A Puzzling Tale: Pushing the Limits

story by Claire Catacouzinos, set in Ancient Greece , illustrated by Amy Golbach

Learning intention:

I am learning to identify creative methods of storytelling so that I can enrich my texts through experimenting with genre and literary devices.


Success criteria:

  • I can recognise opportunities to improve written texts using language devices
  • I can make vocabulary choices that enrich my writing
  • I can apply my writing to the poetic structure of a mentor text.


Essential knowledge:

Preparation for writing a narrative can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Narrative.


Prior to reading the story, discuss students’ understanding of riddles. Ensure students understand that a riddle is a question that is intentionally posed in a way that requires lateral thinking to solve or answer. Explain that it is part of the folklore genre, which also incorporates myths, jokes and tales.


Pose the following riddles to the class:

  • If an electric train is travelling east, what direction is the smoke going? (Answer: There is no smoke because it’s an electric train)
  • A girl fell off a 4-metre-tall ladder, but she didn’t get hurt. How was this possible (She fell off the bottom rung)


Reiterate to students that the key to solving riddles is paying attention to the way the questions or statements are worded and what possibilities this leaves open for solutions.


Have students read ‘A Puzzling Tale’, or if you have a digital subscription, you can play the audio version. At the end of the story students work with a partner to try to figure out the answer to the riddle. Allow students to share any guesses they have made then instruct the class to turn to the answer on page 33.


Return to the original text and draw students’ attention back to the end of the story. Point out that the riddle could have been asked by simply posing a question about someone who rode into town somewhere on Friday, then spent three days there and rode out on Friday. However, the author has incorporated the riddle into a narrative instead, which engages readers in the story to make the riddle more fun and unexpected. Explain to students that they will be researching riddles and selecting one (or they may wish to make up their own if they are game enough!)


Direct them to the source 50 Riddles to Challenge Your Students to get them started. If you have a digital subscription, you may wish to complete the interactive activity to further familiarise students with the structure of riddles and the thinking required to solve them. Once they have chosen the riddle they would like to use, they should compose a short story to lead into it, and have their readers be able to make their own guesses at the end of the story before discovering the answer. For example, pose the following riddle to them:


  • The man crossed the river without swimming, using a boat or a bridge. How is this possible? (Answer: He walked across. The river was frozen)


Discuss how a story could be created to lead up to this riddle. Ask students to consider the man’s back story by asking questions about who he might be, where he may be going and why he would need to cross the river. Explain that these details will help us engage more with a story and become more invested in solving the riddle.


Students may wish to work on their stories independently or with a partner. If time allows, students should swap stories or share with the class.