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Connecting to prior knowledge

Note: Using Young Dark Emu in the classroom

Young Dark Emu contains many historical primary sources, some of which contain language and descriptions regarding First Nations People that are considered inappropriate today. Teachers are advised to acknowledge such examples as they arise by clarifying meaning and discussing the original author’s motivations for using such terms. Questioning can be useful:

  • Why do you think he used that word/description?
  • What word would we use today?

Some of the ideas and themes explored in Young Dark Emu, such as frontier conflict, may be distressing or challenging for some students. Students may not wish to be active participants in class discussions and this should be respected. Providing opportunities for individual reflection can be useful, and many of the suggested learning activities encourage critical, reflective and empathetic thinking. While students should be encouraged to express their thoughts and opinions, it is important to challenge stereotypical or discriminatory statements made by students. The best way to do this is to ask them to explain the basis for their statements, so any assumptions or misinformation can be quickly corrected (e.g. What makes you say that? What are your reasons for saying that? How do you think others might feel about that?)

From: Teachers’ Notes Magabala Books written by Jennet Cole-Adams

Introducing Bruce Pascoe

Explain to students that having an understanding of the author will significantly enrich their understanding of Young Dark Emu. Have students conduct some research into Bruce Pascoe and his contributions as a writer and individual. The teacher can guide students to categories to research, which could include his past occupations, his current work at Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, and other writing projects he has completed. Students may also devise questions about Pascoe that they would like answered. There is extensive visual and audio-visual material relating to Pascoe available online for students to access via search engines. In particular, Chapter 1: Bruce Pascoe (3 minutes 12 seconds) of the ABC Education Digibook Bruce Pascoe: Aboriginal agriculture, technology and ingenuity, presents Pascoe’s investigation into his own family history and how it led to his writing. On page 80 of Young Dark Emu, there is a brief biography of Pascoe that references place and includes his Indigenous heritage.

Encourage students to develop their cultural and geographical skills by identifying Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian Country via the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Map of Indigenous Australia. Whilst navigating this map, students could also identify which Country they currently learn and live on.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-8D)

Invite students to collaboratively make a mind map based on their research of Pascoe. This could be done on the whiteboard or via an ICT tool such as Mindmeister (free, collaborative mind mapping/brainstorming for groups) or (free cloud-based mind mapping tool). Display with the following question and keep so this can be revisited at the end of the unit:

  • Did having an understanding of Pascoe’s personal and cultural context add to your engagement with Young Dark Emu?
    (ACELY1708)   (EN3-2A)

Front and Back Cover

As a way of orienting students to Young Dark Emu, unpack the front and back covers of the text for meaning. This could be done as a teacher-led discussion or students could have a copy of the text and work in small groups through the stimulus provided below.

The following points can be used to facilitate this learning experience:

  • Read the title Young Dark Emu. Discuss what it might mean.
    • Why the words Young and Dark and Emu? What associations do these words have on their own?
    • How does this change when they are used together?
    • How do we know that this book is Australian?
    • What makes Australian literature unique?
  • Read the subtitle ‘A Truer History’ and discuss what it might mean. How can history be truer?
  • Examine the use of the colours and discuss why this palette may have been used. What effect do these colours have on potential readers in setting up ideas?
  • Identify the various small illustrations accompanying the front cover. Why might they be there and what do they refer to? Is there an order to their placement and presentation? Are they all drawn the same way?
  • Comment on the overall (visual) style of the front cover. How might this be preparing the reader for the content to follow?
  • Read the back cover blurb. What sort of book does this sound like? What text form does it say Pascoe uses, and why is this significant?
    (ACELY1711)   (EN3-5B)

Introducing the text

As a class, watch this Bruce Pascoe interview (1.47) via YouTube and invite students to discuss their first impressions of the clip. Ask students:

  • Was there anything in the clip that resonated with you?
  • What questions about the text do you still have?

Based on the front and back covers, as well as the YouTube clip above, have students write down a three-sentence prediction as to what they think their response to the text might be.

The endpapers are black. Have students compare this with other endpapers in other texts they may have read. Discuss why they might be black, and what effect does this have on the reader?

Look at the possum skin with the dedication opposite ‘To the Australians’. Have students compare this with other texts they may have read. Why might this not be dedicated to one specific person but rather ‘To the Australians’? Does the meaning change if the dedication read ‘To Australians’?

Photocopy page 5 (the table of contents). Cut out the seven chapter sections, removing the page numbers, and put them in a zip lock bag for students. Issue the bag to students who in small groups arrange the chapters into the order that they think the chapters might be placed. Debrief as a class:

  • Why is this text structured in formal chapters?
  • What other texts have chapters?

Together note the logical order and sequence of the chapters and how they develop and build. Have students write two-sentence predictions about what each chapter might be about, using the chapter titles as a stimulus.

The teacher reads through page 5 with students, helping students make connections regarding the title and it’s significance, as well as the relationship between Dark Emu and Young Dark Emu.
(ACELY1712)   (EN3-1A)


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

Night sky and a way of looking

Turn off the lights in the classroom and search via Google images ‘the night sky’, projecting images onto the whiteboard. Have students close their eyes for an imagined reality. Tell them to imagine that it’s night-time and that they are looking up at the stars in the sky as they dazzle and shine. Talk about:

  • the different sizes of stars and constellations present
  • the stillness
  • the idea that so many people before them have done just this, looking up into the sky.

Build up some more sentences of description to bring this scenario to life. Have students open their eyes. Talk to students about that experience and why people look up to the night sky. Explain that as we study this text together as a community of learners, that just as ‘we looked up into the night sky’, so too Young Dark Emu is a ‘different way of looking’ (page 70). Explain that questions and discussion in this unit are designed to zoom into the detail and information provided. Asking questions will be important to explore this text.

For teachers: It is important to remember that Indigenous Australians were dispossessed of their land and culture, excluded and treated in horrendous ways. This treatment was mandated as government policy. Indigenous Australians have been treated (and in some cases are still treated) as less than human. Indigenous Australians have a strength and resilience that should be acknowledged and celebrated; as well as an intelligence and complexity of culture that is finally being presented by Bruce Pascoe in his writing.
(ACELY1801)   (EN3-5B)

Ten leaves of culture

Have students draw the murnong yam with ten leaves sprouting from it in the centre of their page. The murnong yam is on the front cover of Young Dark Emu. Ask students to complete a think-pair-share routine where they take time to think and make note of up to ten aspects of Indigenous culture (past and/or present) that they are aware of, adding one item to each leaf. Once completed, students share their items with someone else in the class and exchange ideas. Students may add some new ideas to any spare leaves, or add new leaves. Bring the class back together and discuss some of the features that were identified by students.
(ACELA1523)   (EN3-2A)

Life before 1788 

Explain to students that to appreciate what Bruce Pascoe is writing about in Young Dark Emu, it’s important we understand life before the colonial period of Australia’s history. One way to do this is to view the virtual clip ‘Everyday life of the Darug people’ (2.36) via YouTube, and read the notes underneath the clip which explain the cultural context of the clip. If possible source Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines by Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson to read aloud.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-8D)

A truer history

Provide 15–20 minutes for students to write an account from their perspective of the lesson they had before this class. Explain this is an individual activity and they are to be as accurate, detailed, and as specific as possible. Once this writing has been completed, have the students find a partner from the opposite side of the classroom. Have the pairs read each other’s work. Bring the class back together and have five students read out their entries. Discuss the concept of ‘truth’ and how we could go about finding out a ‘truer’ occurrence of events discussed in the lesson before.
(ACELT1618)   (EN3-7C)


Rich assessment task

Unpacking Concepts – Writing Task 

Present the following concept writing task options to students. For this activity students choose ONE option to complete. Written reflections are to be between 150–250 words and should use personal and reflective language. Young Dark Emu deals with these concepts and having students pre-exposed to them and considering them before engaging with the text will be very beneficial in their overall understanding.

Option 1 – Truth

Why is it important to tell the truth? What can happen if we are not truthful about something that has happened? Who generally gets hurt when we are not honest? What happens if we try and bend the truth or hide the truth from others? Give an example of when you needed to tell the truth but found it really hard. Were you tempted to do something else instead, or not tell the truth altogether?

Option 2 – Evidence

What role does evidence play in convincing someone that something has happened? What are the different types of evidence you could use to present an idea? Is one type of evidence more valued than another? Give an example of when you needed evidence to help prove something. What did you do and how did you do it?

Option 3 – Knowledge

What is knowledge and how do we know if we are right? How do you arrive at an understanding of something? Give an example of when you thought you knew something about a topic, but it turned out you misjudged the situation and really there was a lot more to learn.

Option 4 – Tradition

What is a tradition? Why is it important to keep traditions happening? What can we learn from traditions? What value and worth do they hold for us today? Give an example of a tradition that you have in your family or community. What makes it so special?

Option 5 – Culture

What is culture? What is Australian culture? What is Australian Indigenous culture? What happened to cultures as a result of colonisation? What happened in Australia? Whose interpretation of this do we learn about at school? How can students learn a truer history?
(ACELT1800)   (EN3-2A)

Responding to the text

Read the text Young Dark Emu, adjusting reading times to suit your group.

Colour – Symbol – Image – Word

Use the chapter structure in Young Dark Emu as a framework for student responses to the text. Have students divide one page in their books into four squares, and at the end of each of the six chapters, have students complete a Colour – Symbol – Image – Word (CSIW) activity. In these four boxes, students will respond to what they have read in the chapter, and do this by choosing a colour to represent what the chapter was about, a symbol (concrete object to represent an idea), draw an image that represents the chapter, and a key word that helps them to respond to what they have read. Have students share their CSIW posters in small groups of five at the end of each chapter. There they can receive and offer feedback to their peers.
(ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)

I used to think…but now I think…

Use the sentence stems of ‘I used to think….but now I think…’ as a structured form of responding to the content in Young Dark Emu. Students write these reflections on cards or post-its and use it as an exit slip at the end of a lesson. Alternatively make a display around a particular topic or theme. Encourage students to revisit their original understanding of a particular part of Indigenous culture from the Ten Leaves activity in the Literature section.
(ACELA1517)   (EN3-7C)

‘I am proud to be Australian’

Watch Chapter 4: Grain and Bread (6 minutes 9 seconds) of the ABC Education Digibook Bruce Pascoe: Aboriginal agriculture, technology and ingenuity. The last couple of minutes of this clip focuses on responding to the information brought to light in Young Dark Emu.

What does Pascoe say should be our response?

Ask students how this aligns with their response to their learnings in Young Dark Emu?
(ACELA1518)   (EN3-5B)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Journal Writing

Encourage students to regularly journal their responses to content, chapters, and evidence presented in Young Dark Emu. This will help with personal reflection. Students may be given particular prompts at the start or end of each lesson, which could range from a question, a lightbulb, an exclamation, or more directed stimuli such as:

  • ‘I am shocked by…’
  • ‘I learnt that…’
  • ‘I will use this knowledge by…’
  • ‘What stuck out to me in this chapter is…’
  • ‘After reading this chapter, I am feeling…’
  • Young Dark Emu has led me to a deeper appreciation of Aboriginal culture…’
  • Young Dark Emu has led me to a deeper understanding of Australian history…’
  • Young Dark Emu has challenged me to think differently about…’
  • ‘I have become more aware that…’
  • Young Dark Emu has taught me that…’
  • ‘I can help my school community learn about and appreciate traditional Aboriginal culture through…’
  • ‘I can help the wider community learn and appreciate traditional Aboriginal culture through…’
  • ‘After reading what the explorers saw of the land, my understanding of Australian history is…’
  • ‘I believe that our current farming and harvesting practices could benefit from using traditional knowledge because…’
  • ‘The things that I need to look at from a different perspective are…’
  • Young Dark Emu has made me a more informed citizen of society by…’
  • ‘Understanding the past is important because…’
  • ‘We can benefit from using Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge about animals and/or plants to help us…’

(ACELA1522)   (EN3-6B)


Have students capture the main ideas from each chapter by doing a Headlines thinking routine. Explain to students that headlines are short captions that summarise the main idea of something and may use alliteration or high modal language for effect. Students are to create their own headlines for each chapter and make a display in the classroom. Students can revisit this throughout the unit as they share and respond together.
(ACELA1525)   (EN3-8D)

Circle Time 

Provide a time for students to come together to discuss their findings and thoughts. Having a ‘talking item’, that only when someone has the item can they talk, may help facilitate student input and discussion. Use students’ reading and learning of Young Dark Emu to guide the discussion. Students might like to share sections which have impacted them, further questions they have, or share what they might be thinking as a result of engaging with the texts.
(ACELT1613)   (EN3-1A)


Rich assessment task

Podcast Conversations 

Present students with the following four situations. Invite students to select one and then script and record a one-to-two minute conversation that thoughtfully answers the chosen question. This task could be done in a podcast style and the class could listen and reflect on each others’ work.

Scenario 1: You are at the family dinner table and your parent or caregiver says to you, ‘So what’s the big deal about Young Dark Emu anyway?’

Scenario 2: You hear some other students in a different year group talking about First Nations people and culture. One student comes up to you and asks, ‘So Aboriginal people weren’t just hunters and gatherers?’

Scenario 3: You have just come out of class and your friend turns to you and asks, ‘So what did you think of Young Dark Emu?’

Scenario 4: You are discussing the current debate about Treaty or changing the Australian Constitution and you ask, ‘What was Terra Nullius and how was it justified by claiming that Indigenous Australians were primitive?’
(ACELT1615)   (EN3-7C)

Examining text structure and organisation


As a class, collaboratively create a timeline that stretches along a wall in the classroom. Explain to students how timelines work (lines of time with BCE down one end and CE at the other). As a class, plot key dates that include 50,000 years ago First Nations people in Australia, the year the students were born, and 2019 the year Young Dark Emu is published. Explain to students that as they read about key dates in Young Dark Emu, they are to take it in turns to mark the date on the timeline, and either include a visual (photo, image, symbol, etc.) or a sentence about the event that is referenced. Develop this as the text is explored throughout the unit.
(ACELY1708)   (EN3-7C)

Role of visuals

Turn to any double-page spread of Young Dark Emu with students. Model a thinking process to them that, through discussion, reflects on the role of visuals on their double-page spread. This will include the relationship of visuals to text, as well as visuals to the book as a whole. Discuss what impact the visuals have in communicating a bigger message from Pascoe. Reflect on how the visuals are presented in different ways (low key sketches to highly detailed paintings). In pairs, invite students to turn to any double-page spread and together discuss and reflect on the visuals presented on their pages. Then together the pairs discuss the impact of the visuals in relation to text, and the wider book as a whole.

Have students revisit the visuals on the front cover and discuss why these four symbols were chosen to help communicate Pascoe’s main idea.

If students had to make a new front cover for Young Dark Emu, what visual from the text would they choose?
(ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)


Examining grammar and vocabulary

Language Use

Have students analyse and identify the use of tone and mood in Young Dark Emu. How is the language used to develop a clear, honest representation of the past?

The term ‘settler’ is consistently presented in single inverted commas. Have students discuss why this might be the case.

  • Direct students to locate a historical source/reference in Young Dark Emu. Discuss the power of authentic historical referencing to support the points that Pascoe is presenting. Have students examine the way in which Pascoe builds up evidence, images, and examples when presenting his points in Young Dark Emu. How effectively does he do this?
  • Why is this use of layering evidence important?
  • Where does he draw his evidence from, and why is this significant?

Consider the ways that Pascoe highlights changed perceptions and thinking in Young Dark Emu via language use. Invite students to brainstorm the qualities associated with ‘towns and villages’. Have students compare these qualities with that of a ‘hunter-gather society’. Discuss the evidence that Pascoe presents, such as:

But people did live there and prospered, their villages, buzzing with happiness, the towns thriving because the inhabitants were utilising the natural conditions and developing the Indigenous grains and tubers (page 55).

Focus on the success of the images presented by Pascoe, in contrast to what the settlers and wider Australian society have considered unliveable and inhospitable land.

Note to teachers: Pascoe is critical of the narrow understanding towards how First Nations People lived and the flawed portrayal of the hunter gatherer. Pascoe is clear that this evidence of settlements and agriculture has been ignored, but in some areas of Australia people were nomadic and had a very sophisticated relationship with Country and sophisticated land management practices. For example, managing resources and water in desert country, fire management, and so on. For further reading on this topic, see You Call It Desert – We Used to Live There by Jimmy Pike and Pat Lowe.
(ACELY1711)   (EN3-5B)


Have students develop a vocabulary list of key, unfamiliar or significant terms as presented in Young Dark Emu. This could be in the form of a glossary or become a word wall in the class that is co-created by students. As students come across a complex or key word, they add it to the visual word wall in the classroom. Students should be seeking to attach meaning and definitions to the words they are presented with, whilst reading for meaning in context.

The following alphabetised words (80) are located within Young Dark Emu: accounts, acquire, administrators, agriculture, ancestor, aquaculture, argument, astonishment, Australia, boon, civilisation, colonial, colony, communal, community, confront, connection, conservation, continent, cruelties, discrimination, dismiss, displaced, domesticated, drove, elders, engineering, environment, evidence, explorer, firsthand, forcibly, gathering, government, grab, greedy, harvest, history, hunter-gatherer, illustrations, inconvenient, Indigenous, industry, inflicted, ingenious, inhospitable, injustice, irrigating, justice, knowledge, label, landscape, language, massacre, native, nomadic, ownership, pastoral, perennial, permanent, perspective, possession, productive, proof, recognise, reconciliation, references, resistance, roaming, sacred, sequester, silence, society, sowing, species, structures, substantial, surviving, sustainability, tradition, voices.

Explain to students the idea of connotations in language, and have students place these words in one of two columns, positive connotations or negative connotations. Discuss why different words can be placed in both categories, and how we attach meaning and emotion to language.
(ACELA1525)   (EN3-8D)


Rich assessment task

Poetry Writing 

Have students revisit the vocabulary list where key and complex words were identified. Invite students to compose some free verse poetry that uses a number of the vocabulary list words in their own poems. Using these words will assist students in the process of reflection and synthesis of their understanding with regards to Young Dark Emu. Have students share their poems together by reading them aloud and listening to each other. The poems could then be published in a class anthology, in the school newsletter, and throughout the school.
(ACELY1714)   (EN3-6B)

Interviews and Conversations – Community Invitation

Ask students what makes a great interview/conversation. Explain to students that good questions are generally non-threatening, sensitive in nature, use personal language, and are phrased in an open-ended, inquiry-based way.

Have students work in small groups to draft interview questions that they could ask members of their local First Nations community in response to what they have read and learned in Young Dark Emu. The questions might range from the topics presented in Young Dark Emu (the land grab, agriculture, food storage, fire, sacred places, sustainable futures), they could be topics of interest (dance, dress, ceremony, storytelling, rock art) or they may be questions that are much broader in nature that this text raises (truth, justice, history, story telling, impact today).

Note to teachers: Be mindful of cultural protocols, such as asking people to talk about someone else’s Country. Consider Pascoe’s example in that he is not talking for other people’s Country, but rather bringing out the historical record that has been largely ignored and certainly not been brought to mainstream audiences. Seeking to involve Indigenous staff within the school can assist facilitate a positive experience.

Come together as a whole class, discuss and share the interview questions from different student groups, and then as a class decide on the top ten questions. Schools may like to invite members of their community to come in and speak with students, discussing some of their questions. Other options might include contacting the local Aboriginal Land Council, Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, or organisations such Reconciliation Australia for guidance in making contact with the appropriate people to invite to talk with students.
(ACELA1516)   (EN3-5B)

Cover Artworks

Have students make brief summary notes on the key ideas that Young Dark Emu presents. Students are to design a new front and back cover for Young Dark Emu that they feel effectively captures the main idea and message of the text. The teacher might discuss key elements of a front cover design including a bold title, subtitle, author name, use of striking colours, etc. The teacher can highlight key aspects of a back cover including a blurb, praise/recommendations, publisher name, barcode, etc. Students should look at the three different covers of Dark Emu for inspiration by searching online via Google Images. Students may also like to create little gold stickers as ‘awards’ for any categories that they think Young Dark Emu should win. Following this activity, create a book display with the original cover in the centre, and the student creations around it.
(ACELT1616)   (EN3-7C)

Baby Dark Emu

Explain to students that Dark Emu is written for adults, and Young Dark Emu is written for school age pupils. Have students discuss and reflect on the idea of a text for really young readers titled, Baby Dark Emu. Students could discuss and plan what it might contain. How could it tell the message of Young Dark Emu in a visual, simple, and minimalist way for children? Have students create the storyboard and accompanying captions for Baby Dark Emu. Free, customised storyboard templates could be used.
(ACELT1618)   (EN3-7C)


‘[Dark Emu] is the most important book on Australia and should be read by every Australian.’ – Marcia Langton as quoted in The AustralianThis quote appears on the back cover of Dark Emu and can equally apply to Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu.

Invite students to compose and deliver a two-minute presentation in response to the statement that ‘Young Dark Emu is the most important book on Australia and should be read by every young Australian’. In their presentation, students are encouraged to use personal language, reflecting on the impact this text has had on their own understanding, what they have learned, and what they would like to do with this new knowledge.

The presentation may be in any form chosen by the student, and could include a speech, a PowerPoint Presentation, a Prezi, a multi-media clip, a poster presentation, a short play, poem, or song.
(ACELY1710)   (EN3-1A) 


Rich assessment task

Letter or Email Writing 

‘[Dark Emu is] a vital piece of Australian history and should be mandatory in the national and global curriculum.’ – Tyrone Ormsby, Creative Director, City Standard in CityMagThis quote is taken from the back cover of Dark Emu, and as with the comment above, could equally apply to this Young Dark Emu.

Outline to students the features, structure, and language of a letter as a form of communication. If not in a letter form, teachers may like to explain to students the codes and conventions that apply when sending a formal e-mail.

Invite students to compose a letter or an e-mail to either the class teacher, principal, or Minister for Education, in which they explain why Young Dark Emu is such a ‘vital piece of Australian history’, and why it should be compulsory for all students to study it at school. Students can reflect on how studying this text might assist the wider school and community, as well as Australian society as a whole. Students could identify what other subject areas Young Dark Emu links with (other than subject English), and to include this relevance in their written response.
(ACELY1714)   (EN3-6B)