Connecting to prior knowledge

Thai-riffic! is a humorous and relatively easy read that is a hybrid of different text types. It reads like a series of sequential short stories, incorporating some aspects of graphic novels and other genres. The main character, Albert (AKA Lengy), is starting high school; we read about his fear that the things that ‘haunted’ him in primary school will follow him to secondary. In this first section of the unit, you will assess students’ prior knowledge and help them build new knowledge about the themes and content of the narrative, as well as the text types that are included in this hybrid text.


On the classroom floor (or on the walls) arrange sets of visual images that show people in situations related to three themes:

  1. cultural identity and diversity
  2. family and friendship
  3. belonging and exclusion

Do not tell students what the themes are; this is something they should discover through collaborative discussion. When sourcing images, use key words from the theme labels or the labels themselves (e.g. you can search for images tagged as ‘belonging’, then as ‘exclusion’ – just remember to group these as one set of images).

Using Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) thinking, create prompts to guide small group discussions about the themes represented by the images. The prompts can be written down and displayed nearby. Groups will take turns to explore each set of images and respond to the prompts, recording their thoughts on large sheets of paper (or on a tablet) and adding to other groups’ ideas. These will be shared with the whole class later.

The prompts for guiding discussion could include:

In the text Right There Describe the look of the people in each image.

Describe the situation they are in, or where they are located.

In the text Think and Search Can you see evidence of how the people in each image might be connected?

What do they have in common?

In your head Author/Creator and You Think of some words that might describe what is happening in each image. Name the context or theme that runs through each group of images.
In your head On Your Own How are you the same as (or different to) any of the people or groups in the images?

Have you ever felt that you belonged to (or were excluded from) groups of people like these?

Bookwalk: skim and scan (1/2)

If every student has a copy of Thai-riffic!, ask them to skim through and, with a buddy, identify and label the different text types that are evident within the book. List the text types on a T-chart with two headings: ‘Text Type’ for the left side and ‘Author’s Purpose’ for the right. Record students’ ideas about the labels that can be given to the text types (genres), so that later in the unit (Examining) you can add notes about the author’s purpose for including them.

Keep this as an anchor chart (or retrieval chart) to support the work to come.

NOTE: Some schools use the language of ‘social purposes for writing’ rather than ‘genres’.

Suggested pages to explore:

Contents (Menu)
Page 1 Entrées
Page 3 the visual image under the chapter title
Page 9 the image
Page 36 the note
Page 60 the dialogue/script
Page 74 the timeline/diary
Page 89 the thought bubble
Pages 95 and 123 illustrations
Page 131 the photographs of post-it notes
Page 165 the review
Page 186 personal response (for school ‘cultural project’)

ACELY1709   EN3-1A

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

Exploring cultural identity and diversity

Read page 3 (lines 1–8) to students or have them read from their own copy of the book. Lengy says he is a ‘fake Aussie’. Invite students to share what they feel is their cultural identity. Create a two-column chart that lists these identities (or country names) on one side, and the reasons students relate to them on the other.

Cultural identity Reasons






Students might suggest that country of birth, language, family, community or practices such as religion or food preparation help them identify with particular cultures/communities.

In relation to Australian identities, discuss the possibility of relating to two cultures at the same time, e.g. Chinese Australian, Lebanese Australian, Italian Australian, etc.

Read up to the end of page 5 to explore the aspects of cultural identity that Lengy reveals: language (‘sawatdee’ is a Thai greeting) and food. Explore further by watching this TEDx talk about cultural identity by two US middle school students (or provide as background before reading the text). Deeper discussions about culture and race may commence, but these topics will be explored in the Responding section.

Exploring family and friendship

Read up to the end of page 19 and engage students in discussion via the questions below.


Question students about Lengy’s family and their own families. Be mindful of any sensitive situations that individual students might face.

  • What does Lengy think about his family?
  • What indications are there that he might be embarrassed by them?

Engage students in a think-pair-share for the following questions:

  • Have you ever been embarrassed by your own family?
  • What did you do to overcome the embarrassment?

Students respond through a brief class discussion and/or personal reflection/response in their blog or journal (see the Rich Assessment Task for this section).

Where do you come from?

On page 14 Angelo asks Lengy: ‘Where are you from?’

Refer back to the anchor chart of students’ cultural identities. If it wasn’t discussed previously, ask whether or not you need to be born in a country to be considered ‘from that country’.

Ask students if they have had any personal or family experiences with immigrants choosing to come to Australia, or with refugees escaping trauma or hardship elsewhere (perhaps their country of birth) by coming to Australia. If they have had no such experiences, then they may have read stories about them (see suggestions in the Responding section). Engage students in a reflective and sensitive dialogue about how they, their family members or the characters in stories felt about arriving in a new country. A deeper discussion can be held later (Responding).

Students respond through a brief class discussion and/or personal reflection/response in their blog or journal.

Differences between Asian cultures

On page 19 Mr Roberts says that Chinese and Thai people are ‘all the same’.

Discuss with students the different regions in Asia and the countries within each region. Refer to the Australian Curriculum advice for the cross curriculum priority, Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia. Establish what students understand about the difference between, for example, Chinese and Thai culture (e.g. language, food, religions).

Friends and friendships

On page 16 Lengy says that his nickname from primary school still hurts. He doesn’t like the play on words in ‘Bow-Thai’.

Ask students to answer the following questions in their blog or journal:

  • What does it mean to be a good friend?
  • Who do you include in your circle of friends?
  • How do you treat your friends?
  • What can you learn about friends and friendships from the novels we read in school?
  • How can you be a better friend?

Exploring belonging and exclusion

Read the rest of Chapter 1: Flyer Attack.

Note that on page 26 Mr Roberts uses the words ‘struth’ and ‘tucker’. Ask students if they have heard people use these words and what they mean. Explore why, on page 3, Lengy talks about himself as a ‘fake Aussie’. Then ask students to do a think-pair-share to discuss what they consider to be the important aspects of Australian cultural identity.

Debate: seeing different perspectives

Given that the English language is subject to great variation and change in our multicultural and globalised world, where social and cultural diversity abounds, the following websites (or others like it) may help students explore and discuss some ‘Aussie’ words and phrases:

Note that, while these expressions may be used or heard by those living and growing up in Australia, it is not the case that all Australians utilise them.

Engage students in a critical conversation or debate about the use of these expressions. Encourage honest discussion of how commonly they appear in students’ lives, and whether they believe you need to use these words to consider yourself Australian. Put the following provocation up for debate:

All Australians sound the same and speak a common language.

Encourage students to consider different perspectives or points of view (thoughts, feelings, motivations and intentions). See More Resources for a perspective-taking lesson idea.

Students will respond during a class debate or discussion, and through a personal reflection/response in their blog or journal.

ACELT1613   EN3-8D   ACELA1515   EN3-1A   ACHASSK136

Rich assessment task

Class blog

Set up a class blog for this activity. Blogs need an audience, so it is a useful approach to facilitate interaction between students – they can all contribute and respond to each other’s posts. You may use a platform like Edublogs or a school-based blog (students may be expected to work within your educational institution’s secure online environment, which would generally offer blogging components). If students do not have their own devices, or if Internet access is not readily available, they can keep a handwritten journal instead.

In their blog or journal, students will write personal reflections prompted by the learning activities in this first section of the unit. This will give them ideas and information for subsequent assessment tasks.

Ask students to tell you about their previous experiences with personal recounts and reflective thinking. Model how to create a blog or journal and teach them to use a reflective thinking framework (using the Situation/Action/Outcome or SAO model):

S Situation e.g. I was in my Year 5 classroom.
A Outcome e.g. Two students called me ‘Bow-Thai’ and laughed out loud.
O Action e.g. I felt like I wanted to run away and hide, and I couldn’t talk about it with my parents as they thought it was funny as well.

Ensure that students can write reflective responses to the learning activities (e.g. Floorstorming) by conferencing with individuals or small groups. Confident students can make their blogs available for others to read, comment and provide feedback. Ensure they know to deliver constructive feedback and model this if necessary.

ACELY1714   EN3-2A   ACELY1717   EN3-2A

Responding to the text

QtA: language analysis for comprehension

The ‘Question the Author’ (QtA) strategy provides a dialogic approach to comprehension and text analysis in reading lessons. For this activity, students will read Chapter 2: Meeting Mr Winfree and Chapter 3: Bulk to School. The QtA strategy can be modelled through a whole group ‘fishbowl’ activity (rotating students in and out of the fishbowl) for Chapter 2.

Place one third of the class in a discussion circle; these students are in the fishbowl. The remaining two thirds of the class will assemble around the fishbowl and listen to the discussion taking place, following specific instructions to take notes on its protocols or content (e.g. summarising what they hear in the fishbowl). See below for questions you can use to coach students through the activity.

Students could then work in small groups to apply this strategy to Chapter 3, using pre-planned teacher questions or questions of their own design. The following prompts will encourage discussion of how the author uses language to describe characters, as well as to develop conceptual understandings.

Chapter 2: Meeting Mr Winfree

Ideally, all students will have a copy of the text. Explain that this chapter is a short story about Lengy’s first day at high school. The author has Lengy narrate the events that are happening to him. His mother has packed his lunch, which he finds embarrassing, as he believes everyone buys their lunch at school. He also meets some students (who he already knows) and his teacher Mr Winfree.

Page 27 Why has the author/illustrator included an image of a bear, labelled ‘Grumpy Bear’? Make a prediction about Mr Winfree.
Page 27, paragraph 3 What does the author mean by the metaphor of ‘cooking oil for blood’?
Page 28, paragraph 3 What does the author mean by the personification in ‘my school bag swallows it whole’?
Page 29, large paragraph How does the author describe the way Lengy’s name looks? Do you agree with his description of how a surname can indicate cultural background or nationality? Are there other names that you consider common to particular cultures?

(Search the web for information on Thai surnames. You’ll find that they are a modern phenomenon dating to 1913. Before then, Thai citizens identified themselves by their parents’ given names or the place where they resided. Most Thai people are given a nickname at birth that they use throughout their lives.)

Page 30–31 Why does the author describe Joanna Tseng as the Hello Kitty girl? Discuss concepts of racial stereotyping that may arise from this depiction of Joanna, and Lengy’s conclusion that Rajiv must be Australian because he calls Lengy ‘mate’.
Page 33, after paragraph 1 What techniques does the author use to describe Mr Winfree, and then Lengy’s and Rajiv’s reactions (e.g. metaphors: the caterpillar moustache, Rajiv’s mouth caught in an ‘O’, Lengy’s voice ‘[catching] a train out of my head’)? What effect do these techniques have on a reader’s comprehension of the text?
To the end of page 36 The author describes Lengy’s impressions of Mr Winfree by having Lengy narrate the events and his thoughts. The author also writes the dialogue. Is this an effective technique? Can you follow the events and messages being conveyed? What is an overall message or theme that the author has developed for this chapter (e.g. ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’)?
Questions for coaching the fishbowl discussion groups
  • What did you notice during our discussion of the text? Did we take turns in talking? Did we check for understanding by rephrasing what people had said? Did we ask questions of each other? Did we find evidence in the text for our answers?
  • What is one thing in our discussion that you agreed/disagreed with?
  • How did you feel being on the inside/on the outside of the fishbowl?
Chapter 3: Bulk to School

In small groups, students use the QtA strategy to read Chapter 3.

Provide questions or prompts to encourage discussion of the author’s use of language features (including figurative language) for descriptive detail and humour. Examples of language play:

  • Page 38: ‘Life’s Thai-riffic’
  • Page 40: ‘You’ll be lucky if it works’
  • Page 41: ‘My eyes blast off like rockets’
  • Page 43: ‘Mum’s not a bargain hunter, she’s a predator’
  • Page 44: ‘The toilet paper express chugs towards the check-outs’

Note that, in this chapter, Lengy is embarrassed by his mother. Cultural or racial stereotypes are evident in his description of his mother’s actions. Lengy discovers some benefits to speaking Thai and finds acceptance from Rajiv.

ACELY1709   EN3-1A   ACELA1518   EN3-7C   ACELT1617   EN3-7C

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Making connections: comprehension

Read Chapter 4: Curried Away to students (they can follow along if they have their own copy of the book). Think aloud to model the process of making text-to-self (TtS), text-to-text (TtT), or text-to-world (TtW) connections as appropriate while reading.

Teacher-modelled ‘think aloud’ opportunities include:

Page 52, paragraph 1 ‘Grandma’s our own Captain Cook. She discovered Australia for us’

TtW connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on European ‘discovery’/invasion of Australia (Nadia Wheatley’s book Australians All offers some good insights)

TtT connections with other stories about families and immigrants who came to Australia (may include refugee recounts, e.g. The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanne Do, illustrated by Bruce Whatley; Refugees by David Miller; Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson)

Page 53, paragraph 1 The canteen is ‘another awesome thing about high school’

TtS connections with differing experiences of primary and secondary school

Page 54, paragraph 4 ‘Ross’s fiery red hair makes him look like a tall matchstick’

TtS connections with identity and how we look to other people

Page 55, final paragraph Lengy decides he must keep playing and not give up or he’ll end up as a loner

TtT connections with other stories about bullying (e.g. I am Jack by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox) or perseverance (e.g. The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas)

Teacher-led discussion about feelings of cultural embarrassment

Students may have experienced (personally or through personal connections) embarrassment about cultural differences. Using Lengy’s experience, lead a discussion about any positive or negative beliefs students may have about cultural differences.

On pages 57–58, Lengy’s embarrassment about Thai culture and being Thai is evident in his reluctance to bring more Thai food to the feast (as per Mr Winfree’s request).

Explore, by eliciting examples from students, the following aspects of identity:

  • Social identity (aspects of race, gender, age and other characteristics that affect how you interact with people, and how they interact with you)
  • Personal identity (traits or behaviours, including values and beliefs, that you exhibit and share with others)
  • Visible identity characteristics (characteristics that can be seen by other people)
  • Invisible identity characteristics (characteristics that are not easily seen by other people)

Discuss Lengy’s embarrassment as an aspect of ‘cultural cringe’, and whether his feelings are confirmed or disputed by his friends and teachers.

Guiding students in making connections (pages 59–64)

Focus on Lengy’s embarrassment about his father’s story of journeying to Australia and setting up his restaurant, which he recounts for customers (pages 59–61). Model a TtS connection about an embarrassing parent moment, followed by teacher-guided oral recounts from students.

Discuss any similarities and differences between the students’ recounts and Lengy’s recount of his father’s actions.

Small group ‘think aloud’ connections (pages 64–73)

Focus on the upcoming Year Seven feast to celebrate cultural diversity. In small groups, students take turns to recount any experiences they may have had with similar events. They can read and discuss the connections between their experiences and those of the students at the feast. Support those groups or students who need extra input to make connections and recount their experiences.

Turning an oral recount into a written literary recount

Keeping the focus on embarrassing parent moments, model how to turn an oral recount into a written literary recount. Advice and teaching ideas can be found at English Online (New Zealand Ministry of Education). Ensure that students understand the difference between a literary recount and short story narrative. Recounts use chronological order and are written in the first person (‘I’); narratives may vary the order of events for maximum impact, refer to characters by name, and do not include the author as a character.

ACELT1613   EN3-8D   ACELY1709   EN3-1A

Rich assessment task

Reflection journal: connections and self-reflection

Students record a TtS connection in their reflection journal by writing a literary recount of an embarrassing parent moment. They then reflect on the differences and similarities between Lengy’s situation and their own. Prompt the self-reflection with the following questions:

  • Do you think Lengy is justified in being embarrassed by his father’s story?
  • Is your experience with an embarrassing parent linked to any feelings of ‘cultural cringe’?
  • Can you explain why your embarrassing parent moment is more or less embarrassing than Lengy’s?

ACELT1613   EN3-8D   ACELY1717   EN3-2A

Examining text structure and organisation

Question the text

NOTE: For this section, make sure students have read at least up to page 107 (the end of Chapter 6: Soaked!).

Questioning the text can take many forms, and also involves questioning the choices made by the author and/or illustrator. The questions you ask in teaching students to examine text structure will depend on the work and require a close reading (and viewing) of the writing and any visuals (images or graphics). Examining or questioning the structure of the text as a whole, in sections or at the level of paragraphs, sentences and words (along with visuals) can help readers to comprehend the author/illustrator’s purpose and the messages being represented.

Bookwalk (2/2)

Return to the pages listed in the previous Bookwalk (Literature), and this time question the text with students. Check which labels they gave to the text types and images and discuss the purpose or function of each. Then question the author, directing students to think-pair-share about why Oliver Phommavanh included these text types and images in his novel. Add students’ thoughts to the right side of the previously created T-chart. Keep this as an anchor or retrieval chart to help them recall their thinking for the final Rich Assessment Task (Creating).

Other pages to explore:

  • Chapter 5: Mozzie Whisperer (pages 74–86):
    • How is this chapter structured?
    • Why is it structured in this way?
    • Does this story have the structure of a short story narrative?
    • Explain how it is similar yet different to other chapters.
  • The graphic story at the start of the À La Class section (page 125):
    • How is this story similar and different to other short stories throughout the novel?
    • What messages do the images represent or convey?
    • Do the images support the messages of the written language or do they tell a different story?
    • Does the graphic story follow the same structure as a short story using written language?
    • Is there dialogue?
    • Why is the mother’s dialogue in a speech bubble?

Investigate the structure of narratives and recounts (download the ‘genre overview’ .docx from the Literacy Teaching Toolkit), focusing on the differences between the two. Also investigate the elements of multimodal communication.

ACELY1713   EN3-3A   ACELA1518   EN3-7C

Examining grammar and vocabulary

Lengy-isms, idioms and other sayings

The suffix ‘-ism’ can be used to denote a characteristic usage of language. Lengy has many sayings that are characteristic of his sense of humour – we can call these Lengy-isms! Some examples are:

  • ‘same same’ (page 9), a play on the Thai phrase ‘same same, but different’ (which Lengy also uses)
  • ‘Thank Buddha for that’ and ‘Oh my Buddha’ (Buddha is the spiritual leader to whom Lengy refers instead of God, the usual spiritual entity invoked in these situations)

Make a list of any other idioms or sayings that Lengy consistently uses and discuss their meaning with students.

There are other idioms and sayings in the novel that are not particular to Lengy, but rather are characteristic of Australian English. Make a list of these and discuss their meaning. Examples include ‘You’re all right’ (page 30), ‘get dibs on’ (page 54) and ‘Count me in’ (page 109).

Reflecting on personal and cultural language use

In their reflection journal, have students write about the idioms or sayings that they (or members of their community) use. The aim is to reflect upon similarities and differences in language use to communicate meaning. Students might recall moments where communication breaks down if there is no shared understanding of the sayings that people use.

Teacher-guided comprehension of ‘adverbials’ and sentence structure

Make sure students have read at least up to page 100 of Chapter 6. This chapter is about the Thai and Buddhist festival of Songkran, which celebrates the coming of the Thai New Year.

Examine the short story on pages 96–100, focusing on page 98. On this page, Lengy shows Rajiv that part of Songkran involves pouring scented water on Buddhist monks and elders as a sign of respect. He and his brother Kitchai pour water into the hands of monks, who touch it to their faces. This religious part of the festival is meant to bring good luck to those who pour the water, as their bad luck is washed away.

Shared phrased and fluent reading

Model reading the text from page 98, placing emphasis on using a phrased and fluent manner. Students can follow along and share in some of the reading aloud, getting a sense for how some sentences are long (with phrases and clauses) and some are short. Discuss the effect of varying sentence length with students: it creates interesting and engaging writing and provides rhythm and flow across larger sections of text. Make sure students can ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ the phrasing within the sentences.

Identifying processes, participants and circumstances in clauses

Engage in a teacher-led revision of how to identify processes, participants and circumstantial information in clauses. Create a numbered list of all the sentences on page 98. Establish the pronoun-noun reference between ‘Every monk’ in the first sentence, and ‘Their’ in the second.

Analyse the second sentence as:

  • ‘Their voices’ = participant (noun group with a possessive pronoun)
  • ‘go up and down’ = process (action process – elaborated verb group with an adverb phrase)
  • ‘in mesmerising waves of sound’ = circumstance (prepositional phrase)

Discuss the added detail and inferred meaning about the manner in which the voices went up and down.

‘Adverbials’: adding detail about circumstances

Review students’ knowledge of ‘adverbials’: adverbs, adverb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases. Together develop an anchor chart that lists information about (and examples of) the circumstances and meanings they can add to clauses, such as:

time place manner
accompaniment matter cause
contingency role angle
Teacher-modelled deconstruction

Use sentences 1–4 to discuss the meaning of the added circumstantial detail.

  1. Note that there is a ‘comma splice’, which is often seen in literary texts, in sentence 1.
  2. Note the prepositional phrase beginning with the preposition ‘in’ (with a descriptive noun group).
  3. Note that this is a complex sentence, with a comma splice after the first clause and a subordinate clause beginning with ‘as’. There are three prepositional phrases beginning with ‘around’, ‘over’ and ‘into’.
  4. Note the elaborated verb group with the adverb phrase ‘up to’, and the relative clause in that adds detail about Luang Phaw.

This is an exercise in teaching comprehension; focus on how meaning is made from these sentences.

Differentiated groupwork

In small groups, students analyse selected sentences from page 98. Choose sentences that are easier to deconstruct for students who need extra support (or assist them in their work).

Students working to a more advanced level might be assigned an excerpt from pages 22–23, where the author uses adverbials to provide detail about the ‘Flyer Attack’ that Lengy and his brother inflict on Mr Roberts.

Whole group sharing

Students share the meaning they could make through the deconstruction of circumstantial information. Determine if this was literal or inferential comprehension. Discuss how meaning could be made differently if the author used no adverbials.

ACELA1521   EN3-6B   ACELA1523   EN3-6B   ACELT1617   EN3-7C

Rich assessment task

Reflection journal: sentence innovations

Students innovate on the excerpt from page 98 by playing with the author’s language, deleting or changing some of the circumstantial detail in sentences. They then share their innovations on their blog (or in their journal) so that the teacher and other students can read their work and provide feedback. Ensure that students remember how to provide feedback that is both positive and supportive of learning.

ACELY1717   EN3-2A   ACELT1800   EN3-2A

Rich assessment task

Telling ‘personal identity’ stories

Students create (or revise) a written short story or literary recount about a personal event that relates to their cultural and/or personal identity. They then identify a key moment in their story that can be turned into an illustrated/graphic short story.

Using the knowledge developed across this unit, students plan, draft, edit and digitally publish their written and illustrated short stories. They should consider the:

  • structure of a short story
  • sharing of cultural knowledge and identity through storytelling
  • rhythm of written language that can be generated from a variety of sentence structures
  • descriptive detail that can be added with carefully chosen adverbials
  • use of similes and metaphors to add descriptive detail
  • use of images to represent and convey meaning

Students may use a storyboard to plan and draft their work.

They should share their work with others, perhaps at a parent or community event embedded within a larger unit of study on culture and identity.

ACELT1800   EN3-2A   ACELY1714   EN3-2A