Building field knowledge
In this sequence, students are oriented to the text by building background knowledge and vocabulary.
- Introduce Sonam and the Silence by conducting a quick book look, pointing out key organisational features of the text such as the layout, author’s note and author/illustrator biographies.
- Invite students to share predictions about the text, including whether it is fiction or non-fiction (designed to entertain, inform or persuade), and to provide evidence for their predictions in complete sentences.
- Explain that the main character’s name is Sonam and that she lives in Kabul, Afghanistan. As a class, locate Afghanistan on a map and/or explore Kabul on Google Earth.
- For a directed viewing activity, pose the questions: ‘Why was there a war in Afghanistan?’ and ‘Who are the Taliban?’ If appropriate for your group, invite students to watch BTN’s explanation of the Afghanistan withdrawal and crisis. They can then share their responses orally.
- You can paint a picture of life for women under the Taliban’s rule by reading aloud the author’s note in Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter. If unavailable, summarise by telling students that under Taliban governance, life was very strict. Music, kite-flying, television and the internet were banned. Girls were forbidden to go to school and had to pretend to be boys in order to work.
- Using the statements below as stimulus, facilitate a class discussion or use a Four Corners strategy to explore key ideas presented in the text. If using the latter, label each corner of the room with a different response (Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree) so that students can move to a corner that aligns with their thinking.
- Girls should not be allowed to go to school.
- Only men should be allowed to work.
- Television and internet should be banned.
- Music should not be heard, enjoyed or played.
- It is not fair that children must live in war zones.
- I would listen to music even if it was against the law.
- Read Sonam and the Silence. Encourage students to amend their predictions if necessary. Explain that authors write texts to capture versions of reality at different points in time. What evidence in the text shows us that Sonam was living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule? This could include music being banned, Sonam covering her hair to work, or American aeroplanes and foreign soldiers arriving in Kabul. Ensure that students understand that the book is a narrative based on fact.
Return to the original discussion where students predicted whether the book was fiction or non-fiction. Invite them to discuss their opinions now. Might this book be semi-fiction or historical fiction?
Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’
Read the text aloud again. Refer to the initial discussion where students brainstormed their predictions and the purpose of the text. Tell students that authors also write books to inform us about issues, and to try and influence change about issues that concern them.
- For a stop and jot activity, provide each student (or pair of students) with post-it notes. Ask: ‘What social issues concern you in our school and community?’ Discuss examples of social issues; think aloud first, then write the issue on a post-it note and add it to your brainstorm. For example:
- ‘A social issue I am concerned about in our school is bullying. I feel upset when I see others being mean, because I know they’re causing pain inside someone’s heart.’
- ‘A social issue I am concerned about in our community is homelessness. I feel really worried about people who have nowhere safe to sleep at night.’
- Together, discuss ways you could address these issues. Examples could include writing persuasive letters to the local council, fundraising, creating posters or re-teaching rules.
- Link the discussion back to the text by saying, ‘We have some issues we’re concerned about and we have brainstormed some ideas to influence change. What issues is the author of Sonam and the Silence trying to inform us about?’ Answers might include children in war, the government controlling rights based on gender, or the importance of music.
Discuss why the author of Sonam and the Silence may have written this book. Read the author’s note and discuss. Ask students: ‘If you wanted to change something, how might you do it?’
Rich assessment task
Have students complete a Venn diagram comparing their and Sonam’s communities. This can be done individually or in groups of three or four to encourage discussion.
Prompt students to focus on the environment (war and peace) and freedoms (flying a kite, using the internet). Later in the unit, these skills will be revisited using a compare and contrast matrix.
Responding to the text
Questioning the author
Explore the phrase: ‘The music is so clear that she can see it.’ Model curiosity and a sense of grappling with the text by saying, ‘I wonder what the author is trying to say here?’ Invite responses. Play snippets of different types of music and practise visualisation: ‘When I hear _____, I can see/imagine…’
Drama: the graffiti wall
In this activity, students will use spoken language to better understand the characters’ experiences, and will make connections between concepts and how they are represented in language.
- Collect items that reflect the subject of the text. Suitable items for Sonam and the Silence include a sewing needle, a scarf, an instrument, a flower, a letter, some music, an old TV antenna, etc. The purpose is for students to connect with, speculate, and ask questions about the items. Prompts could include:
- Who do you think this belonged to?
- What could this be used for?
- What might this letter say? Who in the story might have written it?
- What does this remind you of?
- Where might Sonam have found this?
- What is the significance of this item?
- Where would this item most likely appear in the story?
- This activity could be extended if you are prepared to become the teacher-in-role, acting as a character from the text and leading students through events in the book. This can be an alternative introduction to using drama in the classroom. You could become Sonam, a journalist who is reporting on the war in Afghanistan, or an old man retelling events from his perspective. For ideas on how to approach the teacher-in-role, a suggested script (PDF, 155KB) for Sonam has been provided.
- Invite students to record any statements, questions and connections they wish to make on a graffiti wall (PDF, 82KB) during or after the discussion or drama experience.
Feeling and emotions
Before re-reading Sonam and the Silence, discuss how the reader’s intonation and expression might change the way the story is read. Remind students that this impacts how we understand and make sense of the characters’ feelings in a text. As you read aloud, stop at the end of each page and describe how the narration or direct speech should sound (e.g. curious, slow, loud, quick, surprised, passive, aggressive, gentle) and why. Engage students in the process by posing questions such as: ‘What’s happening here? Show me how you would read this. How is the character feeling here? What would that feeling sound like?’
Having unpacked each page in a shared reading context, with the class echoing the appropriate intonation and expression, allow students to work in pairs to re-read the book so they can practise their fluency independently.
Exploring plot, character, setting and theme
Compare and contrast matrix
Explain to students that to compare means to find how things are similar, whereas to contrast means to describe how things are different. Then introduce them to the compare and contrast matrix (PDF, 89KB).
Discuss Sonam’s home (her country as well as a description of where she lives), family, clothing, possessions, rights, experiences and hobbies. Repeat for the students’ own lives.
Complete a written summary of the similarities and differences.
Rich assessment task
Student responses to Questioning the Author and the Drama activity provide excellent material to assess inferencing, connecting and questioning skills in relation to the text. For an independent work sample, students could choose a question, response or point of connection that a peer made and elaborate on it using sentence stems in their reading journal:
- I agree/disagree with _____’s comment because…
- I noticed that _____ said _____, and I liked it because…
- I want to ask Sonam _____ because…
- When the author said ‘_____’, I think he meant…
For example, one student may have offered, ‘Sonam can’t take having no music in her life.’ If this was my point of connection, I could write/say:
I agree with Danny’s statement that ‘Sonam can’t take having no music in her life’ because she was so happy when she had her rabab, but after her brother took it away she lay on the floor lifeless.
Next, ask students to reflect on their engagement with this task by asking: ‘What did you find most interesting about that learning experience?’ Have them record their responses in their reading journals.
An optional extension task that encourages students to reflect deeply on the text involves using Storyboard Creator to retell the story. Adjust the scaffolding according to students’ familiarity with retelling. By this stage students have read the text several times and had multiple opportunities to respond, predict and make inferences, including via dramatic immersion. Some may be well-equipped to retell the story immediately; others may require a more explicit narrative framework that tells them what to include.
Examining text structure and organisation
Explicit teaching of semiotic systems used in the text
Prior to this lesson, students would benefit from mini lessons identifying multimodal features and semiotic systems outside the context of the book.
Draw students’ attention to the visual elements on pp. 5–6, such as colour, framing/shot, line, angle, lighting and gesture. Ask:
- What colours has the illustrator selected, and what meaning does this create for the reader?
- Where has the illustrator placed the characters and objects on the page, and what meaning does this create for the reader?
- What gesture is Sonam using, and what meaning does this create for the reader?
- Are we looking down at the characters or up at the characters? What meaning does this create for the reader?
A pre-planned worked example (PDF, 121KB) has been provided. Once you have modelled this, analyse the semiotic systems used with students. You might like to design an anchor chart based on this semiotic systems worksheet so students can add their contributions using post-it notes.
Examining grammar and vocabulary
|Learning goal||To understand how the author uses language choices to paint a picture of what it would be like to live in Kabul, governed by the Taliban.|
|Success criteria||Students can find evidence of words or groups of words that reveal the conditions in Kabul, and what it might be like to be a child there.|
|Directed reading activity||
|Ask||Does the author/illustrator also use language/pictures to give any positive impressions? Ask students to explore the text in small groups before responding.|
Grammar: process, participant, circumstance
To prepare for this activity, print the words ‘process’, ‘participant’ and ‘circumstance’ on different coloured cards and stick them to the top of your whiteboard for reference throughout the lesson.
Choose a double page spread from Sonam and the Silence with lots of examples of processes (verbs), and project it onto a large screen.
- Point to the ‘process’ card and explain that process words, also known as verbs, are words we can act out to show what’s happening. Explain that ‘what’s happening’ refers to the body (doing), the brain (thinking) or the heart (feeling). Gesture can be used to assist students’ concept development; e.g. ‘doing’ could be a run on the spot, ‘thinking’ could be pointing to your head and ‘feeling’ could be a hand on the heart. Students could even suggest and develop gestures with you.
- Refer to the illustration and ask, ‘What process is happening?’ Students think-pair-share. Answers might include floating, running, kneeling, shouting, listening, playing, etc. Record the verbs in a brainstorm using the same colour as the corresponding card.
- Point to the ‘participant’ card and explain that this refers to whoever or whatever is participating in the process. Students think-pair-share to identify participants in your chosen pages. Record the participants in a brainstorm using the same colour as the corresponding card.
- Point to the ‘circumstance’ card and explain that this means when and where the process is taking place. Students think-pair-share to identify the circumstances of your scene. Responses could include time of day, season, year, country, city, etc. Record the circumstances in a brainstorm using the same colour as the corresponding card.
Complete the grammar sort activity (PDF, 91KB). Students will need three different coloured headings for ‘process’, ‘participant’ and ‘circumstance’. Print the associated words from Sonam and the Silence on individual cards and give them to students to sort under the headings.
By Year 3 students should also be adept with compound sentences, though this book does not offer many. It’s more literary, almost poetic in style. Look for the very short sentences and ponder why an author would include them, e.g. ‘A whisper.’ ‘Music.’ There are two instances of incomplete sentences, which will make for interesting discussion: ‘Like music, but angry and electric.’ ‘And so will the music.’
Together, explore how grammar is used to create characters. Students could form small groups to explore the verbs associated with each. We see that the Mother ‘sews’ but the Brother ‘orders’, ‘forbids’, ‘takes’, ‘buries’, etc. By comparison, the Mother is less powerful/agentive.
Then invite students to explore the verbs aligned to Sonam at various stages of the text, e.g. when she is a child, when she becomes a woman, when she is selling and when she is with the old man listening to music.
Rich assessment task
To set the students up for success, discuss the concept of multimodality. Brainstorm the ideas around the multimodal elements in this text. These might include typesetting (e.g. size, colour, font); the images that convey meaning beyond the words; and how the meaning is conveyed to give different perspectives.
Ask students to choose one multimodal element from the brainstorm and explain it in a written response to Sonam and the Silence. This should be constructed independently as a formative assessment sample. Students should describe the multimodal element and the impact it has on the reader. They can also draw a picture of themselves reacting to/being impacted by the technique.
Mood, music and instrument
Return to the text and find the references to the rabab. Explain that the rabab is a musical instrument carved from a mulberry tree.
Go on a nature walk and challenge students to find materials with which they can make music. Once they have identified something, ask: ‘What kind of mood does that sound evoke or reflect?’ Use design technology processes to investigate different types of musical instruments and mood.
Ask students if they know the origins of any other musical instruments. Some possible sources of information for whole class or student-led exploration are:
- Musical Instruments of the Pacific Islands
- Instruments and Crafts in Latin America
- Hey, Kids, It’s a Violin (watch How It’s Made: Violins)
- The Didgeridoo
In small groups, students will design and create a musical instrument. Evaluate each group’s instrument, then direct them to create a soundscape for a scene from Sonam and the Silence. The purpose is to create a sound that appropriately evokes and reflects contrasting moods in the text. The link provided contains several short videos that demonstrate how to create a soundscape with your class. Alternatively, consult this PDF for an outline of the lesson sequence.
Point of view
Explain to students that Sonam and the Silence is written in third person, but that we understand the story from Sonam’s point of view through the direct speech. ‘Point of view’ refers to whose opinion or feelings are being expressed.
- Consider the other characters in the text and discuss how they might think or feel about certain events.
- Invite students to write about Sonam’s feelings related to hiding her hair and going to work in the city each day; her brother’s feelings when Sonam declares that she has a rabab; OR the old man’s experience of sharing music with Sonam. Model the process of brainstorming possible thoughts and opinions with detailed justification. Think about the sensations each character would experience in line with their emotional state. For example, if you depict Sonam’s brother as frustrated, his hands might be sweaty and his veins pulsing, he might feel tightness in his chest, and the outer world might seem blurry or noisy.
- To accompany the paragraph, students could use their knowledge of the semiotic system to draw a symbolic illustration. Model this process for students. For example, if students wrote about the old man’s joy, they could use bright colours in the illustration. They could depict Sonam’s brother’s fear and anger through facial expression, gesture, colour, a close-up or high-angle framing.
Rich assessment task
Use students’ soundscapes to evaluate 1) how well they have understood and evoked mood, and 2) their communication, listening and teamwork in a small group. Develop a class rubric for the assessment.
Refer to each student’s symbolic illustration and written paragraph. Students could jointly construct a rubric to evaluate their work.