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Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

8 — Building background and cultural knowledge 

This is the first of four sequences based on the biographical novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara (1996). In this sequence students are oriented to the text by building background and cultural knowledge. 

Black and white photo of the rabbit-proof fence

Above: Rabbit-proof fence, 1926–1927, from the Library and Information Service of Western Australia. No copyright.

At the beginning of the sequence clearly mark the compass directions in the room and prominently display maps and charts so that students have a visual representation of their learning, and a set of atlases to assist them in tracking the journey of the girls.

Activity 1: Looking at organisational features of the novel

Introduce the novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by skimming through it with the class, pointing out the organisational features of the novel. List the features and discuss the purpose of these features. For example, the glossary provides translations of Mardujara words used in the book.  ACELY1712ACELA1524

Features of the novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

The novel contains a biography of the author, short reviews, a title page, a page with publishing details, a dedication, a table of contents, acknowledgments, a map, an introduction, numbered chapters, a glossary, a list of references, information and logo for the Black Australian writing series, and on the back cover a short blurb and another short review.

Students share predictions about what the book might be about and whether it is a factual or fictional text. After reading Doris Pilkington’s biography, found at the beginning of the book, students amend their predictions if necessary.  ACELY1713

The students now watch the film trailer for the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence. Note that the classification for this film trailer is PG (parental guidance recommended). Teachers in some states or systems may be required to seek parental permission before showing it to the students. Discuss the film clip. The purpose of the trailer is to entice people to watch the film. How has this been achieved? (Responses might include: repeated references to the rabbit-proof fence – its actual presence in some scenes, the text written across the barbed wire, the maps depicting the fence and in the dialogue – leave questions unanswered. Little dialogue is used and emotional scenes dominate.)

Begin reading the book with the students. If a class set is available, students may be directed to read the book during independent reading and for homework. Throughout the reading of the book, return regularly to this discussion and talk about how features such as the glossary, map and introduction contribute to the effectiveness of the text and to our understanding of the text.

Activity 2: Plotting the story on a map

Locate Western Australia on a map of Australia and provide the students with a Map of Western Australia showing the rabbit-proof fence. Display a large copy of the same map to be used by the students and mark on it the places mentioned in Doris Pilkington’s biography. Students locate the Pilbara region of Western Australia and shade it on the large map.

Explain that the introduction has extensive background information that will help the students navigate their way through the rest of the book. Model a process of deconstructing the text. The end product will be a visual representation of the introduction (that is, a learning map of the introduction).

Display an enlarged copy of the Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence worksheet and a map on a chalkboard, whiteboard or interactive whiteboard. Students will have their own copy of the map and a copy of the worksheet. Talk about each of the columns in the worksheet and how the information added will help them understand the text. For example, by listing questions the students will learn how to ask questions of themselves while reading and then search for answers as they continue. Explain that this is what good readers do constantly. 

Read the introduction aloud, pausing to add information to the worksheet and the map. Explain that this way of deconstructing a text and mapping learning will be used when students work in groups to read the next three chapters of the book.  ACELY1713

Activity 3: Finding out about the rabbit-proof fence

Students read the first paragraph of the section on the rabbit-proof fence from Western Perspectives on a Nation and answer the following questions:

Students read the second paragraph of the section on the rabbit-proof fence from Western Perspectives on a Nation. Label Number 1 Rabbit-Proof Fence and Number 2 Rabbit-Proof Fence on a map of Western Australia and mark in the dates they were built. Research the towns mentioned and add them to the map. Create a timeline in the classroom and add dates and events from the introduction to the book.  ACHASSI125