Basil, the Outcast

story by Wendy Graham , illustrated by Tohby Riddle

Learning Intention:

I am learning how to move beyond believing the bare assertions made by a narrator so that I can consider alternative points of view in the text.

Success Criteria:

  • I can understand the difference between making a bare assertion and supporting an opinion with evidence.
  • I can recognise bare assertions made in a story.
  • I can adopt the point of view of another character and consider their responses to the assertions that have been made.

Essential Knowledge:

More information on creating an opinion supported by evidence can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Argument.

Read the story to the class, or if you have a digital subscription you may choose to listen to the audio recording.

After reading, ask the class to identify the narrator of this story. Students should recognise that it is told through first person narration and uses a strong narrative voice. The narrator is the dog, Basil, and we see events exclusively from his point of view.

Define the following two terms:

  • Bare assertion: a claim of fact, but without supporting evidence.
  • Supported opinion: an idea or belief with reasons or explanations attached.

Ask students whether Basil uses bare assertions or supported opinions when he is talking about Princess the cat. Students should recognise that most comments that Basil makes are bare assertions. He states many negative opinions about Princess but does not support these opinions with evidence. Instruct students to reread the text and find examples of Basil making bare assertions. They might also find bare assertions made by other characters. Suggested answers include:

Basil – I am an outcast dog.

Basil - Isn’t she horrible.

Mum – You poor old mutt.

Then instruct students to find examples in the text where opinions are supported with evidence, rather than being a bare assertion. For example, Sarah says that Basil smells. Basil then supports that opinion by providing evidence that he does smell: he likes to “roll in things that pong like the rubbish tip on a hot day.”

Remind students that this is a story told from the point of view of Basil. Construct a list of other characters in the story (Princess, Sarah, Max, Mum, the vet). Explain that we do not get to hear their opinions; we only get to know them through the bare assertions made by Basil.

Ask students to adopt the point of view of Princess. Explain that you will be responding to the bare assertions made by Basil and providing your supported opinions of him in return. This activity could be done as a comprehension task, or a verbal task such as a hot seating activity or a role play.

Provide students with a selection of assertions made by Basil. Then provide a structure for their response: you say / I say. First, they should summarise the point made by Basil (you say). They then explain why they think that this point is wrong (I say). Finally, they need to make a complaint about Basil’s behaviour and support their complaint with evidence.

An example response is below:

You say that I am a fish-breath feline and question why I get to sleep inside the house on a warm cosy bed. Well, I say that fish actually smell excellent, and they are an important part of my diet. Also, I must stay inside, otherwise I might kill native wildlife. And because I am an old cat, I need a warm cozy bed for my old joints. I don’t think that you should be criticizing my smell. You yourself have admitted that you like to roll in the smelliest smells that you can find!