Close reading lesson: examining attitudes which build a picture of the surrounds

We are learning to understand how the author uses evaluative language choices or attitudes to provide the reader with a sense of what it would be like to live in the refugee camp in Bone Sparrow. 


 The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon, Lothian Children's Books, an imprint of Hachette Australia, 2016.

Success criteria

I can find evidence of words or groups of words which tell me about conditions in the camp and what it might be like to live there.

Links to the Victorian Curriculum - English

  • Victorian Curriculum (English) Speaking and Listening: Language
  • Level six: Understand the uses of objective and subjective language and bias (Content description VCELA364)
  • Victorian Curriculum (English) Writing: Language
  • Level six: Investigate how vocabulary choices, including evaluative language can express shades of meaning, feeling and opinion (Content description VCELA352)
  • Victorian Curriculum (English) Reading and Viewing: Literature
  • Level six: Identify and explain how choices in language, including modality, emphasis, repetition and metaphor, influence personal response to different texts (Content description VCELT342)

(Note: Take students' backgrounds into account and be aware of the sensitive nature of the themes in this text.)

Links to Victorian Curriculum - English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Pathway B

Speaking and listening
Level B2

Level B3

  • Use longer descriptive phrases (VCEALL417)
  • Understand how modal verbs express probability and possibility (VCEALL418)

Reading and viewing
Level B2

  • Read simple, unfamiliar informative, imaginative and persuasive texts, with support (VCEALC345)
  • Understand and use a range of learnt metalanguage to talk about text (VCEALL363)
  • Read texts that contain compound and complex sentences (VCEALL364)

Level B3

  • Access, interpret and evaluate information from a range of print and digital texts, including visual, multimodal and interactive (VCEALC424)
  • Understand and use the appropriate metalanguage to talk about the structures and features of a text (VCEALL442)
  • Follow the meaning of complex sentence patterns (VCEALL443)

Lesson sequence

It is assumed that this extract has already been read. The close reading of the extract will focus on evaluative vocabulary choices which build a particular view of the refugee camp and what it might be like to live there (see extract below). 

  1. Introduce the students to the notion of how the author of Bone Sparrow uses language to help the reader appreciate what the physical surrounds of the refugee camp is like. These choices can project a positive or negative impression. As we read through the extract, think about the following questions:

    What kind of place is the refugee camp?  How does the author help us understand this?

  2. Model identifying examples of evaluative choices the author uses to create an impression about the camp. Underline words/ groups of words which tell you about the refugee camp in the first paragraph and comment on them. Are they positive choices? Negative choices? What kinds of words build the image of the camp?  As you do, talk about the choices and their impact:

    Example 1: 'Eli and me, we know all the squeezeways in and about the place.'

    Squeezeways is a noun, and to me it suggests or infers tight spaces. The prepositional phrase 'in and about the place' suggests that there are quite a few of these squeezeways or tight spaces about the camp. I think that for Eli and Subhi, who are quite adept at hiding from the Jackets (or guards), having tight places to hide might be a positive aspect, but for people living there, the squeezeways could be unsafe or uncomfortable places.

    Example 2: 'The places where the cameras don't see'

    This is a noun group which tells us that there are cameras which are in the camp to keep track of the refugees - they cannot be trusted. That there are 'places where the cameras don't see' suggests that there are places where people can hide and not be seen, and perhaps have some privacy, but also places which might be dangerous. Again, for Eli and Subhi, being able to move about the camp unseen works for them.

    Example 3: 'the wobbly wire between the toilet blocks'

    This is a noun group telling us about the wire, with a pre-modifying adjective wobbly and a prepositional phrase 'between the toilet blocks'.  'Wobbly' suggests the place is run down, and people can move between the toilet blocks. This might make it an unsafe place.

  3. After modelling, ask students in pairs or small groups to highlight words/ word groups in other paragraphs in the extract and discuss the impact or effect of these language choices. Ask the students to annotate with +ve or -ve sign next to their selections.

Report back. Ask the students to present their selections and reasons. Highlight on a copy of the text for all to see. Discuss the cumulative effect of the description of each section of the camp and how it builds an overall picture.


Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • How do Eli and Subhi use the conditions of the camp to their advantage?
  • What does this say about them as characters?

Extract Bone Sparrow by Zara Fraillon (pages 26, 27)

Eli and me, we know all the squeezeways in and about the place. The places where the cameras don't see and the flaps that are loose enough to get you into the backs of the kitchen, and the wobbly wire between the toilet blocks.

Like if you're delivering to Ford Compound, which is the place you get put if you need to be kept more safe than usual because someone keeps on hurting you or if your brain gets so mushed from being here that you keep on hurting yourself.

We can pass straight through to Alpha Compound, which is where all the grown men without families live.

Family is right in the middle between Ford and Alpha, so our fences edge theirs.

Then there's Hard Road behind us and separating us from the other compounds on the other side. Hard Road isn't really a road, but we call it that because that's where all the hard buildings are. The ones made out of container blocks or bricks, like the old school Room, which isn't used anymore, or the Computer Room or the toilets and showers.

Eli has worked out how to deliver to every compound there is, all except Beta Compound. That's where the Jackets take people they reckon are trouble. There are extra fences and extra Jackets, and the fences have electricity and the Jackets have dogs. The people in there live in small containers by themselves and only get out for a cigarette and a walk in the morning. Beta Compound must be the loneliest place on earth.

(Acknowledgment: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon, Lothian Children's Books, an imprint of Hachette Australia, 2016)