Language features of a cyclical explanation

Students identify the technical words in the text to include noun groups (for example adult cicadas, cicadas) and verb groups (for example emerge, bury, shed). Discuss how these choices help keep the text together and link the information as we read it.

Highlight the use of generalised nouns, for example ‘cicadas’, ‘early nymphs’. These nouns refer to a class of things rather than a particular thing, for example, cicadas rather than ‘Carl the Cicada’. Explain that the author uses these general nouns words to help us understand that this explanation of the life cycle is about what happens to all cicadas. Students can be introduced to the term ‘noun group’ through a simple explanation, for example, ‘These words name the things that are involved. We call them nouns or noun groups.’

Examine different nouns/noun groups which comprise a single noun (e.g. cicadas) and those which include a pre-modifier (e.g. the adult cicada – article + adjective + noun). Provide students with a range of words on cards to include articles, adjectives and nouns and ask them to build noun groups (e.g. their + outer + skin, the +cicadas). For each noun group they create, they must provide a sentence for it.

Identify the verb groups (e.g. lays, stay, emerge, feed) and discuss how these represent simple present tense. We use the simple present tense to show that this is the way things always happen. In this case, the use of present tense lets the reader know that this is the what the cicadas’ life cycle is like each time for each cicada. That is, this is how the life cycle always happens.

Highlight prepositional phrases which provide details about where or when around the activity, for example, throughout their life time, in the grooves of branches, up the trunks of trees. They may be called ‘time phrases’ or ‘place phrases’. Compare sentences with and without the prepositional phrases and ask students to comment on the difference between the two.

Find examples of temporal (time) conjunctions, connectives and phrases which tell us when things happen or to help to create a sequence – for example, until it is time for them to hatch, when the eggs hatch, during the summer months, at this stage, and then, at the same time. Discuss the role of these words and phrases to present events in the life cycle in an order or to tell us when things happen at points in the life cycle. Remove some of these examples and discuss what effect this has on what the reader might understand.

Highlight complex sentences - On sentence cards, write out each clause of a complex sentence for work with small groups. Write the independent clause in one colour (for example black) and the dependent clause/s in a different colour (for example orange).  In small groups, ask the students to combine one (black) clause with another (orange) clause to make one sentence. For example, ‘When the eggs hatch’ on one card (dependent clause) ‘the young cicadas emerge as early nymphs to feed on the tree sap’ on another (independent clauses). Students can also play with the placement of the clauses to examine which works better (e.g. When the eggs hatch the young cicadas emerge as early nymphs to feed on the tree sap. OR The young cicadas emerge as early nymphs to feed on the tree sap when the eggs hatch.)

Students are given a copy of the mentor text, which has been cut into paragraphs. Students work with a partner to sequence the text in the correct order. Ask students to explain how they worked out the order of the text.

Critique the mentor text according to criteria about cyclical explanations created by the class. For example:

  • technical vocabulary about cicadas
  • time conjunctions, connectives and phrases
  • action verbs which tell us what the cicadas do
  • timeless present tense
  • words and phrases which provide details of when or where.

Examine a visual representation of the life cycle. Discuss the images that are used to represent each phase and how the sequence is indicated, for example, using arrows or numbers. Discuss the type of image used in the diagram, for example, a photograph or drawn image, the detail shown, authentic colours. Emphasise the connection between the diagram and the written text, that the two support each other to provide the reader with information about the creature and its life cycle.