Connecting to prior knowledge

Ignite: warming up our ideas

Present the cover of the text Waves by Donna Rawlins (illustrated by Heather Potter and Mark Jackson) on a projected screen. Allow students to individually reflect before sharing their predictions and connections in a stand and share session: all students stand up, one shares and sits back down, then others with the same idea also sit. Continue as long as there are members of the group with more to add. If comments lead the discussion to current world issues, make connections.

Make a short list of words that connect to the text (e.g. Australia, migration, refugee, forced, famine, journey, leave). Place them into envelopes with matching images. In small groups, students will use these clues and the Secret Seven strategy to make predictions. They will then share their thoughts and any information gathered, acknowledging each other’s points of view as part of the discussion.

Highlight the phrase on the cover ‘For those who come across the sea’, and make a connection to the words in the Australian National Anthem. Discuss the lyrics and help students make connections and review their predictions. Create a class Jamboard or word cloud so that students can digitally add their responses to a group brainstorm. Review and discuss the responses, highlighting similarities and patterns and posing ‘wondering’ questions. These should be recorded and referred to throughout the unit, allowing students to reflect and track their own learning.

Activating prior knowledge, building vocabulary and making connections

Display the blurb for Waves on a projected screen and ask students to read it, noting new vocabulary and key words/phrases in their reading journal. This might include:

journey is perilous heartbreaking refugee forced famine
war fear leave their home family and friends travelled
waves of migration shores of Australia tens of thousands of years

Once recorded, these can be used to build a vocabulary wall for display. Collaboratively clarify any words or phrases the students have questions about. Then, have them work in pairs to select 6–8 key words/phrases and write them spread out over a blank page, with a dot next to each one. Students are to join the dots between different words/phrases and write their connections along the lines. This helps to reinforce and build vocabulary and connect to prior knowledge. You can view an example of dot-to-dot connections here (PDF, 59KB). Finish by inviting students to share their ideas with the class.

View the Behind the News video ‘Waves of Australian Migration’. Students can then add to their dot-to-dot connections to highlight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia, making connections and emphasising the importance of an Acknowledgment of Country. Students may like to write their own personal Acknowledgment of Country.

Meet Donna Rawlins

Introduce the author Donna Rawlins and explore other texts she has written and contributed to, including My Place by Nadia Wheatley.


Present Waves to the class, observing the details on the inside cover and the layout of the text. Highlight the fact that the book features 15 children, each with a unique story and from a different period of time. Tell students that Waves explores ‘the different reasons people have travelled to Australia, the vessels they travelled on and the worries and fears they experienced’ on their journey (Vanessa Ryan-Rendall, Educate.Empower). Explain that it looks at the history of Australia, the idea of migration and ‘why different people have decided to move from their home country [to] live in Australia’ (Vanessa Ryan-Rendall, Educate.Empower).

Read about the first three characters on p. 32 – Anak, Maarten and Jalak – and then read their stories.

Engage in insightful discussions and comparisons about these characters and their journeys. Consider using maps, dates and historical background information (plus the notes on pp. 32–33) to supplement understanding. See More Resources for additional notes for the teacher.

Students should create a reading portfolio that they will fill with their responses to the characters, starting with Anak, Maarten and Jalak.

Comparing different authors and similar storylines

Present, read, discuss and share some rich texts, such as:

You can also explore digital stories about refugees and immigration, like Woven Threads Series 1: Refugees (Stories from Afar) and Culture Victoria’s videos:

In groups, students will analyse, evaluate, link ideas, make connections and draw comparisons between the selected texts, sharing and expressing their responses and acknowledging their peers’ points of view. Create a class comparison chart, using post-it notes to compare vocabulary, imagery, layout and experiences under the headings: ‘Similarities’, ‘Differences’ and ‘Experiences’.

(ACELT1602)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELY1686)   (EN2-4A)   (ACELY1692)   (EN2-4A)   (ACELA1490)   (EN2-8B)

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

On an enlarged world map, locate and label the most common country of birth for Australians. The teacher can refer to ABS census data on cultural diversity.

Refer to pp. 32–33 of Waves, noting the countries associated with each character. Add these to the map. Discuss the rich mix of culture in Australia and make connections to Rawlins’ statement:

If you are not an Indigenous Australian, your family have, at some stage, come to Australia from across the waves. (p. 32)

Discuss family origins and culture with the students.

Next, use the interactive AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia to identify the Traditional Owners of the land upon which your class is taking place. Students can use their own devices to access the map and identify the Traditional Owners of the land upon which they were born, or (if born overseas) the place where they first arrived in Australia.

Now invite students to mark their country of birth or ancestral background on the world map. These two visuals (world map and Australian map) will assist in acknowledging the range of cultures within your class and school community.

Invite students to share details of their own family background, culture and history. They can create their own family tree digitally using Canva’s family tree maker, or on paper using one of these templates.

Celebrating rich culture and diversity

Coordinate a school Multicultural/Harmony Day to celebrate diversity in your school community. Students can take photos on their devices and use them to create their own trailer or video using iMovie. They may also conduct short interviews to discover some cultural traditions that are practised or celebrated among their peers. These can then be shared with the school community (e.g. Multicultural Day at Delany College 2019).

(ACELA1498)   (EN2-9B)   (ACELT1603)   (EN2-11D)   (ACELY1688)   (EN2-1A)

Rich assessment task

Return to Rawlins’ statement on p. 32. As all non-Indigenous Australians have, at some point, arrived from overseas, all students represent Australia as a vibrant and multicultural country.

Invite small groups to create a slideshow or short video on Australia’s many branches of multiculturalism, and/or the stories of migrants and refugees. This might include photos or videos (e.g. from your school Multicultural/Harmony Day), the National Anthem and an Acknowledgment of Country to pay respect to the Traditional Custodians in your community.

(ACELT1603)   (EN2-11D)   (ACELY1688)   (EN2-1A)

Responding to the text

Making comparisons

Read the stories of Henry and Finola (pp. 8–11), as well as the background details on p. 32, and discuss. Explicitly model understanding and wonderings using the think aloud strategy. Invite students to share their thoughts and understandings, and to express their points of view about these stories.

Place students in small groups – each with a large sheet of chart paper and textas – to respond to, discuss and draw comparisons between Henry and Finola’s experiences. Label each group’s chart with a heading such as:

  • Similarities between Henry and Finola
  • Differences between Henry and Finola
  • Henry’s experience
  • Finola’s experience

Have students explore ‘the reasons for coming to Australia, the journey to Australia, how the children felt about the journey and their family background’ (Vanessa Ryan-Rendall, Educate.Empower). Encourage them to examine the author’s word choices and descriptions of the children’s behaviour, observations and experiences. After an allocated time, rotate the groups so they can respond to another chart. Continue until all groups have responded to all charts.

Provide time for each group to orally present their original chart, sharing all responses with the class. Then collaboratively create a digital Venn diagram identifying Henry and Finola’s similarities and differences, and comparing their experiences. Through discussion, encourage students to consider if they recognise these stories in their own world, how common they are to human experience, what new ideas they bring, and how the text is similar or different to other texts they have read. They will then record their responses to Henry and Finola’s stories in their reading portfolio.

In groups of two or three, students will select two stories to read (or the teacher may allocate two stories). Their task is to analyse and draw comparisons between the two recounts/experiences to help build literal and inferred meaning. This will allow students to expand their content knowledge, synthesise and link ideas, and evaluate.

As with Henry and Finola, have students explore the reasons for and nature of each character’s journey, plus their feelings and family backgrounds. Students should continue to examine word choice and the author’s descriptions of behaviour, observations and experiences. Each group can then create a Venn diagram identifying the characters’ similarities and differences and comparing their experiences.

This activity guides students to make connections; build and use prior knowledge and vocabulary; find specific literal information to synthesise; ask and answer questions; discover the main idea; and infer meaning. Teachers can refer to the additional material under More Resources to encourage deep thinking about the stories conveyed. Encourage students to use maps, dates and historical background information (plus the notes on pp. 32–33), and to look at current data about the Australian population. They can then add the two new focus characters to their reading portfolio.

Now read Martha, Nianzu and Karim’s stories (pp. 12–17), plus their background details on p. 32, and discuss. Explicitly make comparisons and model understanding and wonderings using the think aloud strategy. Students can write their responses to these characters in their reading portfolio.

Creating and building a response wall

Create a response wall that displays each of the characters and a brief description of their experiences. Students can add to the wall using post-it notes to record key information, wondering questions, opinions, connections, main ideas, literal information, inferences, interpretations and responses relating to the stories examined so far.

(ACELT1603)   (EN2-11D)   (ACELT1604)   (EN2-4A)   (ACELY1688)   (EN2-1A)   (ACELY1692)   (EN2-4A)   (ACELA1498)   (EN2-9B)

Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Refugee word web

Read Bridget, Harry and Olga’s stories (pp. 18–23) and their background details on pp. 32–33, again making comparisons and modelling understanding and wonderings with the think aloud strategy. Students can record their observations and any new vocabulary in their reading portfolio.

As a class, create a word web for the word ‘refugee’, making connections and comparisons between ideas, storylines, experiences and relationships in the book.

Then read Marina, Cornelia, Hau and Abdul’s stories (pp. 24–31), along with their background details on p. 33. Discuss as before, making comparisons and modelling understanding and wonderings. Add any new ideas from this discussion to the word web. Allow time for students to respond to the last four characters in their reading portfolio.

Picture quilt

Ask students to close their eyes and listen carefully as you read the words from the word web aloud, visualising and reflecting on the images that spring to mind. Give each student a square of paper with a border, and have them draw a detailed picture of what they visualised inside. On the outside, have them write words or phrases that describe their illustration. Once finished, assemble all the squares to create a class picture quilt for display on the response wall.

(ACELT1602)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELY1692)   (EN2-4A)   (ACELA1498)   (EN2-9B)

Rich assessment task

Story pyramid

Students are to create a five-line story pyramid for one of the characters in Waves. An example is available here (PDF, 84KB). Students will use their reading portfolio entries, the class word web and the response wall to write succinct summaries using key words and relevant facts. They should not use the character’s name in the pyramid, but should include enough detail so that others can guess who they are writing about.

Students will then present their story pyramids as an oral presentation to the class, using variances in tone, volume, pitch and pace. The rest of the class will guess which character has been portrayed.

(ACELY1688)   (EN2-1A)   (ACELY1689)   (EN2-6B)   (ACELA1498)   (EN2-9B)   (ACELY1692)   (EN2-4A)

Examining text structure and organisation

Text structure, organisation and visual literacy

Collaboratively examine the structure and organisation of Waves, noting the layout of the inside cover (with timeline/dates), the character journeys, and information about the characters themselves (pp. 32–33). Encourage students to refer back to the response wall. Discuss how authors and illustrators use various techniques (e.g. character development, plot tension, illustrations) to hold readers’ interest and make stories exciting, moving and absorbing. Build vocabulary to describe visual elements and techniques, including:

gaze demand vector salience
framing positioning symbols colour
texture line size composition

Discuss how these choices impact the viewer’s response. The visual literacy questions on this page can be used to provoke valuable discussion. Consider what the image depicts, its purpose, its audience, things that puzzle the students, connections with prior knowledge, and connections to self, the world and other texts.

In groups of two or three, students will examine an illustration from the text and use post-it notes to record the visual techniques and effects used, the message conveyed, and the impact on the viewer’s response. Have the groups rotate to other stations until they have responded to at least five illustrations each.

(ACELA1496)   (EN2-8B)   (ACELT1605)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELT1603)   (EN2-11D)

Examining grammar and vocabulary

Vocabulary journal

In small groups, each with a copy of Waves, students will closely examine the grammar, vocabulary and figurative language used to provoke emotion and hold the reader’s attention. Encourage students to note Rawlins’ word choice and her description of each child’s journey, behaviour, feelings and emotional response. Create a class word cloud from the noted words and vocabulary – an example has been provided here (PDF, 354KB). Students can then use these words to create their own vocabulary journal or digital word journal using Google Docs or Sheets. They may organise their journals alphabetically or categorise the words (e.g. verbs, adjectives, nouns, emotive language) depending on their preference.

A guide to grammar, vocabulary and figurative language in each story has been provided below.

Character Grammar focus Vocabulary focus Figurative language focus
Anak p. 2, para. 1: no head noun for ‘twenty or thirty’

p. 3, para. 3: ‘all day, every day’ (repetition to emphasise monotony)

Power of verbs, e.g. ‘feared’, ‘rumbled’, ‘churned’, ‘worried’, ‘ached’


on my side


p. 3, para. 3: personification of the smoke
Maarten p. 4, para. 2: repetition of ‘south’ to emphasise monotony

p. 4, para. 3: list to emphasise chaos

p. 4, para. 4: no head noun for ‘forty’ or ‘fifty’

scything wind





briny waves

roiling foam

grappling undertow


mapless world

p. 4, para. 1, sent. 3: simile

p. 4, para. 3: personification of the wind

Jalak p. 6, para. 1: two prepositional phrases

p. 6, para. 3, sent. 1: two prepositional phrases

lumbering perahu





p. 6, para. 2: ‘tamarind trees towering’ (alliteration)
Henry p. 8, para 1, sent. 1: graduation to emphasise intensity humble









p. 9, para. 1: ‘everything departing me at both ends’ (euphemism to avoid saying something unpleasant)

p. 9, para. 1: ‘petty fear of the waves’ (understatement to sound brave)

p. 9, para. 4: metaphor of the sprig

p. 9, para. 7: metaphor of the leaves/tree

Finola p. 10, para. 1, sent. 1: noun groups

Look at all the sentences that commence with ‘If’. What is the function of ‘if’ (sets up a condition)?


seamen ruffians



stormed out





p. 11, para. 1: ‘how in the Holy Mother’s name could she afford those?’ (euphemism)
Martha p. 12, para. 1: no head noun for ‘number nine’ or ‘number seven’

p. 13, para. 2: pronoun reference (who is ‘they?’)












p. 12, para. 2: personification of wind and waves

p. 12, para. 2: ‘slaps the sails’, ‘dash over the deck drenching us’ (alliteration)

Nianzu Identify the sentences that are present tense and those that are future tense. List the words that indicate future tense. squint

evenly hewn











p. 15, para. 2, sent. 1: ‘I would rather find rivers of gold’ (hyperbole)

p. 14, para. 3: simile

Karim p. 16, para. 2: pronoun reference for ‘them’ and ‘their’

p. 16, para. 3: pronoun reference for ‘them’

p. 16, para. 3: no head noun for ‘six’













p. 17, para. 5, sent. 2: ‘more water than I could have ever believed existed’ (hyperbole)
Bridget p. 19, para. 3: track the verbs, identifying those that signal life and those that signal death

Who is Biddy? (tracking characters)





p. 18, para. 1, sent. 2: similes

p. 19, para. 2: ‘top to tail’ (metaphor)

p. 19, para. 3, sent. 4: ‘gone, like she never was’ (euphemism)

p. 19, para. 7, sent. 2: ‘Five little ones are gone already, and I worry I will be next.’ (euphemism)

Harry p. 20, para. 4: verbs

p. 21, para. 4: ‘prickles’, ‘folds’ (verbs)












p. 20, para. 1, sent. 3: ‘“Show them what a man you can be.”’ (hyperbole)

p. 20, para. 2, sent. 2: ‘been sick all around our feet’ (euphemism)

Olga p. 22, para. 2, sent. 1: ‘herded’ (verb)

p. 23, para. 1: ‘whisper-read’ (verb)













p. 23, para. 2: religious metaphors
Marina p. 24, para. 2, sent. 1: pronoun reference for ‘he’

p. 24, para. 3: possessive pronouns

p. 24, para. 3, sent. 3: pronoun reference for ‘it’

p. 25, para. 2: ‘It is handed down’ (pronoun reference for ‘it’)

p. 25, para. 4, sent. 2: pronoun reference for ‘it’








p. 24, para. 1, sent. 6: ‘so excited … she’ll jump off the deck’ (hyperbole)

p. 24, para. 2, sent. 3: ‘so old now he has a long white beard’ (hyperbole)

p. 24, para. 2, sent. 5: ‘forty – ancient!’ (hyperbole)

p. 25, para. 4, sent. 1: simile

p. 25, para. 4, sent. 2: metaphor of the egg

Cornelia Look at all the contractions that are used on these pages.

p. 26, para. 2, sent. 5:  noun groups

p. 27, para. 1, sent. 2: noun groups











King Neptune




p. 26, para. 2, sent. 2: ‘the ends of the earth’ (hyperbole)

p. 26, para. 3, sent. 1: ‘end of the world’ (hyperbole)

p. 27, para. 1: ‘the dusty middle of nowhere’ (hyperbole)

p. 27, para. 1: personification of kangaroos

Hau p. 28, para. 1, sent. 2: verbs

p. 29, para. 2: prepositional phrases









p. 28, para. 4, sent. 1: simile and hyperbole

p. 29, para. 1, sent. 4: metaphor of the name

Abdul p. 31, para. 1, sent. 1: noun group

p. 30, para. 2, sent. 2: punctuation

p. 31, para. 1, sent. 3: noun groups










creaking boat



p. 31, para. 7: ‘feet on the firm safe soil’ (alliteration)

p. 30, para. 3, sent. 1: understatement

(ACELT1605)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELA1498)   (EN2-9B)   (ACELT1604)   (EN2-4A)

Rich assessment task

Students are to select 6–8 words from their vocabulary journal and complete a new set of dot-to-dot connections, this time working individually. As before (see Literature section), they will spread their words out over a blank page and draw lines between as many different words as possible, writing out the connections along the way.

The completed task will demonstrate each student’s ability to use prior knowledge and accurate information; synthesise using engaging language; build their vocabulary in context; and apply concept knowledge and technical vocabulary.

(ACELY1692)   (EN2-4A)   (ACELA1498)   (EN2-9B)

Modelled texts

In conjunction with Waves, read Anisa’s Alphabet (by Mike Dumbleton, illus. Hannah Sommerville) as a modelled text. Follow up by discussing the book’s theme, text structure and language. Discuss how the authors and illustrators of both texts use various techniques, vocabulary and emotive language to create moving stories and hold their readers’ interest. Allow time for students to add to the class response wall and their own vocabulary journals.

Using emotive language and key ideas

Collaboratively create an alphabet book using emotive language, vocabulary, facts and knowledge about migration and refugees. Encourage students to refer back to their vocabulary journals, the response wall and their word clouds. You could complete this activity using Google Slides, with each letter of the alphabet on its own slide. Allocate each student a different letter and slide so that the class can compile its own digital version of Anisa’s Alphabet.

Character exploration

Invite students to consider which journey and experience from Waves has touched them the most. Allow time for table talks so that they can discuss their character options, preferences and ideas. Present the class with 15 sheets of chart paper, each displaying the name of a character from Waves and their relevant background from pp. 32–33. Assist students to think deeply about the child they would like to focus on for the next two activities. Once students have chosen their focus characters, allow them to gather around the relevant chart paper to discuss and share ideas with each other.

Creating a photo album

Observe the illustrations in Waves and discuss how they provoke emotion and communicate feeling. Then invite students to create their own illustrations, representing the emotive language and key ideas around their focus character. They will write matching descriptions next to their pictures and present their work in a photo album format. Encourage students to selectively use vocabulary and make word choices that engage their audience emotionally, bringing the experience and journey of their character to life. These details will support the next activity.

Planning a diary entry

Review the features of a diary entry and discuss the relevance and purpose of this type of writing. Model writing an entry with input from the class, then collaboratively agree on the success criteria for this process. This will aid students in preparing for the final Rich Assessment Task.

Students are to plan and draft a diary entry from the perspective of a refugee coming to Australia, drawing on the experiences of their focus character. Invite students to gather ideas and integrate information from a range of sources. They can use digital technology to conduct further research into their character’s background and context, plus the reasons surrounding their decision or need to travel ‘across the waves’. Students should also draw on their reading portfolio responses, the class word wall and other collaborative work. They will then plan and complete the first draft of their diary entry, detailing their journey and experiences using key information and supporting details. During this process, highlight the importance of rereading, editing, adding, deleting, moving and replacing words to create impact for the reader.

(ACELT1605)   (EN2-10C)   (ACELT1794)   (EN2-2A)   (ACELY1694)   (EN2-2A)

(ACELA1498)   (EN2-9B)   (ACELT1603)   (EN2-11D)   (ACELY1695)   (EN2-2A)

Rich assessment task

Final product: digital diary entry

Students may use a range of software or apps (e.g. Google Slides) to publish and present their final diary entries. Encourage them to consider adding visual and/or audio elements to create a multimodal product. Review and collaboratively add to the success criteria, allowing students to examine, analyse and self-evaluate their digital diary entry. The final product can then be assessed using the agreed-upon criteria.

(ACELY1697)   (EN2-3A)   (ACELY1695)   (EN2-2A)   (ACELT1794)   (EN2-2A)   (ACELY1694)   (EN2-2A)