Buster's Bluff

poem by Zoë Disher , illustrated by Jake A Minton

Learning Intention:

I am learning to understand that cooperation with others depends on shared understanding of social conventions so that I can work collaboratively with others.

Success Criteria:

  • I can identify guidelines for working in groups.
  • I can follow the agreed guidelines to work collaboratively.
  • I can reflect on my groups’ performance with a collaborative task.


Essential knowledge:


View the video Theme from The English Textual Concepts. Ensure students note the following:

  • The plot, characters, setting and language all help reveal the theme
  • The theme is the message of the text
  • The theme invites us to think about our own lives and what we value.


Oral language and communication:


Prior to reading Busters Bluff, display the following statement:

  • Chocolate should be banned.

Place students in small groups. Set a timer for three minutes and instruct them to discuss the topic.

Inform students that they won’t be required to share their opinions on the topic with the class. Instead, they’ll be reflecting on the process of conducting the discussion. Display the following questions and instruct students to respond to them in their workbooks:

  • Did you feel your ideas were listened to by your group?
  • Did everyone have an equal opportunity to speak?
  • How could you ensure all students have a chance to share their ideas?

Discuss responses and use these to compose a list of guidelines for discussion tasks.

For example:

  • Take turns to speak
  • Provide reasons for your opinions
  • Ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to share their ideas
  • Make sure all ideas are given fair consideration.


Understanding text:

Read the first stanza of Buster’s Bluff, up to the end of page 4, or listen to the audio file if you have a digital subscription. Discuss the following questions:

  • What do we know about Buster? (He likes to bark at people passing by)
  • Why do you think Buster is acting in this way? (He’s territorial and he feels he is protecting his owners)
  • What might be the theme of this story? (Students responses will vary, but might include watch out for dogs that bark or a dog’s bark might be worse than its bite)

Note: Some students might use the first line, ‘When Buster is behind his gate, he likes to act so tough,’ to correctly infer that Buster is only acting tough as he feels safe behind the gate.

Read the remainder of the poem and instruct students to discuss the same questions as previously, in their groups. Remind students of the guidelines they helped to create for discussing topics in groups.

Discuss responses. Sample ideas include:

  • What do we know about Buster? (He’s actually shy when he doesn’t have the protection of the closed gate)
  • Why do you think Buster is acting in this way? (He’s acting tough to hide the fact he’s scared of other dogs)
  • What might the theme of this story be? (Don’t take things at face value, sometimes the toughest are the most scared, a dog’s bark is often worse than its bite)

Emphasise how the events in the poem help support the possible themes (Buster acts tough when he feels safe but in reality, he’s scared of the other dogs).


Creating text:

Inform students that they will be discussing with their group ideas for stories that portray a theme of their choosing. Tell students that they will need to work collaboratively, using the guidelines they composed earlier to support their discussions. Display the following list of themes:

  • Hard work and dedication pay off
  • Loyalty is more important than winning praise
  • Everything in life worth having takes dedication
  • True friends are loyal no matter what.

Discuss further ideas of themes and add these to the list. Tell students that they will need to complete the following with their group:

  • Decide on a theme
  • Discuss suggestions for how best to portray this theme in a story (Note: Students may find it helpful to consider that one way to express a theme is by having a character initially acting in the opposite way to how the theme suggests, then as the story progresses, they overcome a hurdle and learn to act in accordance with the theme)
  • Decide on a story idea.
  • Jot down notes on the plot for the story.

Match groups together and instruct them to share their story ideas. Instruct students to provide feedback, using the Two Stars and a Wish strategy.


Assessment for/as learning:


Provide students with the same questions as earlier to use as exit ticket questions, and instruct students to respond to them in their workbooks in relation to the main activity:

  • Did you feel your ideas were listened to by your group?
  • Did everyone have an equal opportunity to speak?
  • How could you ensure all students have a chance to share their ideas?

Finally, display the following question and instruct students to add their response to it to the answers in their workbooks:

  • How does our own understanding of characters’ experiences help us identify textual themes? (They often act in a way that is opposite to the theme in the beginning before experiencing an event that helps them to learn the lesson of the theme)