story by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Douglas Holgate

Learning Intention:

I am learning to identify and explain the impact of figurative language devices so that I can use them in my own writing.


Success Criteria:

  • I can identify examples of figurative language in a text
  • I can discuss the way language enhances meaning
  • I can write my own short texts using appropriate language devices.



Essential knowledge:

Teaching resources relating to literary devices can be found in the NSW Department of Education curriculum resource, Literary devices Stage 2.



Write the word ‘becalmed’ on the board. Ask students what they think it means. Use a Vocabulary knowledge scale to keep track of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words students come across in their reading.

Ask students to discuss their responses.


Understanding text:

Read the first page of the story and stop. Ask students the following questions:

  • In the story, what does ‘becalmed’ mean? (when there is no wind to help a ship to sail)
  • After reading the first page of the story, is being ‘becalmed’ a good thing or a bad thing? (For someone wishing to sail a ship, being becalmed is not a good thing)
  • What is the mood or feeling of the story after reading this first page? (It is calm, almost lazy. This is to reflect that the ship is not moving anywhere because the sea and the air are still.)

Continue reading until ‘Her eyes lit up and her feathers tingled when she saw that it had a cork in the top, and that inside it there was a rolled-up piece of paper.’ On page 17. Ask the following questions:

  • How does Shasta feel about being ‘becalmed’? (She doesn’t mind)
  • How does Bob feel about being ‘becalmed’? (He doesn’t mind)
  • Do you agree with them, or would you be more like Captain Ahab?


Explain to students that the author has used a number of figurative language devices to help create this lazy, slow, calm atmosphere. Ask students to become language detectives and see if they can find and mark examples of the following language devices in the first two pages of the story.

  • Alliteration (Breath of breeze)
  • Simile (Water was as flat as a sheet of paper)
  • Metaphor (Storm in a teacup)
  • Onomatopoeia (Thonk-thonk-thonking)


Continue reading the story until the end.

Ask students to put an asterisk next to the sentence when they realized that it was not real ‘shipwrecked survivors’ who were sending the letters in a bottle. Ask them to compare with a partner and talk about the clues given by the author.


Ask students to discuss the tone of the story as a whole. Ask the following questions:

  • What is the mood of the story (The story is relaxed, fun and non-serious)
  • How do you know? (The plot line includes a series of fake letters; the dialogue is jovial, and the word choices are fun)
  • How do the language features identified earlier, plus others later in the text help develop this mood? (The language features including alliteration, similes and metaphors work together to give the impression that this story is designed to be fun to be read for enjoyment.)


Creating text:

Ask students to imagine that they are Shasta writing her own letter in a bottle in response to those she received. Students are to think about:

  • Shasta’s purpose (Is she going to have fun at Bob’s expense, or is she going to tell Bob that she knows what he was doing)
  • What will Shasta say in the letter?
  • What is a language device they can use in the letter that will help send the message Shasta is trying to convey?
  • How does Shasta want Bob to feel while reading the letter?


Allow students time to write their letter before sharing with peers.


Assessment for/as learning:


Have students answer the following exit ticket question in their workbook.

  • How do language devices help to show the tone or mood of a piece of writing?