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2 — Exploring an informative text: Avoid Being a Convict

Line and  wash drawing of a man and woman in period clothes of the 1790s

Above: 1793 drawing by Juan Ravenet titled Convicts in New Holland, public domain image, no copyright

In this sequence the students will examine the text Avoid Being a Convict Sent to Australia by Meredith Costain, illustrated by David Antram.

This sequence will give students an opportunity to participate, while you model how to explore the different semiotic systems in multimodal texts. The book also provides historical background information for the unit (see Resources).

Semiotic systems in multimodal texts

Language: written and spoken
Images: still and moving
Face and body language

Some examples of grammatical features (elements and conventions)


Words (for example, phrases/groups, clauses, sentences and paragraphs)

Grammar (for example, verbs, nouns and adjectives)







Objects as symbols







Sound effects







Physical contact

Facial expressions

Body language

Layout and landscape

How things are organised

How things are placed on a page

Setting and props

Based on Anstey, M and Bull, G (2009) Using Multimodal Texts and Digital Resources in a Multiliterate Classroom, e:Update 004, ETAA, Sydney and Callow, J (1990) Image Matters, PETAA, Sydney.

Class novel

Continue reading the class novel, Jackie French’s Nanberry: Black Brother White, to the students, to at least Chapter 6 where Nanberry is taken to Surgeon White. In small groups, the students provide a personal response to the characters, events and issues in the novel to date. Groups share their responses with the whole class. ACELT1603

To complement the reading, explore some of the primary sources from the period. These include first-hand accounts from the First Fleet such as John Hunter’s journal, which refers to Arabanoo and the outbreak of smallpox and Watkin Tench’s book 1788, both of which are available online. A study of the transcripts of Tench’s book or Hunter’s journal could be undertaken to examine the language features and vocabulary of the time.

More primary sources can be found on the Resources page for this unit. ACELY1686ACHASSK085ACHASSK086

Activity 1: Shared reading

In this activity, the students will be doing a shared reading of Avoid Being a Convict Sent to Australia.

Before reading: Cover the title and look at the cover of the book. Ask the students what type of book they think it is (that is, whether it is informative or imaginative). Reveal the title and ask whether their opinion has changed. Open and skim through the book and identify characteristics and features such as the contents, index and glossary, confirming that it is an information text. Ask the students why the illustrator has used this type of illustration and who is the intended audience. ACELY1690

During reading: Assist the students to identify the features and characteristics of this informative text, such as layout, contents, index, glossary, use of headings and subheadings, and bold type used to convey meaning. Discuss the text structure and organisation (for example, how it is written in the second person and has a narrative structure combined with informative features – it is a hybrid text). Make connections between the words and images. Discuss the point of view of the text and the fact that it is written from a convict’s point of view. Ask the students what points of view are missing (those of Indigenous people and a woman, for example) and how the text might change if it was written from these points of view. ACELY1692ACELY1690ACELA1490ACHASSK085

Identify any new vocabulary and create a word bank for new vocabulary and words used in Standard Australian English that have been derived from Aboriginal languages. This could be a chart on the classroom wall, or a digital tool such as Padlet (Wallwisher) can be used. ACELA1498ACELA1487

Activity 2: RAN chart update

Refer to the class RAN chart and have the students identify whether there are any ideas that can be confirmed or misconceptions identified. Have the students add any new learnings or new wonderings. ACELA1498ACHASSK085,  ACHASSI073

Activity 3: Explicit teaching of semiotic systems used in this text

First draw the students’ attention to how cohesion is realised in the visual text through the use of visual elements such as the chain border, consistent placement of handy hints on each page (spatial), and the first letter of the first word on each page. Then together look at how the guard’s body language and facial expressions are presented throughout (gestural) and what impact this might have on the reader. Compare how the convicts are depicted. ACELA1491

Choose a double page to examine with the students. Using the Semiotic systems worksheet on the interactive whiteboard, draw the students’ attention to the visual elements of the text such as framing, placement of items in the foreground to create salience and use of colour. The Worked example: Semiotic systems at work in the text, using pages 18 and 19 of the text, may be useful. Go through each of the different sections in the grid and give examples as this may be a challenging worksheet for students. ACELA1496

Further professional reading on multimodal texts and semiotic systems is noted in the Resources section.

Examine elements of audio in this text through call-out boxes and sound effects (for example, page 15). Make connections between the text and images and inferred meaning. ACELY1692