Connecting to prior knowledge

Teacup is a beautiful picture book about a boy who journeys away from his home in search of another.

Look at the front cover. As a class, predict where the story may be set and what it might be about. Focus students’ attention on the images on the cover, particularly the setting (the beach, sand, sea and sky). List words describing this setting on a chart; this can be expanded during and after your reading.

(ACELT1605)   (EN2-10C)

Next, draw attention to the person on the cover. Invite students to turn and talk about what the image tells them about this person.

Focus again on the cover and draw attention to the person’s backpack. Students turn and talk about what may be inside.

As a class, make a list of items that may be in the backpack.

Students turn and talk about what they might pack if they were going on a journey.

Using their Reader’s Notebooks, students draw and write a list of items that they would put into a backpack if they were going on an adventure.

(ACELT1607)   (EN2-10C)

Read the title of the book. Focus students’ attention on the small blue teacup beside the boat. Invite them to share their thoughts on what a teacup is with the whole group. Remind them of how to engage in a conversation with others, and how to clarify meaning if they do not understand a point of view.

Typically, a teacup is a small cup with a small handle and matching saucer. It is often made from fine china and can be quite delicate. If unfamiliar, show students a tea set brought from home. Who usually drinks tea from a teacup?

Students turn and talk about why the person on the cover decided to take a teacup on a journey. What could the teacup represent?

(ACELA1488)   (EN2-1A)

Read the blurb on the back of the book to students.

Discuss why the boy might be leaving his home. Discuss why families, and sometimes children, leave one home to find another.

Read the picture book to the class.

(ACELA1488)   (EN2-1A)

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

After reading, return to the cover and the title of the text. Ask students to clarify if the earlier predictions they made about the boy’s journey were the same as what the author and illustrator created.

Students turn and talk about the differences and similarities between their predictions and the boy’s journey.

Focus again on the cover, the title and the image of the teacup. Discuss why the boy not only took the teacup, but also filled it with earth from the place he played.

Why were the teacup and the earth important to the boy?

Would a teacup and/or earth be a special keepsake for everyone? Prompt students to discuss what the teacup and the earth might represent for the boy.

This may lead to a discussion about the importance of the land for First Nations people.

(ACELY1692)   (EN2-1A)

Rich assessment task

My special keepsake

Share one thing you (the teacher) would take on a journey. Talk about why and how it would be a reminder of home.

You may wish to read the book again to give students some thinking time. Then invite them to turn and talk about what special item they would take with them from home if they were embarking on a long journey. What might remind them of people or a place they love?

Using their Reader’s Notebooks, students draw and write about their special keepsake, including why it is so special to them.

(ACELT1607)   (EN2-10C)

Responding to the text

In Teacup, Matt Ottley’s stunning illustrations combine with Rebecca Young’s carefully written text to tell the story of a young boy’s journey.

Think about this boy leaving to find a new home. Ask students: ‘How do you think the boy might have felt?’ Looking at the front cover, reflect on how he might have been feeling as he looked out into the distance.

As the main character in this story, discuss what characteristics this boy may need to go on a long and lonely journey. List these words and display them for the class.

Suggest that the boy may have had different feelings at different times throughout the book. Focus the discussion on the start of his journey when the sea was kind, then move to when it became bold, and finally when the nights were dark and land was nowhere to be seen. Discuss how the boy may have felt at the end of this story compared to the beginning. By the end of book, things had changed; discuss what had changed around and within him.

(ACELA1488)   (EN2-1A)

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

The main character in this story went on a long journey. Invite students to discuss a long journey they may have been on: where they went, what they did on the way and what form of transport they used.

Focus students on the reason for their journey and who accompanied them.

In their Reader’s Notebooks, students complete a table comparing their journey to that of the boy Teacup.

(ACELA1488)   (EN2-1A)

A journey to …

Student The boy

After completing this table, students use the information to write about their own journey, focusing on describing how they felt throughout. After sharing with a partner, prompt students to reread and edit their writing.

(ACELY1695)   (EN2-1A)

Authors sometimes deliberately leave gaps in their stories, just as Rebecca Young has left gaps at the start of hers.

Ask students: ‘What has the author not explained to the reader?’ For example: why the boy is alone, what we know about him, what we don’t know about him.

Discuss with students why the author might not have given the reader all the information about the boy. In small groups, have students discuss what they have learned about him as they read the book together. Discuss what they know about the boy by the end of the book compared to the beginning. Share and compare between the groups.

(ACELT1603)   (EN2-11D)

Together read The Little Refugee, written by Anh and Suzanne Do and illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Discuss the journey that Do undertook. Focus students’ attention on why he went on this journey. Discuss the similarities and differences between the two boys’ journeys (both had to leave one home to find another).

Discuss what both stories have in common (e.g. home, hope, belonging).

The story told in Teacup and The Little Refugee is a story told by many authors. Do students know any other stories of long journeys? One example is Red Dog by Louis de Bernières.

Discuss with students why they believe it is an important story to share.

(ACELT1602)   (EN2-10C)

Rich assessment task


A theme is the important message or messages occurring in a story. Themes are interwoven with a story’s setting, characterisation and plot.

Read through and discuss the reviews on the back cover of the book. Using what students know about the main character, the plot and the symbol of the teacup, discuss what the important messages from the story are for them. Together brainstorm the main themes of the story (e.g. home is not a place but rather a part of who we are).

Turn to the page where the whale calls remind the boy of being called for tea. Explain that Matt Ottley often represents his books through music. Play one of the excerpts on his website.

Ask students to use the themes from the book, the experience of the music and their own personal responses to create a poster that shares an important message from the story. Posters can be presented to the class and then displayed in the classroom.

(ACELY1692)   (EN2-1A)

Examining text structure and organisation

Exploring plot

Explain that the plot of a narrative is the sequence of events that occur within the story.

Brainstorm the typical narrative structure on a whiteboard:

Orientation The beginning of the story, where the setting and the main character is introduced.
Complication The issue or problem that the main character faces on their journey.
Sequence of events What happens to the main character on their journey (in order).
Resolution When the problem is resolved and the story ends.
Coda The end of the story. A good ending gives a sense of completion and satisfaction. In fairy tales it is typically: ‘And they lived happily ever after.’

Read through Teacup again, creating a timeline of events as you read together. When you have finished, go back and label the orientation, complication, resolution and coda.

Students use the app Timetoast to complete the book’s timeline, adding in the series of events.

Discuss the varying sizes of the structural elements: those that take up a lot of words in the text and those that take up very few words. Students might notice that the orientation is very short, which is a little unusual for a text. Teacup’s orientation does not provide a lot of detail about where the story is set or who the main character is. The opening sentence tells us that the boy must leave his home and find another. We are not given information about time or place.

Split the class into two groups. Invite the students to read the text again, with one group identifying the phrases that tell us about place/placement (e.g. in the boy’s bag bag, in his teacup, back home) and the other group the phrases about time (e.g. some days, other days, every day). Discuss why the author has chosen to put circumstantial detail throughout the text rather than in the orientation. Suggest that she may have wanted us to look and wonder, to actively engage with thinking about the boy’s actions and feelings.

(ACELT1604)   (EN2-1A)   (ACELY1697)   (EN2-3A)

Exploring symbolism

Explain to students that, in a story, a symbol is usually an object of importance. It holds significance for the main character and usually reoccurs throughout the narrative.

The title of the book is Teacup. On pages 1 and 2 the text states that the boy’s teacup contains earth from where he used to play. Ask students to think about why the boy put earth in the teacup and what the earth may symbolise.

The teacup, as an image and a word, can be found throughout book (e.g. the image on page 3, the text on page 6). Reread the book with students, looking for the teacup both in the text and the images.

Draw students’ attention to any changes to the teacup over time. Turn to page 29. Discuss what has happened to the teacup during the journey and what this may symbolise.

(ACELT1604)   (EN2-1A)   (ACELY1692)   (EN2-1A)

Examining grammar and vocabulary

Figurative language

Rebecca Young’s writing is described on the back of the book as both poetic and lyrical. She uses a number of figurative language techniques to enrich her writing, including alliteration, imagery and personification.

Alliteration refers to the repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of successive words in a sentence. There is an example of alliteration on page 2 with the repetition of the ‘b’ sound in ‘bag’, ‘book’, ‘bottle’ and ‘blanket’. Place students in small groups with copies of the text to identify another example of alliteration. Groups can then create their own examples of alliteration using text from Teacup as a guide.

Imagery is also used with great effect, supporting the reader to form mental images through careful word choices (e.g. the descriptions of the sea on calm, rough and bright days). Looking at pages 18 and 26, discuss with students what they picture when they hear the word ‘whisper’. In the first example, it is a reference to time and change; in the second example, it could refer to time, or to a sign.

Personification refers to the human attributes or qualities given to something that is not human. Discuss the human qualities attributed to the sea, e.g. kindness. Provide time for groups to reread the text to find examples.

Discuss if and how these figurative language techniques guide the reader to focus on hope and belonging. You may begin this discussion as a whole class activity and then move into small groups to explore the text.

(ACELT1606)   (EN2-1A)

Rich assessment task

The teacup

The teacup in this book is special to the boy and represents something of significance to him. Invite students to list the special things in their lives that are significant to them. Help them to understand that their list may be quite different from their classmates’. Ask them to choose one item from their list and write about how and why it is significant to them.

Encourage students to use imagery to describe their item of significance. Have them sit in pairs and read their work aloud to one another. Each student should provide feedback to improve the text’s content and structure.

Students can then edit and publish their writing (either on paper or digitally) alongside a photo or drawing of the item.

(ACELY1694)   (ACELY1695)   (EN2-1A)

How illustrators create context

Matt Ottley’s illustrations add depth of understanding to this story. Illustrators like him carefully combine a range of visual resources to create images. The composition mainly revolves around how people, places and things are arranged within the illustration by its creator. Visual composition – of which salience and framing are two components – also looks at the meanings that are attached to these positions.

Salience refers to the part of the image that captures our attention as the viewer. Elements of salience include the size and sharpness of the image; the use of soft, bright or contrasting colours; the use of human figures; and placement in the foreground or background. Together, these elements create salience and determine what part of an image catches the reader’s eye and attention. Looking at pages 1 and 2, discuss with students what catches their eye. Prompt them to notice the soft colours of the sea and sky next to the bright colours of the boy, who is positioned in the foreground.

Turn to pages 5 and 6. Discuss what catches the viewer’s eye on this page. Focus on the position of the boat and the boy, as well as the colours used for the background.

(ACELA1496)   (EN2-10C)

Framing constructs boundaries and focuses the viewer on specific parts of the illustration. It can be light or heavy and, in fact, need not involve a frame at all; the ‘frame’ can be a part of the illustration itself. When framing is heavy it can suggest suffering or constraint; when light, it can imply freedom.

Focus again on pages 1 and 2. The salient part of this illustration is the boy by the boat, and he is framed by sand, sea and sky. The colours are light and bright and depict freedom and hope. Compare this to pages 9 and 10. Discuss the salient part of this illustration and the colours used in the framing. Why is the viewer’s eye drawn to the boy even though he is framed by darkness? Discuss what this means and what the image on page 9 may represent. Some students may suggest that hope is implied by the opening in the clouds amidst the darkness.

In pairs, invite students to choose a double page spread and discuss how and why Matt Ottley used salience and framing in the illustration. Conclude with a quick whole class share.

(ACELT1605)   (EN2-10C)

Why authors sometimes create (and sometimes avoid) description

Good writers build noun groups in deliberate ways for different purposes. Sometimes Rebecca Young uses adjectives in the noun groups, but this doesn’t happen very often. Ask students to reread the book once more and identify the descriptive noun groups. The author is very selective about when she uses these. Examples:

  • the trembling seas
  • cosy nook
  • the girl with the broken egg cup

Invite the students to identify the structure of these noun groups:

  • the (article) trembling (adjective) seas (noun)
  • cosy (adjective) nook (noun)
  • the (article) girl (noun) with the broken egg cup (qualifier)

Find other parts of the text where the author really pares down the noun group. Examples:

  • it
  • a bump
  • the whales

Why might an author deliberately use pared down noun groups in parts of the story? Sometimes it helps us focus on the verbs and the feelings they create; other times, it’s because the author doesn’t want us to be lost in description. She really wants us to focus on the message.

(ACELY1690)   (EN2-8B)   (ACELA1493)   (EN2-9B)

Rich assessment task

Discuss with students the salience and framing of the image on page 29. Why might the illustrator have composed this particular image to end the story? Discuss what it conveys. Prompt students to consider the ideas of different ways of belonging, or a home that is no longer connected to the earth in the teacup.

Now invite students to spend time drafting a picture, using framing and salience to depict what they believe could be on the next page. They will then create their final image using watercolours on cardboard. Upon completion, invite students to share their illustration with others in the class. Conclude with a discussion around the decisions students made to complete this task.

(ACELT1605)   (EN2-10C)