Connecting to prior knowledge

Freedom: what does it mean to me?

The word ‘freedom’ is powerful and is used in a lot of different situations. It can have a different meaning for different people. The following activities will foster students’ consideration of the word ‘freedom’ and what it means to them and to others.

  1. Show students the video ‘What Does Freedom Mean to You?’, which shows people from 23 countries using a simple phrase or sentence to express their understanding of the term ‘freedom’. Play the video twice and, on the second viewing, pause on some of the people’s responses to allow the students to discuss them. For instance:
    • Italy (liberation from expectation): how might other people’s expectations inhibit freedom?
    • Bulgaria (being yourself): what might stop us from being ourselves/who we are?
    • Russia (the absence of fear): how does fear affect people’s behaviours and decisions?
    • Hong Kong (doing what your heart wants): is that always possible?
    • Philippines (creating your own existence): what does it mean to create your own existence?
    • Mexico (a utopia that doesn’t really exist): what do you think?
    • Australia (not working, going to the beach): what does this person’s comment reveal about her idea of freedom?
  1. Together explore the following words drawn from the comments in the video: ‘liberating’, ‘oppression’, ‘limitations’, ‘power’.
  2. Ask students to choose and share one quote from the video that best expresses their own idea or understanding of freedom. Have them draw or paint a picture that depicts or symbolises its meaning.
  3. Another video that might be viewed and considered in the same way is ‘Kids on Words – Freedom’. In this clip, young South African children share their thoughts on what freedom means.
  4. Show the students some typical freedom symbols. For example, a bird flying high in the blue sky; an open natural space; shackles being removed; someone running through a vast field; releasing a butterfly; an expanse of water; or people dancing. Put students in groups of three, give each group one of the symbols/images and have them discuss why it might be used to represent freedom. You can use a website like Shutterstock to source visuals to prompt students’ thinking and ideas.
  5. Select one or two picture books from the list below and discuss each one in terms of how it portrays the concept of ‘freedom’ – i.e. how the concept is expressed in the storyline, and the specific message or idea about ‘freedom’.
    • Dreams of Freedom by Amnesty International (2015). This book presents the aspects of freedom that comprise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It contains quotes from famous freedom crusaders from around the world, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and Sally Morgan.
    • Perfect by Danny Parker (illus. Freya Blackwood) (2017), which is about three children enjoying the carefree experience of hanging out together at the beach on a ‘perfect’ summer’s day: digging for shells, paddling, climbing and dreaming.
    • The Last Tiger by Petr Horacek (2019), which is about a strong and proud tiger who learns about the importance of freedom when taken and held in captivity by human poachers.
  1. Invite students to compose and present a short oral text about the ways that they experience freedom in their own lives (at home, school and other social settings), AND/OR a place or experience where they feel most free.

(ACELY1796)   (ACELY1700)   (EN3-1A)

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

What are the incredible freedom machines?

Show students the cover of The Incredible Freedom Machines and have them work in pairs to examine and discuss the title and the illustration. Some questions to prompt their thinking are:

  • When you look at the image on the front cover, how does it make you feel? Why?
  • Why has the author/illustrator created an image from which we can draw different interpretations?
  • Why do you think the girl’s dress and telescope are such vivid colours in relation to the overall scene?
  • What do you think the girl is looking for?
  • What do you think freedom machines are? What do you think they might do?
  • Why would freedom machines be described as ‘incredible’?
  • Would they be easy or hard to find? Why or why not?

(ACELY1702)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELA1502)   (EN3-8D)

Rich assessment task


After analysing and discussing the front cover (refer to the previous activity), have students ponder the text’s content in terms of:

  • how it might relate to the topic of freedom
  • the ideas that might be presented in the story
  • possible events in the story that involve the girl

This activity might be undertaken independently, whereby students quietly contemplate the book’s cover and the previous discussion and record their ideas and predictions in writing. After this, the students can come together to share what they wrote, and compare their ideas and thoughts and the reasons for them.

(ACELY1702)   (EN3-3A)

Responding to the text

Quick response discussion

After reading the text aloud, have students share their responses to the following questions:

  • What is your first reaction or response to the text after hearing it for the first time?
  • How does the story make you feel? Why? What background experiences are you drawing upon to make meaning of the text in this way?
  • What idea is suggested by the story? Why are we ‘reading’ this text differently?

Read the text a second time and have the students further consider the questions, and perhaps expand or change their responses.

Ask students why they might have changed their responses. Is it because they’ve noticed more detail in the illustrations? Is it because another student said something that evoked a different background experience? Help the students to be conscious of how they actively make meaning from a text.

Have students interview each other to identify responses that differ from their own.

(ACELA1502)   (ACELT1610)   (EN3-8D)

Text to self

Re-read the sections of the text that describe the girl’s early experience of using her freedom machine.

Have students describe similar experiences of their own: times when they learned a new skill (for example, reading or riding a bike) and were perhaps unsure but determined to succeed.

(ACELY1703) (EN3-3A)

Response statements

Use the following introductory phrases to prompt students’ responses to the text. A phrase might be used in relation to one event in the text, or to a page in the book as a whole.

  • I wonder…
  • I was reminded of…
  • I know the feeling of…
  • I love the way…
  • I noticed…
  • I was surprised by…

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Determining character traits

The protagonist in The Incredible Freedom Machines is the young girl. The author does not describe her qualities or traits directly, but rather allows us to learn about them from what occurs in the story. Have the students work in pairs with a copy of the book to complete the following activity:

  • Read the book together and carefully examine the events (as told through the words and pictures) to determine what they infer about the girl’s qualities or traits.
  • Decide on four words that might be used to describe the girl (e.g. determined, persistent, brave, hopeful, imaginative, adventurous). Consult a dictionary or thesaurus if necessary.
  • Highlight the event or action in the story that provides evidence for their choices.

The pairs of students might then form larger groups to share their ideas, or each pair might share one quality or trait (word/adjective) in a whole class conversation, giving evidence from the story for their choice. As words are contributed, add them to a poster that depicts the girl from the story. Group words with similar meanings.

What are freedom machines – literally and metaphorically speaking?

Have students use the information in the book (words and pictures) to consider the idea of ‘freedom machines’ from a literal and figurative standpoint.

1. Literally speaking

Students work in pairs to read and consider the story, examining the written language and pictures to develop their understanding of freedom machines. They should list some features of freedom machines as indicated by the words and pictures (e.g. can travel anywhere underwater, on land and in the sky; come in different shapes and sizes; include mechanical parts; are suited for all different people; often emerge from the ground or nature; are hard to find; are allowed some control by the ‘driver’; take a bit of getting used to; aren’t perfect; can’t be bought, need to be found; feel good, safe). They can then create posters advertising freedom machines. The posters should comprise visuals, words and phrases as well as a small section of descriptive text.

Be sure to scaffold students’ growing metalanguage of visual grammar, including contrast, balance, emphasis, movement, white space, proportion, hierarchy, repetition, rhythm, pattern, unity and variety.

2. Metaphorically speaking

Students again work in pairs to read and consider the story, but this time the focus is on looking for hints and clues about what the freedom machine might represent metaphorically (and what it allows the girl to do metaphorically). For example, we learn that the freedom machine allows the girl to extract secrets from places she visits.

Students then complete the following sentences to create a short paragraph that represents their figurative understanding of freedom machines:

Freedom machines are a metaphor for…

They represent…

They can…

(ACELY1698)   (EN3-6B)   (ACELT1611)   (EN3-3A)

Rich assessment task

Telling the story

Discuss with students that this text differs from narratives that they might have read in the past. Rather than being a narrative with an orientation, complication and resolution, it’s a postmodern picture book designed to invite wonderment and different interpretations. As a postmodern picture book, the plot is not designed to be understood in one way. The reader has to make sense of the plot according to their own life experiences. The endpapers of the book provide another opportunity for readers to actively draw on their own experiences to make meaning.

Prepare students to retell the story in their own words, with the goal of orally conveying it (or at least one section) to a group of younger students (e.g. Year 2). Emphasise the need to ensure that all detail is clearly conveyed in words, because the pictures will not be used.

The following steps might be followed:

  1. Divide the story in to six sections and allocate one to each group of students:
    • 1–6
    • 6–11
    • 12–14
    • 15–16
    • 17–20
    • 21–24
  1. Provide each group (of no more than three students) with a copy of the picture book, and have them consider their section of the story by examining and talking about the meaning expressed by the pictures and written language. They might note down some ideas or details to be included in their retelling.
  2. Have each group prepare their oral retell, ensuring that they use language that will be clear to their young audience and will aid their understanding of the story.
  3. Have each group practise orally retelling their section of the story. Assist them to use their voices in ways that convey meaning; for example, they might adjust tempo (pacing), rhythm, pitch (higher or lower), stress (louder or softer) or junction (pausing).
  4. Bring all six groups (one for each section of the story) together to practise retelling the whole story. Consider further adjustments to aspects of the oral presentation to ensure a fluent retell. This might include position, facial expression, gesture and sound effects.
  5. Ensure that students have the opportunity to present the story orally to a younger class. This might be done live or by means of a video or audio recording.

(ACELY1702)   (EN3-3A)

Examining text structure and organisation

Somebody… wanted… but… so… then…

Have students analyse the text using the narrative text structure framework below.

Somebody Wanted But So Then
Who was the protagonist (main character) in the story? What did she want? What kept her from getting what she wants?

What obstacle(s) or problem(s) did she face?

What did the main character do to solve her problems or overcome her obstacles so she might achieve what she wanted? What was the final outcome?

(ACELA1504)   (EN3-3A)

Narrative setting framework

Have students use the framework below to identify the narrative’s key settings (real and imaginary), and provide information pertaining to each.

1 2 3 4 5

Teaching points:

  • The key settings might be identified as a class and recorded on the chart. There might be some discussion about the settings that the girl travelled to in her freedom machine.
  • The first setting should be analysed and written about as a class to allow students to understand the activity and the use of language.
  • Encourage students to refer to images in the book for their descriptions, and to consider the illustrator’s use of elements and principles of design (see the Literally Speaking activity in the Responding section).
  • Have students consider the events for each setting from the girl’s perspective – what was she doing or what was occurring for her?
  • Encourage students to express mood in terms of the feeling associated with the setting, and to give their own emotional response. They should be assisted to consider the features of the setting and the narrator’s tone.
  • You might ask students to justify their decisions about the mood, and assist them to consider the techniques used by the illustrator to depict mood.
  • Ensure students have the opportunity to share their ideas, compare them with other students’ ideas and responses, and see how different interpretations and points of view can occur.

(ACELA1504)   (EN3-3A)

Examining grammar and vocabulary

Examining the author’s use of figurative language

Lead the students in a discussion that considers the author’s meaning of a world ‘sewn together by boundaries’. First, have the students:

  • define the word ‘boundary’
  • discuss and record synonyms (e.g. barrier, border, confines, edge, enclosure, limit) and antonyms (e.g. centre, core, inner, within)
  • brainstorm the boundaries that they experience in their own lives and who creates them: other people, themselves or nature
  • discuss whether boundaries are necessary, whether or not they are good and why

Get students to draw a representation of this phrase as it relates to the young girl in the story. Give them the opportunity to share their pictures and ideas, and to note similarities and differences.

Note to the teacher: ‘boundary’ is a very loaded term for First Nations people, who suffered racism and were made to live out of town past ‘boundary’ roads. They were excluded while the rest of society was contained within.

The richness of words

Provide students with a list of interesting words and phrases from the story. Further their understanding of the words and phrases, and their role in enhancing meaning, by examining them in the context of the story. The following table might be used.

In what context is it used in the story? (write the sentence) From its use in the story, what do you understand the word or phrase to mean? Use an online dictionary to check the meaning of the word or phrase in relation to how it is used in the story? How could you use this word or phrase in a different context?  What word or phrase could you use to replace this one in the story?
fall into place
soak up

(ACELA1512)   (EN3-6B)

Investigating words

Explain to students that many of the words we use come from different places and languages, and that the meaning of words can sometimes change over time.

Provide an example:

  • ‘Imagination’ (noun), which means the faculty of the mind which forms and manipulates things
    • from the Latin word ‘imaginare’, which meant to form an image or to represent

Have students investigate the origins of some of the words in the story. They might also choose some words themselves.

Word Word root What is the meaning of the word root? Has the meaning changed? How? Related words
imagination (noun) imaginare (Latin) to form an image or represent image, imagery, imagine

See More Resources for some useful references for this activity, and to extend students’ learning about the history of words.

(ACELA1500)   (EN3-4A)

Rich assessment task

What’s in a sentence?

First, in small groups, ask students to select two sentences from the text and copy them down. Ensure that each sentence is written in full on separate lines.

Next, ask students to examine each of their sentences and identify the sentence type (simple, compound or complex) and other features such as clauses, main clauses, subordinate clauses, verbs and conjunctions.

The focus needs to be on authorial choice and why Kirli Saunders chose particular sentence structures. For example:

  • How might a complex sentence work differently with the subordinate or dependent clause at the start of a sentence?
  • When does Kirli Saunders choose to use simple sentences and what’s the effect?
  • When does Kirli Saunders use short noun groups and what’s the effect?
  • What happens to the sentences with short noun groups when expanded noun groups are used? Does it enhance or interrupt the text?

Display anchor charts that address key grammatical concepts so that students can refer to them as they complete the activity.

Finally, have each student create a poster for each of the sentences they have examined. They should use colour coding, labels and other means to indicate the sentence type and features, or parts and thought bubbles to analyse authorial intent. Complex sentences need to clearly highlight the main clause, subordinate clause and subordinate conjunction. Important punctuation might also be indicated on the poster (for example, if a subordinate clause begins a sentence, there is a comma to separate it from the main clause).

See More Resources for videos and other support for this content.

(ACELA1507)   (EN3-6B)

Description: my freedom machine

Have students:

  • Examine the pictures of the freedom machines in the book, as well as those on the inside back cover, and identify common as well as unique features.
  • Consider the line from the story about the perfect machine being difficult to uncover and discuss:
    • What is meant by the ‘perfect one’?
    • What would make a freedom machine perfect for someone?
    • What would your perfect machine be like, and where would you likely find it?
  • Design a freedom machine, and then use drawing and collage to represent what would make it perfect for them.
  • Brainstorm words and phrases that might be used to describe their freedom machine. Students might use an online mind-mapping tool such as or Popplet. Assist them to:
    • consider their machine’s overall appearance, qualities or unique features, and how they move or behave
    • use an online thesaurus to find richer, more precise or more accurate words
    • come up with some possible metaphors that serve to describe their freedom machines

Have students:

  • Use their brainstorm notes to construct a written description of their freedom machine, carefully selecting words or phrases and extending them into descriptive sentences, and then working these into their paragraphs.
  • Share their written descriptions with two other students who provide feedback on how well they could picture the freedom machine from the description. This might be done via an online tool or app such as Etherpad or Writable.
  • Review their writing by adding, deleting or replacing words/phrases/sections until they are confident that they have created a vivid picture.

Have students prepare their written description and artwork for presentation to an audience. This might be done by creating a traditional printed class book of Our Freedom Machines, including written descriptions and photographs of students’ artwork, or by using one of many apps available for creating multimodal digital texts.


The students’ experience with descriptive writing might be extended to describe the girl in the story. In a previous activity (Determining Character Traits in the Responding section), students examined the illustrations and storyline to determine the young girl’s qualities and traits. This activity would serve well as the ‘preparing to write’ step of a written description.

(ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELT1611)   (EN3-3A)

Rich assessment task

Story retell: changing point of view

Have the students retell the story from the young girl’s perspective.

Role play interview
  • Establish the role play situation, explaining that the students are going to interview the young girl about the events that took place in the story.
  • Work with the students to devise interview questions that relate to the following situations and events. Record them on the board:
    1. when she first heard about the freedom machines
    2. her living situation
    3. her realisation that she needed a freedom machine
    4. her search for a freedom machine
    5. eventually finding and unearthing the perfect machine
    6. learning how to use her freedom machine
    7. the places she visited in her freedom machine
  • Put students in groups of five and have one student take on the role of the girl, with the others becoming journalists who will interview her.
  • Give the interviewers time to choose five questions from list devised as a class.
  • Commence the role play interview in the students’ respective groups.
  • Reconvene as a class to share responses and insights. Some groups may have different answers to the same question when compared.
Oral retell

Have students work in the same small groups to orally retell the story in the first person from the girl’s perspective. Accept that students will ‘read’ and make meaning of the narrative in different ways based on their prior experiences. For example, the ending is in some ways unresolved, and readers will make sense of this invitation to engage with the text in different ways. Provide the list of events (above) as a scaffold for the retell. Prompt or question students to encourage them to extend their descriptions of/responses to events.


Have students write a diary entry as if they were the girl in the story recalling the events. The text will be written in first person from the girl’s point of view. Provide students with a table that lists the events from the story in first person, and provides space to elaborate on each one.

The event What happened and how I felt
I lived in a place sewn together by boundaries.
I heard about freedom machines and realised I needed one.
I searched for a freedom machine that was just right for me.
I finally found the perfect freedom machine.
I unearthed my freedom machine.
I learnt how to use my freedom machine.
I visited different places with my freedom machine.

(ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)  (ACELT1609)   (EN3-2A)