Introductory activities/pre-reading

Activity 1: Pre-reading

Begin with individual reflection on the prompts below as preparation for thinking through some of the themes of The Arrival. In pairs or groups, have students work through the following prompts to feed into a broader discussion about alienation and journeys. Prompt 1 focuses on a sense of aloneness or alienation, Prompt 2 is concerned with the objects that we identify with for pragmatic or sentimental reasons, while Prompt 3 is about unfamiliarity and a lack of connection. Form pairs or groups to share responses.

    • Prompt 1: Image titled Alone by Steve Evan (used under the creative commons license)
    • Prompt 2: Imagine you are five and planning to run away from home . . . what would you have packed?
    • Prompt 3: Think of a time when you were new to a place and couldn’t find your bearings, or didn’t know anyone else. Describe how you felt and if your sense of being in an unfamiliar place was resolved (if so, how?).

(ACELT1639)   (EN5-8D)

Activity 2: Visual collage

Choose key images from the text ensuring that these come from the beginning, middle and end of The Arrival. The number you choose should be equivalent to the number of students in your class.

Step 1
Provide each student with an image and guide their exploration with the following questions:

    • What is in the focus of this image? Is it because it seems illuminated, is in stronger lines, or is in the foreground?
    • What is happening in the image – either in that moment or what might come before or after this image?
    • Based on what you see, to which genre of storytelling might it belong: fairytale, horror, romance, mystery, drama, crime, soapie etc?
    • What is the mood of the image? How do light, placement of objects, selection of what is large/small or near/far guide your interpretation?

Step 2
Pair students, and direct them to discuss the following and try to come to an agreement:

    • How might these two images connect in a single narrative? That is, what story might they collectively tell?
    • How are the elements of light/dark, objects, size, movement and so on in each image similar or different?

Step 3
Pairs to form groups of 4 and repeat Step 2 putting all four images in a narrative sequence and collectively defending their choices.

Step 4
Groups can then justify their selection of narrative sequence to another group or the whole class.

An option for later

    • This exercise can be useful in sharpening attention during the full first reading of the text as individuals and groups look for and evaluate their interpretations of their images, and the sequences they predicted.
    • Collect and store these images. At the conclusion of the first reading, it can be a rowdy/fun activity to see how accurately the class can reorder their images to match Tan’s narrative. A follow-up discussion will enable students to articulate how narrative works to give The Arrival its structure, meaning and impact.

(ACELA1566)   (ACELA1567)   (ACELA1572)   (ACELT1640)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELY1749)  (EN5-1A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)

Personal response on reading the text

Every student must have access to the text.

Activity 3: 10 facts, 10 questions

During the reading, students are encouraged to return to their responses to Activities 1 and 2.

Step 1
During the first reading, students attend closely to images and engage with the narrative. For this first reading, encourage students to look for:

    • events involving the protagonist
    • changing settings
    • the development of the narrative
    • recurring motifs and themes.

Step 2
Direct discussion to arrive at 10 facts and 10 questions.

    • 10 facts based on the reading of The Arrival about which the class can be certain (e.g. it is a fantasy landscape, it’s a man going on a trip).
    • 10 questions that the class have not yet resolved (e.g. is he a refugee? Why are there so many birds? What’s the point of this book?).

Keep these questions on display or accessible as students undertake subsequent activities and readings. The purpose is to allow students to review their growing understanding and appreciation of the text.
(ACELT1639)   (ACELT1640)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1754)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-8D)


Outline of key elements of the text (notes for teachers)

A selection of key themes explored in this unit

    • Journey as personal and universal experience
    • Belonging/alienation/disconnection
    • Home/family/belonging
    • Global politics involving peace, conflict, oppression and migration

Elements of the setting covered in this unit

    • Surrealism, emphasising alienation and universality
    • Extensive use of boats, water and harbours
    • The passage of time revealed in images of seasons, weather, day/night, migration of birds, clock faces
    • Familiar, yet unfamiliar settings: for example, harbours, shopping precincts, animals, cooking utensils, food, billboards

Key characters

    • The protagonist is a family man who migrates, with papers, to a foreign land. He has indeterminate racial facial features. However, there are suggestions along the way representing multiple racial possibilities. For example, in Chapter II there is a suggestion that he may be from an oppressed and publicly shamed racial group via tags on clothing reminiscent of the Star of David and the Holocaust.
    • Chapter III: A young woman of Asian appearance helps the protagonist purchase a boat ticket and they share their story via their papers. She has fled persecution and arrived at the same destination.
    • Chapter III: A middle-aged family man of Anglo-European appearance befriends the protagonist and takes him home to share a meal. It becomes clear that he and his family have escaped war and arrived at the same destination.
    • Chapter IV: An elderly factory worker, possibly Eastern European, who communicates his story of leaving home, going to war as a soldier, suffering injury and finally arriving at the same destination.


  • It is structured in six chapters marking the progress of the journey.
  • Cohesion and narrative thread are also provided by the repeated use of motifs: origami, boats, teapots, hands, birds, and so on.
  • The plot is constructed without any recognisable print text and solely through the use, placement, size and sequencing of images.
  • A glint of promise in the suggestion of blue skies ahead in the final image.

The artist’s craft particularly relevant to study of The Arrival

    • Use of parallels and contrasts (war/peace, harmony/tension).
    • Symbols/motifs (birds, teapots, boats, water, serpents).
    • Visual devices.

Activity 4: Close Study  the first three pages

This activity is teacher-directed, leading students to a later independent/small group activity. As well as modelling the process, teachers will provide the metalanguage for deconstruction and discussion of individual images and the text as a whole (see the metalanguage links provided in the ‘more digital resources’ section below).

Step 1
Move beyond the title pages to the sequence of nine images that open The Arrival.

    • What do you notice about the use of colour?
    • What tools has the artist used to create the images?
    • What repetition do you notice in the first three pages? What do you think that might mean?
    • How is the narrative established?
    • How is the mood established?
    • When and where do you think the story is set, and what makes you think so?

Step 2
Look at pages two and three (nine images on page two, followed by full page image of protagonist and wife):

    • Why has Tan chosen a layout with nine individual drawings, and then moved to a full page image?
    • What story does the full page image provide or hint at?
    • What elements in that image seem to have special meaning and contribute to the development of the story?
    • What motifs are already evident in these three pages?

Step 3
Download this proforma table (PDF, 26KB) for students to use to work individually, in pairs or small groups to deconstruct one of the nine double-page images in The Arrival.

Step 4
These short interviews show Shaun Tan talking about the creation of The Arrival. Each clip will support, validate or throw into question some of the student responses. Now select from the following interviews. Each interview with Tan is one to two minutes in length and relates to this activity.

    • Interview 3 of 16: How long did it take to create The Arrival?
    • Interview 4 of 16: How did your vision evolve?
    • Interview 6 of 16: Why a sepia colour scheme?
    • Interview 7 of 16: What are the challenges of creating a wordless book?
    • Interview 8 of 16: What do the serpents above the city symbolise?
    • Interview 9 of 16: Were the drawings inspired by Ellis Island (US) photographs?
    • Interview 10 of 16: What is the meaning behind the violent image with giants?

See the YouTube clips on Tan’s work: Shaun Tan invites you into his studio and The Arrival a Book That Anyone Can Read.

Step 5
Group feedback, reflection and conclusions. This should include reference back to the 10 Facts, 10 Questions (see Activity 3).
(ACELA1566)   (ACELA1567)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1754)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)


Text and meaning

Activity 5: Themes and narrative

Using knowledge from the previous activity, students should work through the following steps with teacher guidance. Group and individual support should be negotiated at all times to ensure differentiation and engagement.

Step 1
Students to select one double-page spread and discuss how that image suggests a theme or aspect of the narrative.

Step 2
Using a theme or aspect of the narrative you have just discussed, locate a single page containing a collage of between four and twelve images that connects with that same theme. Referring back to the proforma table (downloadable PDF, 26KB) and using the elements and metalanguage detailed, examine that page and determine how the images contribute to that theme.

Step 3
Revisit the entire text to map out the overall narrative structure. Set this out as a simple timeline, identifying the key development for each of the six chapters.

Step 4
Based on everything you have explored to date, decide what you believe are the central themes of The Arrival.

Step 5
Shaun Tan’s website will support, validate or throw into question some of the student responses.

Step 6
Once students have arrived at their own conclusions, view Shaun Tan talking about his work.

Step 7
Revisit 10 facts, 10 questions (see Activity 3).
(ACELY1753)   (ACELY1754)   (ACELT1774)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)

Ways of reading the text

One theoretical approach is to adapt Green’s 3D Model of Literacyoriginally designed to support the integration of ICTs in literacy education. However the model can be, and has been, adapted to support an integrated conceptual model for teaching and learning more broadly within English. In this case, Green’s 3D Model is used to support teachers to deconstruct the text according to three overlapping dimensions, in no particular order, to ensure thorough analysis and preparation for teaching. While students are not expected to engage with the theoretical model, its use may support teaching that facilitates students to engage with the text in its entirety and complexity.

The three dimensions are the Operational, Cultural and Critical dimensions.

    • Operational: Ask yourself and the students, how is this text made? What has the creator used to make the text? How has s/he put it together? In the case of The Arrival, what has Tan used to draw the images? How has he created mood, setting and character? How has he sequenced and sized and contrasted images to create a narrative?
    • Cultural: As you study this text, ask yourself and your students, what is familiar here? What is connected to your experience, your community, your nation, your world? What prior knowledge, or knowledge of other texts, do you bring to this book in order to make sense of it? In what ways do the inner front and back cover collages of individuals make this a more global and universal story?
    • Critical: Ask yourself and your students what you think Tan feels for migrants and refugees. Does he have a particular view of the experience and how does he communicate those beliefs or values? Is there an alternative view of migration and the refugee experience? What might someone with values in opposition to Tan say or feel about this book? How might you transform one of Tan’s images to reveal an alternative view? Might we feel differently if Tan depicted the protagonist as: a) an anti-government rebel b) a leader in an oppressive regime c) a single man d) single woman e) clearly belonging to a current refugee group such as Afghanis, Sri Lankans or other, or f) disabled?

While conceptualised separately here, readers learn to address all three dimensions simultaneously, and any of the three dimensions might be the entry point. This downloadable graphic (PDF, 256KB) provides another representation of the model in relation to The Arrival.

Activity 6: Critical and cultural readings

Many of Shaun Tan’s works have appeared in various forms whether as film, on stage, or on the web as readings. The purpose of this following activity is to support cultural and critical readings of The Arrival. Students will examine how The Arrival represents one man’s interpretation of the migrant experience within the context of time, place and values, and how different readers arrive at individual interpretations.

Step 1
View this stop animation and decide which aspects of the story are emphasised by this creator. What is missing that you think should have been included?

Step 2
Watch this online review by a deaf person. How is their reading of The Arrival different from your own?

Step 3
View Shaun Tan revisiting the meaning of his book and how others have interpreted it. How does this support a view that every text is created and appreciated within distinct times, places and values?

(ACELA1564)   (ACELA1565)   (ACELA1572)   (ACELT1639)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1812)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1752)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)  (EN5-7D)   (EN5-8D)

Activity 7: Go back to where you came from (SBS series 2011)

Watch this promotional video for the SBS series, Go back to where you came from and consider using a full episode. After viewing the promo, have students consider the following questions:

    • What resonance is evident between The Arrival and this video?
    • How would you cope being sent over the oceans on a leaky boat?
    • From the promo, or your knowledge of the series, what views of refugees and migrants are presented?
    • How is this similar to or different from The Arrival?

(ACELA1564)   (ACELA1565)   (ACELA1572)   (ACELT1639)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1812)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1752)   (ACELT1774)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-8D)

Activity 8: The Rabbits and intertextuality

The Rabbits by John Marsden, illustrated by Shaun Tan.

Step 1
Before commencing reading of this text to the class, consider features of the illustrations that resonate with those in The Arrival (colour, symbols/motifs etc).

Step 2
Following the reading, students should address the following questions according to the Operational, Cultural and Critical dimensions.


    • What motifs are evident in both books and what do they suggest?
    • What aspects of visual literacy, such as vectors, light and shade or framing, were most apparent to you?


    • What indications are there in the text that this is a story of European arrival/invasion of Australia?
    • What aspects of the migrant experience are highlighted in both The Rabbits and The Arrival?


    • From this text what do you believe are Marsden’s and Tan’s views of European arrival/invasion of Australia?
    • The last line of this book suggests that the Indigenous population are passive and looking for someone else to stop the rabbits. Consider two or three possible responses to this final question and the text as a whole.
    • Given Tan’s work in both The Arrival and The Rabbits, consider how they might be construed as two sides of the same story of global movement of populations?

(ACELA1564)   (ACELA1565)   (ACELA1572)   (ACELT1639)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1812)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1752)   (ACELT1774)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-8D)

Activity 9: Visual intertextuality

It is significant that Tan has drawn from human experience of the Holocaust in Europe (1940s), arrival at Ellis Island off New York (1892–1924), news reports of the sinking of the Titanic (1912), and Tom Roberts’ early Australian painting, Coming South(1885–86). The following intertextual examples might be the basis of productive classroom discussion or writing leading to further insights, and add texture and understanding to their reading of the original text. Compare the images below from The Arrival to those on the webpages provided:

 Images from The Arrival Comparable images
Image in Shaun Tan's 'The Arrival' on seventh page of chapter II
Seventh page of chapter II
Tom Roberts: Coming South
Image in Shaun Tan's 'The Arrival' on fourteenth page of chapter II
Fourteenth page of Chapter II
Photograph: Ellis Island: Gateway to America 
Image in Shaun Tan's 'The Arrival' on fifteenth page of chapter II
Fifteenth page of Chapter II
(also refer to the sixteenth page)
Photograph: Czechoslovakia
Image in Shaun Tan's 'The Arrival' on twenty-fourth page of chapter II
Twenty-fourth page of Chapter II
Photograph: The Titanic News Boy

These images have been reproduced with the permission of the publisher and all rights are reserved. The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Lothian Children’s Books, an imprint of Hachette Australia, 2006.

(ACELA1564)   (ACELA1565)   (ACELA1572)   (ACELT1639)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1812)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1752)   (ACELT1774)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-8D)


Rich Assessment task 1 (receptive)

Awarding The Arrival

In this assessment task, students will move beyond the text itself, and even its intertextual links, to examine it as an artefact of Australian culture and literature.

Step 1
Explore the list of awards won by Shaun Tan. One of the international awards he has won is The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize. When you follow this link you will find a list of past winners and their citations (or a brief description of why they have won the award). You will need to scroll down to 2011 to find Shaun Tan’s citation.

Step 2
Students, individually or in groups according to need/interest/preference, will invent a new award for Shaun Tan that represents what they value about his text. The task has a number of necessary components:

      • Creating an original title for the award.
      • Creating the citation or reason for the award (in 50 words or less).
      • Designing and constructing a logo for the award or making a three dimension trophy or medal.
      • Writing a short speech that might be delivered in a presentation of the award to Shaun Tan. Make sure to include the reasons for the award and in particular his distinctive contribution to Australian Literature (250 words).
      • Imagining that you are Shaun Tan receiving the award. Here you must draw on your understanding of The Arrival and of interviews of Shaun Tan that you have viewed (100 words).

Download the assesssment rubric (PDF, 204KB) created for this assignment, and the performance standards referenced within that rubric. This task should be accessible to all students with support. Those who merit greater challenge should be directed to explore the place of Shaun Tan’s work within the tradition of Australian literature, or to locate other Australian texts offering alternative perspectives.

(ACELA1572)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELT1815)   (ACELT1644)   (ACELY1756)   (ACELY1757)   (ACELY1776)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-6C)

Referenced works

Durrant, C., Green, B. “Literacy and the new technologies in school education: Meeting the l(IT)eracy challenge?” Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 23.2 (2000): 89-108.

Green, B., Beavis, C. Literacy in 3D: An integrated perspective in theory and practice. ACER, 2012.

Synthesising core ideas

Activity 10: 5 New Facts, 5 New Questions

Return to the original 10 Facts, 10 Questions (Activity 3 and Activities 4 and 5) and focus on students’ cumulative understanding and confidence with the text. To illustrate this, have students redevelop the list with the most significant five facts they have learnt along the way. Also, add five new questions that cannot be answered directly by the text (this is often the case when readers first encounter good literature).

(ACELA1566)   (ACELA1567)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1754)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)


Rich assessment task 2 (productive)

In this task, students will reflect on change within their own lives. Each student will identify a starting point and then represent the transformation that has taken place up until the present. They must use simple images and no written language as per The Arrival.

Replicate The Arrival’s opening and closing pages

The images Tan has created for the first page of the book are nine symbols of what is significant to the protagonist at the beginning of his journey. However, on the first page of the final chapter, the reader finds eight of these symbols remain significant, even though they are now transformed in some way. Note that one symbol has been removed (suitcase) and replaced by another signifying change. Understanding the significance of the symbols in the opening page and the first page of the sixth and final chapter is at the heart of the assignment. Students will select symbols that have relevance in their lives although transformed across time and place. For example:

    • A student whose family has always loved music may choose a family piano as one image for his starting point, and this may then be transformed into an iPod with earplugs in the final collage (piano/iPod).
    • A girl who is missing the absence of someone or a place in her life may begin with an image of the person or place. She may then conclude with a symbol of how that same person/place continues in another form within her current life (grandma’s portrait/loveheart; father/cricket ball; farm gate/city letter box).
    • A student who has always cared for animals may choose an image of a rabbit he got for his fifth birthday, and this may then be transformed into the border collie he walks every night during Year 10 (rabbit/dog).
    • Another student who loves spending time with her mum, may use an image from the playground for the first collage and this may then be transformed into a symbol of her current favourite shared activity (playground swing/abseiling ropes).

Step 1
Students will identify and begin to develop ideas for a visual representation of six or nine motifs for the starting point. Eventually they will represent these using photography, sketches, painting, collages or other visual media. Before they begin that stage, they must consider Step 2 because this will influence their choices.

Step 2
Now they will turn to Tan’s last page of nine images (the first page of Chapter VI). They should study how the original images they considered in Step 1 have now been transformed as a result of the protagonist’s experience and the passage of time. For example, students might consider the transformation of the origami creature, or the clock, or hand-drawn image.  In addition, they should consider the absence of a suitcase at the end of the journey and its replacement. These are symbols that have been repeated throughout the text and will have been raised in discussion.

Step 3
Students should draw a grid creating six or nine spaces to plan a six or nine image collage. Each image should be a significant symbol of their own lives and form the starting point (see examples above).

Step 4
As per Step 2, yet this time the grid will be used to create the final six or nine image collage, representing change or passage of time (see examples above). Advice for students:

    • Aim to create cohesion and narrative through the use of a similar and consistent style within this assignment. For example, you might use only one or two colours in each image, or if using photography, a consistent style in Instagram may be effective.
    • Ensure the images are very simple and focus on a single item or collection of similar things. Simplicity is part of the power of these images.
    • There is no need to be overly ambitious. If you are not confident with visual literacy keep it simple as it is the selection as well as the communication of ideas that is vital here. On the other hand if your strength is visual arts, don’t forget to focus on the selection of images and how you use your skills to communicate this.

Step 5
Create a double page spread: on the left will be the six or nine images from the starting point and on the right, the six or nine images from the present.

Step 6
Once completed students will form small groups. Without providing any oral or written commentary, the creator of collages is to allow other group members to discuss what they believe is the meaning and significance of their symbols from the first to the second collage. A useful process is for each of the group members to make one interpretative comment and raise one question. This proceeds without any comment from the creator until each member has spoken. It is then the creator’s opportunity to respond to interpretations, challenging where necessary and addressing questions raised. This continues until every creator has had their turn.

It is suggested that the group work concludes with peer and self-assessment. The assessment by the teacher is similar to our assessment of Tan’s work as a reader:

    • How successful is this collection and sequence of images at conveying narrative?
    • Which visual literacy techniques are apparent here?
    • Has the student demonstrated understanding of colour, framing, vectors and so on?

Although English teachers are accustomed to assessing verbal or written language, in this case students are using the same mode of communication used within The Arrival,assessed on its merits as a narrative. Please download the collage rubric (PDF, 194KB) created for this assignment based on the Year 10 Achievement Standard.

(ACELA1567)   (ACELT1814)   (ACELT1815)   (ACELT1644)   (ACELY1756)   (ACELY1757)   (ACELY1776)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-6C)