Note for the teacher: An Indigenous perspective when teaching this unit is important because as well as recounting Sorry Day, the book is explaining Indigenous Australian history, not the version written by the colonisers.

Connecting to prior knowledge of Indigenous Australia

Ask a student to perform an Acknowledgement of Country (if not a traditional land owner) or Welcome to Country (if a traditional land owner) to pay respects to traditional custodians of the land/s on which teaching is taking place.

Introduce the book by telling the group the book has won awards. Sorry Day won the 2018 Book of the Year from Speech Pathology Australia, and was shortlisted for and won the Eve Pownall Award at the 2019 CBCA Awards.

Book Cover Analysis

Show the cover of Sorry Day. Ask students to make predictions, such as fact or fiction, and what Sorry Day might be about. Students may draw connections to either National Sorry Day (23 May) or the National Apology (2008). If students don’t know about the National Apology (2008), review this 3-minute YouTube clip. Find a copy of the National Apology here. If the students don’t know, open a conversation keeping in mind these are predictions. Who might be sorry and what might they be sorry for?

Continue by examining the book’s cover and ask students to identify the main character and think about who she might be. The image of the young girl suggests she is looking on with amazement, curiosity or innocence. Discuss possible reasons.

Ask the students to identify any symbols and think about what they might mean to different groups of people. For example, the flag might represent safety and security, identity and culture to some groups of people. The cumbungi or bulrush (native flora) symbolises security and safety.

Coral Vass is the author and Dub Leffler is the illustrator. This book is very different to the books Coral usually writes. Ask the students to visit her website to see the covers of her other books. Discuss some points of similarity and difference. Visit Dub’s biography. Discuss the other authors he has worked with and the texts that they produced (e.g. Colin Thompson, Shaun Tan and Banksy are all highly emotive and often make comments about social realities). Now that you’ve discussed Coral’s and Dub’s biographies, return to the cover of Sorry Day and ask students to suggest reasons why they wrote/illustrated this text.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-1A)


Exploring the text in context

Read the book to the students without interruption so students can build story grammar and understand the context.

Ask the students to make connections with the book through text-to-self, text-to-text and text-to-world connections. Students turn to their elbow buddy to discuss, then open up for a whole class discussion.

Students may have noticed that some pages are sepia and other pages are in colour. Re-read the sepia pages only. Discuss how this changes the reading experience. Repeat the exercise where students make connections to the book through text-to-self, text-to-text and text-to-world connections. Students turn to their elbow buddy to discuss, then open up for a whole class discussion.

For a short video on the Stolen Generation, view this clip.

Re-read the coloured pages only. Discuss how this changes the reading experience. Repeat the exercise where students make connections to the book through text-to-self, text-to-text and text-to-world connections. Students turn to their elbow buddy to discuss, then open up for a whole class discussion.

For a short video on Tiga Bayles’ (Brisbane-based Indigenous radio broadcaster) response to the National Apology, view this clip.
(ACELT1614)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)


Rich assessment task

Understanding how contextual information is communicated in a visual timeline

In a whole class teacher-led discussion, ask students what they know about timelines. Where have they seen a timeline before? What is the purpose or function of a timeline?

In pairs, students use a search engine and type in ‘timelines Australian history’ and click on ‘image’ link. Students explore one timeline that interests them. They name the general elements that make up a timeline (e.g. axis, continuum of time, graphic representations, chronology of events, sequence, etc.).

Now invite pairs of students to join with another pair of students and share what they know about the timeline they’ve been exploring. Students identify which timeline is the most effective at communicating factual information to a reader/viewer.

Conclude with a whole class discussion about effective timelines.

Scan the triple-page spread that features a visual timeline, located towards the end of the book, and distribute A3-sized copies of the visual timeline to students so they can add sticky notes and annotations over the images.

The images featured on the triple-page spread represent a factual timeline. Specific events and people are represented, but not named. Ask students to name the specific events and people in the timeline (e.g. Redfern march for reconciliation, multicultural Australia, John Curtin who was the Prime Minister during the early 1940s).

Now ask students to talk about the structural features of the timeline (e.g. sequence from dark sepia to light sepia to some colour, repetition of photo from title page, faces move from despair to cautious optimism).

Distribute photocopies of the visuals on the triple-page spread. Ask students to cut out each visual and construct a ‘standard’ timeline that shows dates along the continuum of time (e.g. pre-invasion waterways, late 1800s missions, early 1940s when John Curtin was Prime Minister, 1972 when Gough Whitlam visited the tent embassy, 1998 first National Sorry Day (23 May) with green sea of hands, 2000 walk for reconciliation on Sydney Harbour Bridge, 2008 National Apology, modern day multicultural Australia with a police officer who is Turkish, Asian faces, Muslim faces, Maggie’s finger pointing in the air to show optimism, handshake between black and white, interwoven hands).

Conclude by asking, ‘What has happened since the apology?’

The question may not be immediately answered but after the sequence of activities, students will be able to consider the question and seek answers.
(ACELY1708)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELY1711)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELY1712)   (EN3-1A)   (ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)

Responding to the text

Select one page of Sorry Day and open up a discussion about the time and place of the events on that page. Students will need to use the clues contained in the words or in the images to support their claims. For example, the coins on the title page indicate that the text begins pre-1966 in Australia. Another example is that the part of the story illustrated in colour is set in Canberra at the National Apology on 13 February 2008. Students should also pay attention to the items of clothing that may indicate a particular period, location and/or season.

As students identify something that interests them, they should undertake a search to learn more about the time of the event, or the location.

Prepare a wall map of Australia. When students think that they have identified a place mentioned or illustrated in the book, the students can mark it on the wall map.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELT1617)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Draw students’ attention to an anomaly in the text. One character in the book is never referred to by name, but the character is a distinctive person. For example, on page 5, we are told ‘a man began to speak’ and on page 28, we are told about ‘the man’, the ‘Prime Minister of Australia’, ‘he’ and ‘I’ (referring to himself).

  • Ask the students if they know who this man might be. Are all of these references to the same man? There is a picture of the man on the visual timeline located on the triple-page spread, immediately under the word ‘sorry’. He is standing in front of two microphones and in front of the new Parliament House. There is another picture of this same man on the page behind the triple-page spread.
  • Ask the students to discuss why Coral Vass has not referred to this character by name. Why did Dub Leffler make the visual image on the back of the timeline so faint?
  • Have any other characters’ names been omitted? Are other characters drawn in a faint line?

(ACELT1614)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELT1617)   (ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)


Rich assessment task

Invite students to work in small groups to identify another page from the book that wasn’t explored in the previous two learning experiences.

Students use the visual and written clues to determine the time and location of the event. Students can search the internet to assist with the task. Students should bookmark/add to favourites any webpages that assist with their searches. To bookmark or add to favourites, students need to click ‘favourites’ in the top menu bar and then ‘Add to Favourites’. The ‘Add Favourites’ dialogue box will appear. Students have three choices: click ‘OK’ to add to general list; click an existing folder and click ‘OK’ or click ‘New Folder’ to create a new folder and add the link. Students who are not yet savvy with the filing system may need to be scaffolded through this bookmarking and retrieval task.

Groups who have chosen the same page should join up and discuss which clues they used to determine the time and location of the event. Students need to be able to retrieve the web pages that they bookmarked to support their hypothesis. Students discuss the range of answers. Whilst we don’t know for certain where or when the historical images took place, students need to offer a reasonable hypothesis.

When students think that they have identified a place mentioned or illustrated in the book, the students should mark it on the wall map.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELT1617)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELY1709)   (ACELA 1525)   (EN3-5B)

Examining text structure and organisation


The teacher opens up a discussion about genre. In the Australian Curriculum: English, the term genre is used to mean ‘How texts are grouped depending on their social purpose (for example, to recount, to describe, to persuade, to narrate).’

Ask students to determine the genre of Sorry Day. It is historical fiction because the plot takes place in a setting located in the past and pays attention to the social conditions, events and key figures (people) of the period depicted.

Ask students why an author would choose to write historical fiction. The book has a storytelling aspect that is more aligned with Aboriginal cultural practices and this is interwoven with the illustrations. Historical fiction allows readers to better understand important historical events. It brings alive individual’s stories, rather than treating history as simply being about dates and titles of events. We find out about real people and what they did and how they felt.

Ask students to think about the challenges of writing historical fiction, for example, achieving historical authenticity when the author and illustrator were not present at that time. Discuss how an author/illustrator would undertake the research for preparing an historical fiction manuscript.
(ACELA1518)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELT1616)   (EN3-7C)

Ask students if they know other examples of historical fiction, for example, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Jackie French is an Australian author who specialises in Australian historical fiction for pre-teens and early-teens. Her works include:

  • The Hitler Trilogy
  • The Matilda Saga
  • The Secret History Series
  • Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies
  • The Animal Stars Series
  • Fair Dinkum Histories.

To find out more about Jackie French’s motivation for writing historical fiction, visit this YouTube clip.

Discuss the similarities and differences between these various historical fiction texts. Sorry Day relies on the intermodal coupling between the words and images, whereas Lowry’s and French’s works are not picture books.

Discuss similarities and differences in plot, character and theme.
(ACELT1614)   (EN3-7C)


Rich assessment task

Coral Vass uses her words carefully. She employs a great range of literary techniques.

Split the class into six groups and ask each group to select one literary technique. Each group revisits the text Sorry Day, identifying powerful examples of the use of one literary technique (one technique per group). It might be that some examples belong to more than one category. Ask the students to identify how the literary technique works to enhance the meaning of the text. Pay special attention to the turns of phrase that are open to more than one interpretation.


  • Simile example – page 8 ‘a truck rumbled along the bank like thunder’. The purpose of a simile is to give information about one object by comparing it to another object with which the reader might be familiar.
  • Hyperbole example – page 2 ‘the smell of the breakfast flooded the camp’ and page 5 ‘Maggie buried herself deep in her mother’s skirt’. The purpose of a hyperbole is to overemphasise a statement in order to produce a more noticeable effect. Note the pronunciation of hyperbole is ‘hai-puh-buh-lee’.
  • Personification example – page 1 ‘heart danced’, page 2 ‘hissing fire’, page 12 ‘land wailed’. The purpose of personification is to bring inanimate objects to life so that their nature is better understood. It is easier for us to relate to something that possesses human traits.
  • Onomatopoeia example – page 8 ‘THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!’. An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the thing that it’s describing. The reader gets to hear the action, which adds interest or an effect.
  • Contrast and repetition – page 2 and 12 ‘Long ago and not so long ago’, page 7 ‘THUD!’, page 8 ‘THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!’ The purpose of adding a contrast or repetition is to emphasise the characteristics of an object or event.
  • Metaphor example – page 12 ‘children herded’. A metaphor draws a comparison between two objects that share similar characteristics. The purpose of a metaphor is to help the reader to better understand the characteristics of one of the objects.

Conclude by having all the groups come together to share their findings. Ask the students why an author would use many different literary techniques.
(ACELA1518)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELT1615)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELT1617)   (EN3-7C)

Creating Texts

Getting ready to create a visual text

To prepare for the Rich Assessment Task, as a whole class view Archie Roach’s ‘Took the Children Away’. In Archie’s text, he sings a song whilst images play in the background. Various images can be seen linked to the message of the song. Briefly discuss the messages in text and song.

In groups of five let students view the video again on their tablets/iPad. This time ask them to think about the construction of the video, where images are placed and where the camera is focused on the singer, Archie Roach. Identifying some of the techniques used will help them incorporate some of these elements into their own work. Ask each student in the group to take responsibility for one design element and note how it is used and to what effect.

The five design elements and examples from the video clip are:

  • Visual: close ups to show emotion, black and white to show time past and colour to show the present day, top-down view to show authority, moving from land to a human-made city.
  • Word choices: true, right, lies, promises, snatched, mother’s breast, welfareman, humiliate, prejudice, tearing us apart, fighting mad, tears, family, stood his ground, acting white and feeling black, sweet day, mother’s land, came back.
  • Spatial design: starts with Archie in shadow, slow motion images, travel in the car to show terrain travelled and time passing, entry of other singers to coincide with words, ‘the children came back’, colour images popping up of a smiling child, final image of singer’s face.
  • Body gestures: sitting in chair, eyes closed, slumped to show exhaustion and sadness, direct gaze, child at window, slow walk of other singers.
  • Sound elements: melancholic sound, synth of held notes, focus on lyrics, guitar used to give clip more activity, mainly picking, then strumming. Strum and voice emphasises the word ‘family’. The line ‘Yes I came back’ is sung acapella, with all the music stripped away, and then the guitars come back.

Ask the students to explore the images used in the Archie Roach video, for example, the children in the beginning and end.

Allow some time for students to discuss their findings. After listening to the song several times to identify these features some students may be quite moved or upset. Provide support if needed.
(ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELY1801)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELY1711)   (EN3-5B)


Rich assessment task: Creating a video of ‘Sorry Day’

In their groups of five, students will create a one-minute video for their assessment task. Ask students to determine the main message of Sorry Day and write some phrases that sum up the historical events. Using commonly available apps such as GarageBandMedly Music MakerLoopimal or Figure, ask students to set music to their words. Alternatively they could use voice or accessible instruments. Remind them to think about the elements in their analysis of the Archie Roach video. Students can use appropriate images from Creative Commons.

Allow time to share the videos with the class and have some discussion to recap the use of the five design elements.
(ACELY1717)   (EN3-6B)   (ACELY1714)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELY1710)   (EN3-1A)   (ACELT1618)   (EN3-7C)