By Kelly Hodkinson – Head Teacher English at Erskine Park High School.
A using quality literature Shared Practice and Resource Kit (SPaRK) for English Stage 4, Years 7-8.
Resource: ‘Lion: A Long Way Home’ by Saroo Brierley, Penguin Books Australia, Vic, 2017 (Young readers’ edition).
What is it about?
‘Lion: A Long Way Home’ is the true story of Saroo Brierley, a young man adopted by an Australian couple after he became lost in India at age 5. The story centres on his memories of his early life and his experiences in India when he was lost; his search for home in his twenties; and his return to India to reunite with his biological family. The story is inspiring, both in Saroo’s ability to survive alone as a child, and his determination to find his home using Google Earth and a systematic search pattern which consumed his life for years. Overall, the biography is a great story, reflecting the importance of hope and family.
This text is appropriate for teaching students about Genre, Authority and Theme. It could easily be used to teach many other concepts including, Character, Code and Convention, Connotation, Imagery and Symbol, Context, Literary Value, Perspective, Point of View, Narrative, and Representation. It also addresses cross curricular priorities and capabilities, including Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, intercultural understanding, critical and creative thinking, literacy, personal and social capability, difference and diversity, and civics and citizenship.
Why is this important? Why does it matter?
This text presents an excellent opportunity for students to explore a nonfiction Genre and to consider a text’s ability to assert Authority and engage us through an exploration of its Themes. The novel has many features which help students to identify the conventions of the Genre, as well as ways Authority is established within the text, such as the inclusion of photographs and the forward, coupled with use of first person voice. Studying related texts, such as the associated film, website, documentary and news stories, offers students insights into the impact of different mediums and changes to the Genre, Themes and levels of Authority associated with each medium. Since the text presents Saroo’s two different worlds, as a child and adult in Australia and India, students are invited to reflect on their own values and cultural understanding, considering how these values impact the way we relate to a text and its Themes and messages. The novel can be used as a stimulus for students to explore their own and others’ voices through their writing and reflection on experiences.
How do I use the text to teach the textual concepts of Genre, Theme, and Authority?
Genre focus activities
Ask students to compare and contrast the cover of the original novel, ‘A Long Way Home’, and the cover linked to the film, ‘Lion: A Long Way Home’. What do they expect the novel to be about? What style of writing do they expect? Who will be the main characters? What time frame will it cover? How will it start and end? What are their expectations about length, point of view, fiction/nonfiction? Then ask students to think about what prompted their ideas. Are they linked to prior learning, reading, knowledge of conventions, images, text, predicting? Are there different ideas coming from the different covers or do they complement each other? Which one interests you more, and why? During and after reading the text, revisit these questions, and ask students to identify whether their expectations have been met. Identify evidence that confirms or contradicts their assumptions from the start.
Focus on Saroo’s character in the novel and the way that he is presented. Explore the different passages of his life, such as a poor, happy child living with his family in India, a poor frightened child living on the streets of Kolkata, to a small child adopted and living with a new family in Tasmania, and as a young adult searching for his home town on Google Earth, ultimately returning to India to meet his family. Look at the way these images are brought to life through the language used. How do these experiences evoke feelings in readers and present ideas and views on life? Ask students to consider and explain to a partner which part of Saroo’s life journey has the greatest impact on them personally.
Prior to either watching the film version or visiting Saroo Brierley’s website, ask students to write a list of expectations for the film/website based on their knowledge of the story and the new medium in which the text is created. What parts of the story do we expect to see? What changes to textual features do we expect? Which text is likely to have the greatest effect on you and why? How will the change in medium affect the presentation of ideas? Do the conventions we associate with a genre such as memoir or biography change with the media used to present them or are they consistent? View the film/website and reflect on students’ assumptions. Were their predictions correct? Discuss the changes that students can see and the possible reasons for them (connecting, engaging critically, engaging personally and understanding).
- apply increasing knowledge of vocabulary, text structures and language features to understand the content of texts (ACELY1733)
- explore and appreciate the aesthetic qualities in their own and other texts and the power of language to communicate information, ideas, feelings and viewpoints
- explore and explain the ways authors combine different modes and media in creating texts, and the impact of these choices on the viewer/listener (ACELY1735)
- compare the ways that language and images are used to create character, and to influence emotions and opinions in different types of texts (ACELT1621)
- recognise and use appropriate metalanguage in discussing a range of language forms, features and structures
- identify, discuss and reflect on the ideas and information in a range of texts
- critically analyse the ways experience, knowledge, values and perspectives can be represented through characters, situations and concerns in texts and how these affect responses to texts
- identify and explain the links between the ideas, information, perspectives and points of view presented in a range of different texts.
'Lion' official trailer by Transmission Films
After reading the novel, ask students to think of the themes they felt it explored. Give them a list of key words such as ‘family’, ‘adoption’, ‘lost’, ‘belonging’, and ‘survival’, and ask them to write their own statement about each based on what the novel explored. Share and compare themes students have written and discuss where these ideas come from within the novel. Explain to students that themes can be both explicit or implied in a text. Ask students to choose the theme that they felt was the strongest in the novel and list all the ways that this theme was represented. Collate ideas within the class and then assign to students one of these points to examine in the novel, finding evidence to determine whether the theme is explicitly presented or implied through this part of the novel. Collate student findings and then discuss how our own knowledge, values and cultural assumptions can play a part in identifying and interpreting themes. Ask students to answer a series of questions about themselves and then reflect on their answers and how each might influence their view of the themes in the book:
- What do you know about adoption? Are you adopted or do you know anyone who is? Do you know why people adopt or how the process works?
- Do you think adoption is a good idea? Do you believe that biological parents are the best parents? Do you believe that adoptive parents should be from the same country or religion?
- Do you believe that growing up in Australia is better than growing up in India? Do you think that schooling creates a better future? Do you think wealth makes for a happier life? Do you think it is good that Australia is multicultural?
- Write a statement about how your answers may influence your interpretation of themes in the novel.
As a class, analyse the blurb and determine the main theme represented. Identify the purpose, audience and context for the blurb and the techniques used to appeal to us and to present this theme. Tell students they are to now choose a different theme and rewrite the blurb to reflect this change. Prior to completing the writing, create a marking criteria for the task that students will then use to mark and provide feedback for peers. Students complete their blurb and post them on the class blog or other online learning platform for peer evaluation. If necessary, discuss and model for students how to provide positive constructive feedback and how to use a marking criteria. Assign each student with two student blurbs for which they need to provide constructive feedback and a mark using the class created criteria. Ask students to do a final edit of their blurb, based on their feedback and grading, then place them with the book on display in the library (understanding, engaging personally, engaging critically, experimenting and reflecting).
- identify, discuss and reflect on the ideas and information in a range of texts
- explore the ways individual interpretations of texts are influenced by students’ own knowledge, values and cultural assumptions
- compose texts that make creative connections with, adapt or transform other texts, such as the preparation of promotional material for a film or book or a narration for a documentary
- understand and explain how combinations of words and images in texts are used to represent particular groups in society, and how texts position readers in relation to those groups (ACELT1628)
- reflect on and assess their own and others’ learning against specific criteria, using reflection strategies, eg learning logs, blogs and discussions with teachers and peers.
Authority based activities
Discuss the concept of Authority with students, explaining that it may be constructed and that there may be collaboration between composers with varying degrees of authority over the final product. For example, this novel has been edited by Nan McNab to create a ‘Young readers’ edition’. Brainstorm reasons students believe this may have been necessary. What kinds of things do they envision would have altered in the novel to make it suitable for a younger audience? Who do they think has the most authority over this text? Consider who else could be involved in the process. As it is a true story, how much control do people included in the story have? Do they have the right to have the story altered to reflect their own views? How much influence does the publisher have?
After discussing these views, consider how we, as responders, determine how much authority a text has through the features of the text. Identify features of the novel that create a sense of credibility such as the photographs and maps, as well as the first person voice, believable characters and events, and how much they link to our own experiences and cultural views. Assign to groups of students different sections of the book to analyse, including the blurb, foreword, prologue, epilogue, acknowledgement, chapter 1 (‘Remembering’) and the photographs and captions section. Each group prepares and presents a short presentation to share with the class, answering the following questions:
- What are the textual and language features of the given section of the novel?
- How do they attempt to add credibility and validity to the novel?
- In your opinion, to what degree does this section add authority to the text?
- How do our own experiences and culture influence our reading and the impact of this textual feature?
After completing this task, show students the article, ‘A Long Way Home’: Ghostwriter Larry Buttrose on telling Saroo Brierley’s story behind the film ‘Lion’. Discuss the role of a ghost writer and decide how much authority he has over the final book. How does this impact students’ perception of the story? Has the knowledge of a ghost writer changed students’ view of the novel and aspects of its content? Why is there no mention of a ghost writer in the novel’s publishing details? How does this make students feel about publishing? Students are now asked to be a ghost writer for the person they sit next to in class. Students are to share a short anecdote about themselves growing up. Students record the main points of the story that their partner has shared. Over the next week or two, students are to keep a log of observations about their partner, including their expressions, vocabulary, mannerisms and so on. Students then write their partner’s anecdote, trying to capture their voice and personality. Students share their stories and peers evaluate their accuracy, identify strengths in the writing and suggest changes. Students write a reflection on the difficulties and pleasures of writing in another’s voice and reflect on how much authority they had over the final story (engaging critically, experimenting, understanding and reflecting).
- respond to and compose imaginative, informative and persuasive texts for different audiences, purposes and contexts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure
- use comprehension strategies to interpret and evaluate texts by reflecting on the validity of content and the credibility of sources, including finding evidence in the text for the author’s point of view (ACELY1723, ACELY1734)
- analyse and evaluate the ways that text structures and language features vary according to the purpose of the text and the ways that referenced sources add authority to a text (ACELY1721, ACELY1732)
- explore the ways that ideas and viewpoints in literary texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts may reflect or challenge the values of individuals and groups (ACELT1619, ACELT1626)
- discuss and explain the processes of responding and composing, identifying the personal pleasures and difficulties experienced.
Lion, film (rated PG). Directed by Garth Davis, 2016
‘A Long Way Home’: Ghostwriter Larry Buttrose on telling Saroo Brierley’s story behind the film ‘Lion’, ABC News, 16 February 2017
Saroo Brierley, author’s website
How to cite this article - Hodkinson, K. 2017, 'SPaRK – Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley', Scan 36(2).