Copyright Agency: Connecting authors and illustrators with schoolsMahtab’s Story

Exploring human experience and resilience

Author: Libby Gleeson

Close up a a young girl wearing a head scarf from book cover (detail)

Allen and Unwin   |  ISBN: 9781741753349

A unit of work for students in Upper Primary years

Synopsis: The vivid and compelling story of a young girl fleeing Afghanistan with her family and their journey to Australia. Inspired by a true story.

Mahtab was empty. She felt hungry ... for water, for her father, for her grandmother, her aunts and uncles, for the trees in the back yard, the cabinet on the wall, the silver and glass objects so lovingly collected, for her mountains, the jagged peaks that cut the sky.

Her father was dead. She felt sure of it. She was just a speck of dirt on the floor, drifting through the gap between the boards, falling to the ground.

Mahtab and her family are forced to leave their home in Herat and journey secretly through the rocky mountains to Pakistan and from there to faraway Australia. Months go by, months of waiting, months of dread. Will they ever be reunited with their father, will they ever find a home? This compelling novel by one of Australia's best-loved children's authors is based on the true story of one girl's voyage to Australia with her family.

Key skills, knowledge and understandings developed in this unit

Through reading, viewing, talking, listening, writing and representing activities students will explore themes of loss and grief, family, refugees and the ways in which ordinary people cope in extraordinary circumstances. Students will learn about the craft of writing and representing human experiences.

Teaching and learning sequence (below)

Lesson 1: Before reading  | Assessment for learning  | Book bits

Lesson 2: Exploring Afghanistan  | Shared or guided reading  | Creating timelines

Lesson 3: Map the novel  | Video conference Part 1  | Family history

Lesson 4: Assessment task 1 — Mahtab's perspective   | Reading Mirror

Lesson 5: Creating a fact file booklet about Australia

Lesson 6: Building empathy  | Assessment task 2 — writing a dramatic scene

Lesson 7: Writing on assylum seekers  | Assessment task 3 — letter to the editor

Lesson 8: Diaries  | Personification  | Dialogue, imagery and other literary devices

Lesson 9: Video conference Part 2 — response to student writing | Creating similes

Lesson 10: Exploring tense  | Assessment task 4 — creating a book trailer

Video note: This unit resulted from a collaborative project between PETAA and the Copyright Agency. The unit links to videos recorded live at Gymea Bay Public School using the NSW DEC videoconference network. The videos are presented as recorded with minimal editing.

Australian Curriculum: English Year Level   Year 6

Content descriptions

Language: Text structure and organisation – Understand how authors often innovate on text structures and play with language features to achieve particular aesthetic, humorous and persuasive purposes and effects ACELA1518 – Understand that cohesive links can be made in texts by omitting or replacing words ACELA1520. Expressing and developing ideas – Investigate how vocabulary choices, including evaluative language can express shades of meaning, feeling and opinion ACELA1525.

Literature: Literature and context – Make connections between students’ own experiences and those of characters and events represented in texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts ACELT1613. Responding to literature – Identify and explain how choices in language, for example modality, emphasis, repetition and metaphor, influence personal response to different texts ACELT1615. Examining literature – Identify the relationship between words, sounds, imagery and language patterns in narratives and poetry such as ballads, limericks and free verse ACELT1617. Creating literature – Create literary texts that adapt or combine aspects of texts students have experienced in innovative ways ACELT1618 – Experiment with text structures and language features and their effects in creating literary texts, for example, using imagery, sentence variation, metaphor and word choice ACELT1800.

Literacy: Interacting with others – Participate in and contribute to discussions, clarifying and interrogating ideas, developing and supporting arguments, sharing and evaluating information, experiences and opinions ACELY1709. Interpreting, analysing, evaluating – Analyse strategies authors use to influence readers ACELY1801 – Use comprehension strategies to interpret and analyse information and ideas, comparing content from a variety of textual sources including media and digital texts  ACELY1713. Creating texts – Use a range of software, including word processing programs, learning new functions as required to create texts ACELY1717 – Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts, choosing and experimenting with text structures, language features, images and digital resources appropriate to purpose and audience   ACELY1714.

Source for content descriptions above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

NSW English K–6 outcomes

TS3.1 Communicates effectively for a range of purposes and with a variety of audiences to express well-developed, well-organised ideas dealing with more challenging topics./p>

TS3.2 Interacts productively and with autonomy in pairs and groups of various sizes and composition, uses effective oral presentation skills and strategies and listens attentively.

RS3.5 Reads independently an extensive range of texts with increasing demands and responds to themes and issues.

RS 3.6 Uses a comprehensive range of skills and strategies appropriate to the type of text being read.

RS3.7 Critically analyses techniques used by writers to create certain effects, to use language creatively, to position the reader in various ways and to construct different interpretations of experience.

RS3.8 Identifies the text structure of a wider range of more complex text types and discusses how the characteristic grammatical features work to influence readers’ and viewers’ understanding of texts./p/>

RS3.9 Produces a wide range of well-structured and well-presented literary and factual texts for a wide variety of purposes and audiences using increasingly challenging topics, ideas, issues and written language features.

WS3.10 uses knowledge of sentence structure, grammar and punctuation to edit own writing.

WS3.12 Produces texts in a fluent and legible style and uses computer technology to present these effectively in a variety of ways.

WS 3.13 Critically analyses own texts in terms of how well they have been written, how effectively they present the subject matter and how they influence the reader.

WS3.14 Critically evaluates how own texts have been structured to achieve their purpose and discusses ways of using related grammatical features and conventions of written language to shape readers’ and viewers’ understanding of texts.

Before reading

Australian Curriculum: English sub-strands: Literature – Literature and context | Literacy – Interacting with others

Conduct a polarised debate / Anticipation Guide. Display statements such as:

  • People who wear different clothes should be treated differently.
  • If you don’t share the same beliefs as someone, you can’t possibly be friends.

Students move to areas designated as ‘Agree’ or ‘Disagree’ based on their response to the statement. Students can be asked to justify their position.

Students will: Consider position in relation to given statement. Justify position taken and listen to the reasons of others. Record position taken and reasons in a learning journal which they will revisit after studying the novel.

Assessment for learning

Australian Curriculum: English sub-strand: Literacy – Interacting with others

Gain an idea of students’ existing knowledge about the country of Afghanistan and topic of Refugees through use of KWL charts (what we Know, what we Want to learn, what we have Learned).

Students will: Construct a KWL chart about the country of Afghanistan. Construct another on the topic of refugees. Complete the K and W columns prior to reading the text and L column at completion of the unit.

Book bits

Australian Curriculum: English sub-strands: Literature – Literature and context | Language – Expressing and developing ideas

Share a variety of ‘book bits’ from the novel with the students. Choose words, sentences or extracts from the text to share one at a time with students,for example in the beginning of Chapter 1 — Mahtab ached. Icy air seeped up from the floor. All she could taste was diesel and dust. Choose snippets, for example on Page 2 When had the fog of darkness wrapped itself around the house?

Students will: Discuss what selected extracts might mean in the context of the book.

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