Cultured Vulture

poem by Neal Levin , illustrated by David Legge

Learning intention

I am learning to create literary texts that adapt aspects of texts I have experienced so that I can develop my skills with composing creative texts.

Success criteria

  • I can identify what makes a character surprising.
  • I can reflect on how this impacts reader engagement and enjoyment of a poem.
  • I can identify common behaviour/ideas associated with animals.
  • I can discuss how these animals might behave in unexpected ways.
  • I can incorporate these ideas into a poem.
  • I can use rhyming couplets in my poem.


Prior to reading Cultured Vulture discuss any words and ideas students associate with vultures and jot these on the board. Sample responses include:

carnivore, eats carrion, scavenger, wild.

Read Cultured Vulture or listen to the audio version while looking at the illustration in the magazine. Discuss the following questions:

  • What is surprising about the vulture described in the poem? (The vulture in the poem won’t eat other animals as they are a vegetarian)
  • How does this impact reader enjoyment/engagement with the poem? (It creates interest as being a vegetarian is unusual for a vulture)

Most likely students will conclude that the fact that the vulture behaves in an unexpected way (by being a vegetarian) makes the poem more interesting and engaging.

Display the names of the following animals:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Mice
  • Lions
  • Elephants

For each of the animals, discuss ideas associated with them and the usual/expected way each creature behaves. Jot the ideas on the board. Sample responses include:

  • Dogs – chase sticks, don’t like cats, wag their tails, come rushing to greet their owners, loyal
  • Cats – don’t like dogs, good at climbing, have nine lives, can be a little aloof, like to wash themselves, chase mice
  • Mice – scurry about under the floorboards, like eating cheese, squeak, build nests, have lots of babies
  • Lions – roar, king of the jungle, chase animals, live in a pride with a male leader
  • Elephants – move in a slow, lumbering way, afraid of mice, flap their ears, use their trunk to make a trumpeting sound, never forget anything.

Inform students that they will be composing their own poem based on an animal that behaves in an unexpected way/in a way that differs from how they commonly behave. Tell students that first you will be composing an example together. Select one of the animals, for example a cat. Refer back to the ideas discussed about the animal earlier. Pose the following questions:

  • What would be the most surprising/unexpected way for the animal to behave? (They can’t climb and aren’t very agile)
  • How might the animal feel about this? (They would be embarrassed and long to climb and jump like an acrobat)
  • How might others view this behaviour? (They would expect them to jump and climb and would be surprised if they don’t behave in this way)

Refer back to Cultured Vulture to identify the narrator of the poem (third person but the vulture’s thoughts and feelings are expressed using quoted speech). Begin by noting key phrases that might be combined into a poem, and include quoted speech for the animal, for example:

  • Cats are usually agile
  • One was very embarrassed
  • Every time they tried to jump they fell
  • Had to lick their wounds
  • They are better suited to lumbering like an elephant
  • “I’ve tried so many times and I just cannot jump and whirl”
  • “It’s so embarrassing, I want to hide”
  • “If only everyone thought I were an elephant”
  • Paints self grey using acrylic paint.

Refer back to Cultured Vulture to identify the rhyming pattern (rhyming couplets, with pairs of lines that rhyme). Combine the ideas into a collaborative poem, striving to use rhyming couplets. A thesaurus or an online rhyming dictionary might be useful for identifying rhyming words. An example of a poem is:

There was a cat who couldn’t jump,

He sadly said, “I’m such a lump”.

Every time he had a try,

He’d lick his wounds, sit and cry.

“If only I was an elephant,

“Jumping would be irrelevant,

“Then I’d be left alone,

And I’d no longer have to groan.”

Place students with a partner or in a small group. Students may also work independently for this task if they wish. Instruct them to compose a poem, adapting the ideas in Cultured Vulture, by completing the following steps:

  • Select an animal
  • Identify the ways it usually behaves/common ideas associated with the animal
  • Consider how it might behave in an unexpected/surprising way
  • List ideas in phrases
  • Combine the ideas into a poem
  • Strive to use rhyming couplets in your poem.

Once students have had time to compose their poems, pair them with another group. Instruct them to share their poems with their buddy pair/group. Share some examples with the whole class and discuss the interest/enjoyment created by showing an animal behaving in an unexpected way.