class, listen to Morgan being interviewed on ABC Radio National (approx. 15 minutes). This is a discussion from 2015 about Sister Heart.
Each student will have a storyboard-style graphic organiser with three frames (PDF, 71KB). As they listen to the interview, they will draw and write notes about three things they found interesting (you may need to play the audio twice). Once they have completed their graphic organisers, they will share and compare with a partner, then with the rest of the class.
Students will then return to their partner to write a paragraph the summarises what they learned from the interview.
WHOLE CLASS LEARNING GOAL: Finish reading Sister Heart independently or as a class. As students progress through the book, provide regular opportunities for them to share their responses and discuss their understandings.
On pp. 230–231 we learn that Janey has died. Be sensitive to this part of the text; support students with adequate quiet time and opportunity for discussion. They may benefit from small group discussions in addition to a teacher-led discussion.
For example, you might discuss the importance of a place like the crying tree (pp. 113–115, 244–245). Prompt students to reflect on why it matters to have a quiet place for deep thought. They might like to share some aspects of their own quiet place (real or imagined) in small groups or as a class. This could include how it looks, sounds and smells; if there are any flora and fauna; how it changes over the seasons; who else uses it; and so on.
Examining text structure and organisation
Provide students with a range of free verse novels that they can browse at their leisure, such as:
- Bindi by Kirli Saunders, illustrated by Dub Leffler (students may enjoy hearing Saunders talk about this book)
- Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Heather Potter
- Bully on the Bus by Kathryn Apel
- Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood, illustrated by Peter Carnavas
- Do-Wrong Ron by Steven Herrick, illustrated by Caroline Magerl
- Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus by Steven Herrick
- The Little Wave by Pip Harry
Explore a further two multimodal texts with the class:
- Open Your Heart to Country by Jasmine Seymour
- This book is written in English and Dharug; the translations are not always word-for-word. It demonstrates how First Nations thinking about Country differs to non-Indigenous thinking about the land. The book also speaks about loss and reconnection with place, people and language.
- Stolen Girl by Trina Saffioti, illustrated by Norma MacDonald
Discuss students’ responses to these texts and prompt them to make connections between the different books (and the film/trailer, if viewed).
Examining grammar and vocabulary
Review key vocabulary from this unit (Literature > Exploring the Text in Context of Our Community, School and ‘Me’).
Set up a lotus diagram for the whole class. This will be a tool to further unpack and record students’ thinking about First Nations cultures. Collaboratively decide on EIGHT terms from the key vocabulary table to include in the diagram. Students will then write words, questions and statements on sticky notes and place them around the appropriate ‘petal’ of the lotus. An example has been provided (PDF, 84KB).
Explain that students will continue to explore these terms, questions and wonderings over the remainder of the unit.
Working in pairs, students will choose ONE of the terms from the lotus diagram to further unpack and define. They can present the information on an A4 or A3 sheet of paper, responding to the following instructions:
- Write your chosen word.
- Write a definition of the word.
- Write THREE examples of how you can use the word in a sentence.
- Write THREE questions you and your partner still have about this word.
Display the words around the classroom and conduct a gallery walk so that students can view the various definitions.
This may be a good time to raise the topic of Aboriginal English. Most non-Indigenous Australians know very little about First Nations languages, let alone Aboriginal English. Why do still tend to speak only Standard Australian English? Does this really represent who we are?
In small groups, students will confirm their understanding of the vocabulary from Sister Heart. Assign each group four or five words (see below) to investigate using the following template:
|Word||Page and line reference||What we think it means||Confirmed meaning|
|clouts||p. 15, l. 7||hits||hits someone or something hard|
|confining||p. 18, l. 16||locking up||restricting someone or something from leaving|
|stooped||p. 20, l. 1|
|freshwater||p. 22, l. 13|
|destination||p. 22, l. 17|
|saltwater||p. 23, l. 4|
|heave||p. 26, l. 2
p. 30, l. 1
|civilisation||p. 48, l. 7|
|croons||p. 49, l. 9|
|disembark||p. 51, l. 9|
|shuddery||p. 52, l. 8
p. 230, l. 8
|government||p. 57, l. 2–6|
|obedience||p. 87, l. 3|
|dugites||p. 109, l. 4, 9, 15|
|rebellious||p. 147, l. 13|
|gilgie||p. 180, l. 11|
Invite students to share their findings in a whole class discussion.
Look for some examples of colloquial language and Aboriginal English in Sister Heart. Discuss any similarities and differences to Standard Australian English (e.g. gotta, lotsa, gunna, wanna, shoulda, dunno, course, meself, ‘cept, ya trap, nor’wester, sou’wester, aunties, uncles, whitefellas, shame).
Have students partner up and play a concentration card game (PDF, 81KB) to match some of these terms to their Standard Australian English equivalent.
If possible, move outside for a discussion under the trees. Ask students what they know about imagery. This is the use of vivid description, usually rich in sensory words, to create pictures or images in the reader’s mind.
Writers often use language that appeals to one or more of the five senses:
There is a good example of imagery on p. 40, when Annie imagines being back at home with her family (l. 2–7, 10–13).
Together identify more examples of imagery in Sister Heart. Invite students to write some examples of their own in their reading journals.
Students can revisit and expand their individual KWL charts (Literature > Rich Assessment Task). They can also add a new section to the chart:
|What I knew about Annie at the start of the book||What I wonder about Annie, her family and her friends||What I have learned so far about Annie, where she is and why she is there|
Ask students to date all new comments.
Rich assessment task
In small groups, students are to identify any connections they have made between Sister Heart, Stolen Girl and another text that tells the story of the Stolen Generations (e.g. Took the Children Away, Rabbit-Proof Fence). Each group will require:
- three hoops to place on the floor in a three-circle Venn formation
- three cards, each bearing the name of a different text, placed in the appropriate section of the hoops
- blank cards or sticky notes to record connections and place in the appropriate section
Once students have physically mapped out their connections, they will document their Venn diagrams and any other learnings about the texts using the materials or app/program of their choice.
Explore some of the features of free verse poetry:
- It is a type of poetry with no fixed rhythm or rhyme scheme
- It can take the form of a story told through verse
- There are fewer constraints when writing in free verse
Enlarge and display the first poem from Sister Heart (pp. 11–13) for the class. Look closely at:
- the setting, situation, characters and emotions
- use of descriptive words
- use of imagery, similes and metaphors
Place students in groups of four to discuss this poem and create a corresponding freeze frame. Move between the groups and ask how each participant in the freeze frame feels. Can they put themselves in the characters’ shoes?
Demonstrate the active reading strategy of text marking using the enlarged version of the poem. Invite students to contribute and show them how to annotate the text by highlighting, circling, underlining or labelling certain features.
Now distribute copies of Sister Heart and ask students to locate the free verse extract from the last stanza on p. 193 to the end of p. 195. Working in groups, students will apply the text marking strategy to this extract. They should rewrite the relevant sections on a separate sheet of paper and annotate it with highlights, circles, underlines and labels to show their thinking.
Read and listen to other examples of free verse, especially examples from First Nations writers. There are many to choose from on Red Room Poetry’s website.
Finish by getting students to plan, compose and edit a free verse poem about a quiet place. They can work individually or in pairs. Refer to exemplars and provide some parameters and/or scaffolds to guide students’ work. They can draw inspiration from Sister Heart and any other free verse texts they have read in class (Examining > Examining Text Structure and Organisation).
Students can revisit and expand their individual KWL charts (Literature > Rich Assessment Task). They should add one more section:
|What I knew about free verse poetry at the start of this unit||What I wonder about writing free verse poetry||What I have learned so far about free verse poetry|
Again, ask students to date their comments. They should finish by reviewing the entire KWL chart and writing a short reflection on what they have learned.
For students who are interested in reading more free verse novels OR stories about the Stolen Generations, you can provide recommendations from the More Resources section of this unit.
Rich assessment task
Reflecting on their learning throughout this unit, students are to create a free verse poem titled ‘Annie’. The poem should reflect the main themes and/or ideas in Sister Heart. Remind students to plan and edit their own work, and to think about presentation.
Display and celebrate students’ writing in the form of a class ‘poetree’, pinning the free verse poems like leaves growing on a tree.