Connecting to prior knowledge
Prior to reading, display the cover of The Feather to the class. Invite students to share their predictions as to how the text may unfold and to explain their reasoning. Prompt them to consider the importance the feather may hold within the text, referring to the visual techniques incorporated in the cover illustration (for example, the contrast between the muted colour palette and the lightness surrounding the feather).
Invite students to add their predictions about the text, their thoughts about the feather and their reasoning for each to a class mind map entitled The Feather. Each student’s predictions should be added as individual branches from the ‘Predictions’ topic with their initials at the end.
Alternatively, predictions may be recorded in students’ reading books or on sticky notes, which can then be added to a physical mind map made with butcher’s paper.
Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’
After a shared reading of the text, invite students to discuss their initial thoughts with a partner before sharing with the class. Display the class mind map and ask students to compare their initial predictions of the feather’s significance to their current understanding. Draw attention to the idea that the feather acts as an important symbol within the text, signifying hope and freedom in a world that is bleak and dark. Ask students if they have read or viewed similar texts or are reminded of any societal issues, such as global warming. Add any new suggestions to the mind map under the ‘Similar Texts’ and ‘World Connections’ topics.
Personal symbols activity
Organise a discussion circle in which each student shares an artefact from home that symbolises something important to them, such as their passion for music or their cultural heritage. Direct students to introduce their artefact to the group and explain what it symbolises to them personally. Prompt the class to consider that the same artefacts may be valued differently by individuals, cultures and communities (much like in The Feather), and that it is important to respect perspectives that differ from our own.
School and community symbols activity
Facilitate a research task (PDF, 172KB) where students work in groups of 3–4 to examine important artefacts in their school and local community (e.g. emblems, logos, plaques, statues, memorials), considering what abstract concepts they symbolise. Each group should complete the worksheet for at least two artefacts and add key information to the class mind map under the ‘Community Connections’ topic. Remind students that this task will require deep thinking alongside research, and that many of the answers they require cannot necessarily be found online. Students may need to consult staff members, past students or community members.
Rich assessment task
Students are to select one artefact from their research task and write a paragraph that discusses its symbolism for their community and for them personally. Focus on drawing connections between a physical artefact and the abstract concepts it represents (for example, bravery).
Responding to the text
Character analysis activity
Reread The Feather with a view to analyse the characters’ differing perspectives and motives. Then ask students to think about why many of the characters had different ideas about how to care for the feather. Prompt them to consider factors such as age, role in the community and prior experiences.
Place students in groups of 3–4 to complete a character analysis (PDF, 91KB) of one character from the text (some groups will need to study the same character, depending on numbers):
- the doctor
- the lawyer
- the mayor
Ensure that each character is represented at least once. Invite the groups to add key points to the class mind map under the ‘Character Analysis’ topic.
Once the analyses have been completed, facilitate a jigsaw discussion in new groups of five (with each member having analysed a different character). Prompt students to share their analyses, discuss and compare the characters’ actions and motives, and consider the purpose of these differing perspectives within the text (for example, building tension).
Character dialogue activity
Place students in groups of 3–4 to rework the character dialogue within the text (from ‘It’s like a piece of sky!’ to ‘You children brought this hideous object here…’). Students may leave existing dialogue as is, but add their own ideas about how the feather should be cared for, represented as additional characters. Encourage them to think deeply about their own views and how they would fit within the text.
As an extension activity, introduce two new characters to students: an elderly woman who was part of the Order of the White Feather during WWII; and an elderly man who, in his earlier years, once received a white feather in his letter box. What dialogue might these characters have added to the text?
Invite each group to perform their dialogue in front of the class. Facilitate a closing discussion in which students share their characters’ decisions and their personal reasons for treating the feather in a particular way. They should consider how the plot may have changed if their own ideas were included in the text.
Exploring plot, character, setting and theme
Setting analysis activity
Reread The Feather again, this time focusing on setting, then use the following prompts to promote a discussion:
- Where is the text set? How do we know?
- Do you relate to any features of the setting? Does the setting remind you of anything in particular?
- Are we offered much information about the world the characters live in and how it came to be? Why or why not?
- How do the illustrations add to our understanding of the setting? Would we have the same ideas about the setting if there were no illustrations?
- What does the setting tell us about the purpose of the text? What messages might the author and illustrator be trying to convey?
Present this image to students and read the accompanying article. Prompt students to compare the images and messages in the article to the illustrations and messages in The Feather, considering the connections and differences between the two. Direct them to revisit the ‘World Connections’ topic from their class mind map, and to add new ideas and thoughts to the ‘Setting Analysis’ topic.
Rich assessment task
Direct students to write an extended personal response (at least half a page) to The Feather. They may choose to respond to either the characters or the setting.
- Which character’s opinions and actions do you find most relatable? Explain why.
- Why do you think the author decided to include differing perspectives in the text?
- What parts of the setting do you find relatable? Explain why.
- What messages do you feel the author and illustrator are trying to convey, based on the way they have represented the story’s setting?
Examining text structure and organisation
Narrative structure matching activity
Reread The Feather to students, this time focusing on the text’s purpose. After reading, invite students to share their thoughts about the purpose and any evidence that supports their opinion. Discuss the typical structure of a narrative (orientation, complication, resolution) and whether this structure is reflected in The Feather.
The book devotes a single phrase to the opening orientation. It is atypically short; we don’t know where the story is set, the country or location in which it takes place, etc. Discuss why an author would do this.
Visit the author Margaret Wild’s Wiki page to find out about her early life. Also visit the illustrator Freya Blackwood’s Wiki page. What could we infer about their early lives and the visual representations in the story?
Direct students to complete a narrative structure matching activity in groups of 3–4. Write key events from the text on the whiteboard for all students to see clearly (e.g. the feather falls to the ground, Maria and Nico find the feather, Maria and Nico are unsure of what to do). Also display the following stage/phase labels to help students label the key events:
- Introduction to characters
- Attempted solution
- Response to complication
Remind students that the activity may be challenging, and that group members may have differing opinions about how each stage or phase of the text should be labelled. Furthermore, not all labels necessarily need to be used, and some key events may be described using more than one label.
After completing the activity, discuss the findings as a whole class. Ask the following questions:
- Is it okay to have different thoughts about the label or purpose for each part of the text?
- How does this text differ from the traditional narrative structure?
- How does this structure help meet the text’s overarching purpose?
- What is the effect of having multiple complications within the text?
- Were all problems ‘solved’ at the end? What is the value of having an ambiguous ending?
- What effect does this structure have on the reader? Does it make the text more interesting, complex, thought provoking?
- Why would an author have such a short orientation to a text?
Visual analysis activity
Reread The Feather twice more: once without showing the illustrations, and once showing the illustrations. Ask students to consider the illustrations’ effect on our understanding of the story. Revisit the purpose of the text – how do the illustrations contribute to this?
Explain and discuss the following visual techniques with students:
- salience (vectors, etc.)
- placement of subjects and text
- perspective (the angles at which subjects are depicted)
- use of colour
Show students the filters that can be applied to iPhone photos (vivid, vivid warm, vivid cool, dramatic, dramatic warm, dramatic cool, mono, silvertone, noir). Then have them identify the filters as they might apply to various scenes from The Feather. Note the use of colour for Maria and Nico.
Model analysing one illustration from the text using the above techniques (see More Resources for background information on visual literacy). Then direct students to work in groups of 3–4 to analyse their own illustration. Ensure that each group analyses a different illustration (where possible) and records their work in their reading books. Students must consider each technique and its effect on the audience. Invite them to add key points to the class mind map under the ‘Visual Analysis’ topic.
Facilitate another jigsaw discussion with new groups of five students who have each analysed different illustrations. Prompt them to share their analyses, considering the similarities and differences between illustrations and exploring the effect that visual techniques have on our understanding of the characters and key events.
Revise the visual techniques covered in the previous activity. Display the class mind map and direct students’ attention to the ‘Visual Analysis’ topic.
- What did we learn about visual techniques in The Feather?
- How do they add meaning to the story?
Ask students to revisit their character dialogues from the Responding section of this unit, and to return to the same groups in which they wrote their scripts. Explain that they will now create illustrations to match their script, keeping in mind the aforementioned visual techniques and the way that these can afford a deeper understanding and insight into the sophisticated meaning of texts.
Assist students to delegate responsibilities so that each group member completes a different illustration for a different section of their script. Invite groups to present their completed illustrations to the class, and to share insights into the techniques employed and the potential for adding meaning to the text.
Examining grammar and vocabulary
There are opportunities to explore the use of quoted speech in this text.
In small groups, ask students to select three examples where quoted speech is used, reminding them to note the punctuation. Then ask them to rewrite the selected passages as direct and indirect speech. The examples below are from page 11.
|Direct speech||Indirect speech||Comment|
|‘It’s like a piece of the sky!’ says one.||One person said it looked like a piece of the sky.||The direct speech makes you think the person is surprised or even amazed.|
|‘Its like opening the curtains to let in the light,’ says another. ‘Do you remember that?’||Another person said the feather was like opening up the curtains to let the light in.||We like the break in the direct speech. There is more surprise in the direct speech and the gap between speaking and asking a question gets the reader’s attention. When reading aloud, the reader has to modulate their voice twice to take on the character, and this adds to the impact.|
Each group member should help check the punctuation in the examples from the text. Prompt a discussion around direct and indirect speech:
- What difference does it make?
- Is the example from the text better than the alternative? Why?
Finish up by providing time for students to compare their findings with other texts accessible in the classroom, or with their own writing.
Rich assessment task
Students are to select one illustration created for their script, and one key visual technique that conveys meaning within that illustration. They will then write a half-page response that explains the effect of this technique on the audience and their understanding of the text.
Creating a story map and narrative plan
Display the class mind map on the whiteboard. Revisit students’ earlier work on personal, school and community symbols (from the Literature section). Recap the feather as a symbol within the text and discuss its importance:
- What did the feather symbolise?
- How did it add to the narrative?
- How did different characters respond to the feather, and how did this give us additional information about each character?
Explain that students will construct a narrative to demonstrate their learnings from The Feather, using techniques explored within the text and discussed in class. Direct students to revisit the class mind map and their own notes to develop some ideas for their narrative. They must select a symbol that will play a key role within their narrative. Once they have chosen their symbol, they should develop a story map/plan in which they detail the structure of their story; explain the relevance of their symbol and the ways it will create deeper meaning within the text; and plan their setting, characters and the overarching message they wish to convey through their writing.
Experimenting with narrative structure
Revise what students have learned about the structure of The Feather:
- What did we notice about the text’s structure?
- Did it follow the form of a standard narrative? Why/why not?
- What effect did this structure have on the reader?
- Did it make the story more exciting/suspenseful/interesting?
- How else could we experiment with narrative text structure in our own writing?
Lead the class in a joint construction activity, with students contributing ideas to a narrative introduction that you write on the whiteboard or butcher’s paper. Focus on modelling experimentation with text structure to create a more thought-provoking and suspenseful narrative (e.g. beginning the narrative with a complication or an attempted solution to a problem; varying sentence length to capture the reader’s attention).
Now – keeping in mind their planning, the model text (The Feather) and the jointly constructed narrative introduction – direct students to write the introduction to their own narrative. Remind them that their creativity in manipulating the order of the narrative’s stages and phases will be assessed at the end of the unit.
Practising showing, not telling
Revisit students’ work on character and setting (from the Responding section) by displaying the class mind map and drawing attention to the ‘Character Analysis’ and ‘Setting Analysis’ topics. Invite students to discuss the ways the text offered the reader information about these elements:
- Did Margaret Wild write descriptions of the characters or setting?
- Aside from the illustrations, how was information about these elements of the story provided?
Explain that Wild described her characters and setting by subtly showing rather than telling. This helps to build suspense, as key information is provided through events within the text and through the eyes of other characters or subjects.
Present students with a ‘telling’ character description. For example:
Maria was a girl with long mousy brown hair. She was a good girl, always doing what her mother told her. On this day, she was washing the clothes in a bucket with a washboard. She stopped when she saw a feather fall. Leaving the washboard in the bucket, she walked over to the feather.
Now present Wild’s introduction to Maria as she does the washing with Nico (refer to the text for the full description). Ask students to decide which description was more effective in building suspense and why. Have them think-pair-share before discussing as a class. Draw their attention to the use of figurative language and varied sentence length and explain that, overall, the second description built more intrigue because the author showed rather than told.
Explore the text for examples of literary features, and discuss the power they add to the text.
|Simile||The feather is as light as a thistledown.
It’s like a piece of the sky.
It’s like opening the curtains to let in the light.
A streak of blue and white, just like a long-ago summer day.
|Personification||A muddy stain creeps along the feather.
The feather stirs as if it has taken a breath, or it is trying to catch a breeze.
Perhaps when it is safe.
Maria and Nico snuggle against the feather, keeping each other warm.
|Alliteration||Dull and dingy.
To let in the light.
A brilliant blue.
|Assonance||Dozens of eager hands reach for it.
We must preserve this treasure.
|Prepositional phrases||Out of the years, through the woods, past the tumbledown church, along the road to the village.
Out of the village, along the road, through the woods, back to the years; through the woods, across the fields and up the scrubby hill to the clifftop above the sea.
|Symbolism||white/blue is ‘safe’ and brown is ‘unsafe’|
|Single word sentences||Flutters. Wobbles. Dips. Soars.|
|Repetition of phrases||We must … We should … We should …|
Returning to the jointly constructed introduction, invite students to contribute to a passage that shows further information about its setting. Encourage students to consider direct speech, varied sentence length and figurative language (e.g. simile, personification, alliteration, assonance, prepositional phrases, symbolism, single word sentences, repetition of phrases) as a way of creating suspense and adding rhythm and flow.
Following this activity, have students continue their own narrative, practising the ‘showing’ skills modelled during the joint construction. Remind them that their finished piece will be assessed for evidence of a symbol that adds layers of meaning; quality of description; and experimentation with narrative structure.
Rich assessment task
Ensure students are given sufficient time to complete, edit and publish their narrative. Assess the complete narratives for evidence of a symbol that adds layers of meaning; quality of description; and experimentation with narrative structure.