Exploring Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom

Books which tell us the story from the perspective of one of the main characters can often have unreliable narrators - narrators you can’t quite trust 100%. These unreliable narrators can be fascinating to explore in the classroom - allowing us to take a closer look at the intentions of the author and what kind of person these characters are.

 
Exploring Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom. A quick look at first person narratives with unreliable narrators and how we can explore them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

The Unaware Narrator

Jamal in Boy Overboard (by Morris Gleitzman) is sure that he and his sister have arrived at a soccer match. Only to discover that he is terribly wrong.

Jamal is a character who often only has part of the story. He is forced to fill in the gaps with the knowledge he does have, but many times his conclusions aren’t right and he has to reassess and draw new conclusions. As readers there are times when we are aware that he doesn’t have it quite right (or we soon find out that is the case) and we have to assess whether we will believe his next conclusion, or treat it with a level of scepticism.

Morris Gleitzman writes a LOT of characters like this. Which makes sense because childhood often feels like this - like you have some of the puzzle pieces, but someone’s hidden the picture which helps you put them together.

Another great example of a character like this is Mothball the Wombat from Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s Diary of a Wombat story. In this case, the illustrations soon let us know that the scratching post is a ladder and the furry enemy is really a doormat, so we find ourselves carrying two narratives through the story - the narrative in Mothball’s head and the narrative we can tell from the illustrations.

Exploring Unaware Narrators in the Classroom

These can be great fun to explore in the classroom because our own knowledge, experiences and schema may be able to help us fill in the gaps. Comparing what our narrators think is happening and what is really happening allows us to understand where our characters come from - whether they’re boys or wombats.

It also allows us to explore the intentions of the author. An author study on Morris Gleitzman books would be particularly interesting, looking at what information he gives his narrators before the events of the book, what conclusions they draw from that information when they’re in unfamiliar circumstances and what they learn going forward.

When we explore a character like Mothball, we can also look at the choices the author has made - the wombat understands certain terms like sleep, scratch and - of course - carrots, but hasn’t come up across concepts like garden beds, door mats or washing lines. Why has the author made those choices for our wombat narrator? How would the story be different if there were different choices?

The Deliberately Unreliable Narrator

Erica Yurken is the best thing since sliced bread. Or at least she is in her own mind. And in the stories she tells others.

Robin Klein’s classic novel Hating Alison Ashley is told from the perspective of Erica Yurken who constantly creates stories about herself and others to amuse herself, get herself out of trouble or to impress other people - including Alison Ashley.

If we just listened to Erica, we would probably be inclined to hate Alison Ashley ourselves. But there are things which make us question Erica’s trustworthiness - times when she gets caught out in her stories, times when she contradicts herself and times when we glimpse her through the eyes of other characters. The author knows that Erica is not reliable and wants the reader to know this too.

We find another unreliable narrator in the Do Not Open This Book series from Andy Lee. Our narrator desperately wants us to stop turning the pages (because dreadful things happen to him when we do), so he’ll try anything to stop us - even turning the book around so we’ll turn the pages from back to front. The illustrations, eventual confessions and meta-knowledge of how books work allows us to know that our narrator is not the most trustworthy of characters - even if he’s only being unreliable to save his own skin.

A. Wolf is also just trying to save his skin in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. He’s found himself in jail and he wants us to know that it’s not his fault at all - it’s all because he needed to borrow some sugar.

In this case, it’s our own background knowledge - our understanding of fairy tales - which makes us question his honesty. After all - we’ve never heard this story before. But we keep reading to see how he’s going to justify his terrible crimes.

 
 

Exploring Deliberately Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom

The biggest questions we can ask in our classrooms when it comes to deliberately unreliable narrators is why do they behave like this? Why are they trying to mislead us - the readers - and what will they get if they manage this?

We can also challenge students to write first person narration like this. To consider what motivates a character and then have them tell a story where they work to convince the reader of something which may not be quite true. This works particularly well when students begin with well known stories like fairy tales and myths and try to tell the story from the perspective of the ‘bad guy’.

What unreliable narrators have you come across in your reading? Have you used a book with an unreliable narrator in your classroom? Leave a comment below.

 
 

Introducing Hating Alison Ashley

Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein has been a staple of Australian classrooms for decades now - and for good reason! This classic Australian novel still holds its own against more modern novels and is the perfect book to engage your upper primary readers.

 
Introducing Hating Alison Ashley. A look at Hating Alison Ashley, the classic Australian middle grades novel by Robin Klein - and why it's perfect for upper primary classrooms. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Hating Alison Ashley is the story of Erica Yurken - a Year 6 student with big dreams and bigger stories who finds her world turned upside down when the seemingly perfect Alison Ashley arrives at her disadvantaged school. As the story progresses, and Erica gets more frustrated with Alison taking on her position of ‘best student’ we see that Alison’s life might not be as perfect as it seems - and Erica might have a real direction to take her big imagination.

Why should you teach Hating Alison Ashley in your classroom?

1. It’s still really relevant!

There’s an occasional reference which seems a bit out of place in Hating Alison Ashley, but it’s still tackling themes and ideas which feel relevant to students today - our position in our class or school, friendships or lack of them, embarrassing families, dealing with teachers and of course - school camp.

Hating Alison Ashley gives students a launching point to discuss some of these ideas and what they would do if they were in the positions that Erica and Alison find themselves in throughout the story.

2. Erica Yurken

Erica knows she is smart. She knows she is the best thing her school has ever known. But maybe, just maybe, is there a possibility she isn’t quite as smart as she thinks she is?

Erica is a brutally real character. She’s funny and smart, but also super frustrating at times. She narrates the story, so we see it from her point of view, but sometimes she gives us just enough information to wonder what the story would be like if someone else was telling it.

Erica in the book also makes me wonder what she would be like as a teenager or an adult. She’s an incredibly memorable character, and it’s definitely worth the time exploring her closer.

 
 

3. The other real characters

Hating Alison Ashley is filled with characters who feel real - from Alison Ashley who looks perfect but has a less than perfect family life to Barry Hollis who does all sorts of terrible things - but seems to be looking for read friendships as much as Erica is. Erica’s family includes her super embarrassing younger sister and strangely absent-but-there older brother who live in dream worlds as much as Erica does as well as Valjoy, who is just the right amount of terrifying. The teachers are also a delight to read - feeling incredibly real as they take on super challenging tasks each day. Then there’s Lennie - Erica’s mother’s boyfriend - who comes in to save the day at just the right time.

These characters elevate the story, allowing students more areas to explore and discuss. Is Erica fair to Lennie? Is Barry Hollis really misguided? What skills do you need to be a teacher at Erica’s school?

4. The novel is really accessible - but has room for deeper exploration

Hating Alison Ashley isn’t a particularly long novel. It would be possible to read the book fairly quickly, either with students reading alone or a mixture of along reading, teacher reading and guided reading. It’s set in a fairly familiar setting - an Australian school in an Australian suburb - so students already have some background knowledge as they step into the world. The writing is good - but it isn’t overwhelmingly complex. It’s easily a novel every student can engage in reading.

But the themes allow for a wide range of explorations for more advanced readers. Unravelling Erica as a character can be an in-depth task on its own! Students can also compare characters, look at the choices made throughout the book by the characters and the author, look at how Erica relates to the people around her and engage in creative tasks around the book.

Have you read Hating Alison Ashley with a class - or as a student? Share your experiences in the comments!

 
 

Exploring The Girl With a Mind For Math in the Classroom

The Girl With a Mind for Math is a beautiful book from the creative team of Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley. Telling the story of Raye Montague who pioneered new ways of designing ships in the US Navy, this is a must have book for the classroom - and one which can be used in a number of different lessons.

 
Exploring The Girl With a Mind for Math in the Classroom. Explore this picture book memoir of the amazing Raye Montague by author Julia Finley Mosca and illustrator Daniel Rieley. This blog post explores why it's great for the classroom and a range of teaching ideas as well as a free resource. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

This is the third book from Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley (and the team at The Innovation Press) focusing on the life and achievements of great scientists. The Girl With a Mind for Math introduces us to Raye Montague who was just a young girl when her grandfather took her to visit a submarine, inspiring her to one day design ships just like it. However, Raye was born into the segregated south of the USA, and as a black girl she would have to fight to get the education she wanted to get. Her persistence and hard work and the support of her family over a number of years helped her finally achieve her goal and allowed her to bring new design ideas into the US Navy.

Why is this book important?

Told in relatively simple rhyme, A Girl With a Mind for Math allows readers an accessible insight into the world of a remarkable mathematician. With the extensive additional material at the end of the book, adults reading with children can help them gain an even deeper understanding of Raye Montague and the importance of her work, as well as the systemic barriers she faced as she worked to achieve her dream.

Picture book memoirs and biographies can be used across a wide range of grades. Young students can bring illustrations and words together to discover new worlds, while older readers can experience the story and gain background knowledge to support further research without having to wade through material often designed for adult readers.

This is also a story we should all know, but may not. Raye Montague was named a ‘hidden figure’ of the US Navy; someone whose contributions may have been overlooked or not remembered or celebrated as much as they should have been. Her achievements would be extraordinary for anyone - to design a ship by computer in less than 19 hours even though she had been given a month to work on it - but they are especially noteworthy as you learn the story of what she had to do to learn the skills she needed to achieve this feat.

 
 

Ways to Use The Girl With a Mind for Math in the Classroom

The Girl With a Mind for Math is a great book to share with your students or to add to your classroom library. But you can also use it for a range of teaching moments.

Explore machines used by the military

Often times when we think about the military, we think about those who fight in the armed forces. But it’s worth taking a little time to look at what happens behind the scenes and the machines which are used to assist the military. Some of these machines have become famous in history (like the aircraft of World War 2) and it can be interesting to look at how these were designed, how they worked and how they changed the way battles were fought or life was made safer for armed forces.

The Girl With a Mind For Math is just a little insight to that behind the scenes work - there are many scientists, mathematicians and engineers who have worked for the military to create machines!

Uncover other under recognised people of STEM

Students can go for their own search for STEM people in history who should be well known but aren’t. They might like to use their research to write memoirs or create museum displays or can even create a website or podcast series to share their discoveries with others. It can be a great way to explore research skills as well.

Explore some of the themes of the book

There are so many themes to explore in The Girl With a Mind for Math. Students can look at some of Raye Montague’s defining characteristics such as persistence and hard work, compare these with other examples from other people or reflect on how they can use these skills in their own lives.

Older students might like to explore discrimination and how it can impact the lives of people historically and today. The book gives several examples of discrimination faced by Raye Montague; students can also examine other notable people and the challenges they faced due to discrimination.

Download a Freebie for The Girl With a Mind for Math

Want a free resource to go with The Girl With a Mind for Math? Galarious Goods was thrilled to create an Interactive Timeline, along with additional questions for teachers to use, for students to set out notable moments in Raye Montague’s life. This is a great way to get an overall understanding of the book, and a good starting place for a more in-depth exploration.

You can see how the resource goes together in this video!

 
 


Have you read The Girl With a Mind for Math? Have you used it in your classroom?

 
 

8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard

Providing students with high quality background information for Boy Overboard can be a little bit of a challenge. Many resources are older and out of date and many links are sadly broken. Here, I’ve collected a range of free resources to assist you in providing background information for Boy Overboard and teaching the novel more effectively to your students.

 
8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard - a collection of links and ideas for the Morris Gleitzman novel and some ways to use them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post.

8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard - a collection of links and ideas for the Morris Gleitzman novel and some ways to use them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post.

 

(While all efforts are made to make sure these links are accurate - the nature of the web means they may be ‘broken’. Sometimes searching will help you access the material, but - sadly - some information may be taken from the web permanently)

On Refugees

National Geographic: Refugee Week

To access this resource, you need a login (which is quick and easy to get). This one page primary resource introduces students to a range of concepts, vocabulary terms and ideas around refugees. The page also includes teaching ideas.

This would be good to use before students read Boy Overboard or right after. It would also be a useful resource if students were researching refugees.

BTN: Refugee Day

This BTN video provides background information on refugees in a range of situations and provides images for students to put with the story. BTN has broadcast a wide range of stories on refugees over the years and many are available. This story, like many of the others, also includes teacher notes and further links for students to explore.

UNHCR Teaching Materials for 9-12 Year Olds

This teaching resource from the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) offers a range of teaching ideas and lesson ideas about refugees. One of the most useful resources is the teacher’s guide to integrating teaching about refugees and asylum into a range of classroom subjects.

On Afghanistan

The Pulitzer Centre: Lesson Plan on Afghanistan

This is a complete lesson plan on Afghanistan and its history, based around resources from news organisations. The lesson plan may be a little complex for your students, but there are a range of teacher questions and activities and some good news links (though some links are no longer available)

Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society page is good for some background information on Afghanistan. Some of the links are broken, but the documents at the bottom provide a timeline and a number of fact sheets with extra information about Afghanistan.

On the Pacific Solution

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council - Discussion Paper - The Pacific Solution
Australian Parliament House - Parliamentary Library - Pacific Solution

These two pages are aimed at an older audience, but provide background information to The Pacific Solution and arguments around it. These would be good for teachers to use when preparing discussions or further reading information for students.

On Boy Overboard

Morris Gleitzman’s Author Notes

This is a thoughtful reflection on why Morris Gleitzman wrote Boy Overboard and would be especially good to read while considering author intention. Students should wait until they have finished reading the book to read this.

Boy Overboard Novel Study - Sample Pack

This Galarious Goods free resource allows teachers and students to take a closer look at several aspects of Boy Overboard. This is a great resource if you have limited time to explore the novel or you are just looking for a few supplementary resources

 
 

The What Would You Take? Project - A Hands On Classroom Activity

What would you take with you if you had to leave your house immediately?

The ‘what would you take’ project is a fairly common one in schools, allowing students to develop empathy for book characters and real life situations and to create connections. But where can you use it effectively? And how can you extend this project?

 
What Would You Take With You? Project. A great classroom project for teachers to use in reading or social studies classrooms. Perfect to go with books like Boy Overboard or when covering natural disasters and their impacts on the population. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

At the end of Year 8, my local area was impacted by a range of bushfires. Thick smoke filled the air and buses came to take students home so parents could make evacuation decisions.

My best friend at the time lived away from our rural area. My parents and her parents made the decision that I would go home with her. I would be safe and one less person for my parents to worry about if they needed to evacuate. But I’ll never forget the phone call I had with my mother: “what do you want me to take if we have to leave?”

I was surprised by how quick my answer was. “My pointe shoes.” I’d only been dancing on pointe for a year, but we’d bought the shoes during a once in a lifetime trip to the USA and they were dancing and that trip all in one. I didn’t want to lose them.

Thankfully, my parents weren’t required to evacuate and the fire was stopped before it hit the town. But it’s a moment I’ve often come back to when reading books where characters have to leave suddenly.

**

In Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman, Jamal and his family have an incredibly short time to pack their lives up. They know they need clothes, they know they need things of value to trade, and they need things of value to them like Jamal’s soccer ball.

When we read novels and picture books where this occurs, we often ask students to reflect on what they would take if they were starting a new life somewhere else. We might extend that and ask them to fill a shoebox or a backpack with their chosen items, or items which represent what they would take. We ask students to reflect on what is important to them and what that says about our priorities - and what is important to the characters and what that tells us about them.

This project can be used when reading books about refugees, but can also be used when we talk about natural disasters or historical events where people have left their home with minimal time or space to take everything they want.

(It is important, though, to approach this with sensitivity, as there is a likelihood that some of your students may have been through this. Check in with your students and their feelings around it and be prepared to change the project if you need to. Students may also be unable to bring in some valuable items, so should be allowed to bring in photographs, drawings or a written piece to represent items if they would like to.)

 
What Would You Take With You? Project. A great classroom project for teachers to use in reading or social studies classrooms. Perfect to go with books like Boy Overboard or when covering natural disasters and their impacts on the population. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

How to Extend the What Would You Take Project

Write About It

The easiest way to extend this project is simply to write about it. Students can write about what they have chosen, and practice description skills by describing them. They can draw the items they have chosen and highlight why they have chosen those items. They can also write a longer piece when they reflect on what they would or wouldn’t bring, why they make those choices and what it says about them and what they are interested in.

A Museum

Students can use their items to create a museum display of what they have chosen. They can combine their items with written labels and information cards to create a display which they can then share with other classes and parents.

Students can also take photographs of their chosen items and create a ‘virtual’ display using a slide show program. Students can explore using hyperlinks or in-page links to connect one page to another or create a slideshow which viewers look through. These can also be turned into a printed book which can be added to student portfolios or sent home with the student.

Apply to Characters

As well as creating their own ‘what would I take’ project, students can think about what characters might take with them if they had to leave suddenly. This can easily be applied to novels or picture books with strong characters and students can write, draw or create their own ‘what would you take’ boxes for these characters. By doing this, students think deeper about what characters want and what defines them.

The What Would You Take project is a great way for students to consider items which are important to us and others and to reflect on what it would be like to have to choose these quickly and to consider limited space. If undertaken thoughtfully, it’s the perfect accompaniment to many book studies and history topics in the classroom.

 
 

Celebrating Valentines Day in the Reading Classroom

While we can’t give our favourite characters a large bunch of long stemmed roses and it’s a little hard to bombard our favourite authors with chocolates and declarations of love, we can bring the spirit of Valentine’s Day into our reading classrooms and celebrate all we love about reading and books.

 
Celebrate Valentine's Day in the Reading Classroom with these Valentine's Day teaching ideas. With a free character valentine resource and more. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Celebrating the Books and Characters We Love

Valentine’s Day is a great time to celebrate everything we love about our favourite books and characters. Whether it’s the small celebration of a classroom activity or a complete Valentine’s Book Love Party, sharing affection for favourite books and characters consolidates the classroom as a place where reading is valued.

How can your students show this love? They can write letters to their favourite characters or their favourite authors, telling them how much they mean to their lives. You can schedule a lesson full of book talks, where students share what they love about their favourite books and why their classmates should also read them. They can create images of their favourite characters and write about their lovable qualities or create Valentine’s Day cards for their favourite characters or books.

Taking it a little further, students can examine the qualities of a popular book or series and discuss why it is so loved. They can analyse why ‘bad guys’ are often loved by readers, or how to make an unlikeable character more likeable.

By acknowledging that emotion - falling in love with books and characters - is an important part of a reading life, we allow students to see reading as a lifelong pursuit - something they can have as part of their world long after school has finished.

 
Encourage students to share their love of books and reading on Valentine's Day and throughout the rest of the school year to create a reading friendly environment. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Celebrating Friendship in Books

Friendship is a central theme in many books for children and a great comparison topic for Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s the imaginative friendship of Jess and Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia, the frenemy friendship of Erica and Alison in Hating Alison Ashley or the often life-saving friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series, there’s so much to explore and discuss.

Some of the things students can question and discuss:

  • What does a good friendship look like in books?

  • Which books show us examples of good friendships?

  • How is the friendship in one book similar to a friendship in another book?

  • What picture books show us friendships?

  • What is our favourite friendship in books?

  • What do books teach us about friendship?

How Would Characters Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

What kind of Valentine’s Day celebrations would Pig the Pug plan? Does the Green Sheep stop resting to write Valentine’s Day cards? And would Gandalf send Bilbo a Valentine’s Day card?

Imagining Valentine’s Day celebrations for book characters allows students to step into the shoes of those characters for a little while. Students can discuss the features of those characters, what they would be likely to say or do, or how they might interact with other characters in an unfamiliar situation.

One activity students could engage in is writing Valentine’s Day Cards from one character to another character. This could be from a book you are studying as a class, books your students love or a brand new picture book you introduce to your students on the day.

Whether you just engage in a small book based activity or you plan a whole lesson of Valentine’s themed book celebrations, there’s so many ways to celebrate a class love of books on Valentine’s Day!

 
 
 
 

Celebrating Galarious Goods! Welcome to Our First Birthday Party!

 
Celebrating Galarious Goods! Welcome to Our First Birthday Party!
 

Happy anniversary to me! This time last year I was preparing to launch Galarious Goods. I was learning everything there was to know about preparing teacher resources which could be sold around the world and working hard to have quality resources to sell when I went live. Since then, hundreds of teachers have bought Galarious Goods products in their classrooms and thousands have been able to download free products from TeachersPayTeachers and from right here. Not too bad for the first year in business!

Just as we're celebrating here, it's important to celebrate learning in the classroom. Sometimes there's bigger things to celebrate, like understanding how fractions work or students showing big improvements in a spelling test. Other times you might just want to celebrate learning the origin of a word or learning how to apply maths skills to solve a multi-step problem. All these types of learning are building bricks in the knowledge of our students and it's important to acknowledge that our students are continually learning and that all learning is important.

Posters and displays can be a great way to acknowledge the daily learning, so I've put together a little Celebrating Learning Poster Freebie which is suitable for a range of classrooms. There are two posters included - both in black and white and colour - and these allow you to brainstorm ways to celebrate in the classroom and share what you're celebrating with your students and parents.

 
 

I've learned so much in the last year, but one thing which has been confirmed for me is how strong the community of teachers are around the world. So many teachers are dedicated to sharing ideas and making the often difficult teaching job that little bit easier (or more fun, if you're following some of the 'oops, I went shopping at Ikea/Kmart/Target' posts on Instagram!)

What else have I learned? Well my design skills have improved drastically, something which I really noticed when I recently updated the Ranger's Apprentice novel study resources! I've also learned a lot about some of the ways I can help teachers to present the same material in different ways - offering task cards and presentation files for teachers with low photocopy budgets or low-paper schools, offering differentiated information sheets for difficult topics, offering activities which can be completed by individuals, small groups or in a whole class effort!

I've also learned a HUGE amount about Australian Civics and Citizenship and how the Australian Government works. Interestingly, I think it's made me a more informed citizen - I've always had an interest in politics and government, but now I can understand some of the reasons they make the statements they make or legislate in a certain way!

Next week, I'm going to share some of my favourite resources from the last year, but for now I just wanted to say thank you to my readers and buyers. Here's to another great year ahead.

You can get your Galarious Goods resources here.