Dossier of Discovery: Australia's Sherlock Holmes

article by Karen Wasson , illustrated by Fifi Colston

Learning intention

I am learning to identify how authors position readers so that I can influence readers with the texts I write.

Success criteria

  • I can analyse a text to identify how authors position readers.
  • I can identify vocabulary that authors use to influence readers’ opinions.
  • I can compose a profile piece about someone I admire.
  • I can include emotive and persuasive language to persuade readers.

Essential knowledge

View the video on Representation from The School Magazine. Discuss the ideas in the video, ensuring students note that the way authors and illustrators represent their subjects is influenced by their experiences, beliefs, cultural backgrounds and the audience for whom they’re making the text. Emphasise that the way an author represents their subject reveals their opinions and often influences readers’ perceptions of the topic.

Prior to reading Dossier of Discovery: Australia’s Sherlock Holmes, discuss anything students know about the character Sherlock Holmes. Sample responses might include:

  • He is a fictitious detective
  • He solves crimes
  • He lived in England.

Provide students with a little background information to cover elements they didn’t identify, ensuring they know that: Sherlock Holmes was a fictitious detective who appeared in novels from 1887, stories featuring the character have seen many iterations over the years, he is known for being a highly intelligent sleuth detective. Identify any of the items on the list that are positive attributes (most likely most elements will be positive).

For those students who have not heard of him, discuss their opinions of detectives in general. Most likely students will conclude that detectives help people by fighting crime.

Draw a horizontal line on the board. Mark one end ‘a great detective’ and the other ‘not a great detective’. Discuss where Sherlock Holmes might fall along this line and make a note at the point based on how the students rate him. Label the mark you make on the line ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Most likely students will conclude that he is a great detective, marked with a dot towards that end of the line.

Display the following extract:

John Christie was born in Scotland in 1885. In 1863, at the age of 17, he immigrated to Australia. Initially he became a boxer and oarsman, before eventually becoming a detective.

Discuss students' initial reaction to John Christie, emphasising that we only know limited information about him. Rate him along the same line as Sherlock Holmes. Note where the students rate him as ‘John Christie 1’. Students may rate John Christie as a little lower on the scale of being a great detective than Sherlock Holmes. Display the following extract:

Detective John Christie was so good at solving crimes, he became known as Australia’s Sherlock Holmes.

Discuss whether this changes student's perception of John Christie. Re-rate John Christie along the line on the board and mark this new spot ‘John Christie 2’. Emphasise that although readers have very little information about John Christie so far, the comparison to Sherlock Holmes allows us to make a snap judgement about him. Emphasise that making comparisons to well-known characters or people allows readers to draw conclusions about them with minimal information.

Read Dossier of Discovery: Australia’s Sherlock Holmes. Discuss the following questions:

  • What does the author’s representation reveal about their opinion of John Christie? (They hold him in high esteem and believe he is a noteworthy and admirable person from history)
  • Do you agree with the author? (Most likely students will conclude that they do)
  • Where would you rate John Christie along the line to indicate how much of a good detective he is? (Students might now perceive him as a better detective)
  • What language and devices lead you to form a positive opinion? (Note this on the board for students to refer to later)

very real and very clever (Repetition of ‘very’ and ‘clever’ used for emphasis)

good at solving.

help his uncle (The emotive word ‘help’ is used here to paint a picture of John as a good man)

gifted boxer

natural detective

solving high-profile cases

Place students with a partner and instruct them to identify further examples of emotive and persuasive language used in the article. They may note their observations in their workbooks or use post-it-notes to mark examples in their copies of the magazine. Discuss responses and add the vocabulary to the displayed list. Further examples include:

  • The newspapers loved reporting his cases
  • The criminals of Victoria began to curse the name ‘John Christie’
  • Expert
  • Master
  • Impressive collection
  • Cleverly concealed
  • John wasn’t going to rest completely when there were still criminals to catch!
  • Skills
  • Rose through the ranks
  • Files containing details of his cases are kept safely at the State Library of Victoria (Which implies the information is worth preserving)

Discuss whether students agree with the author’s opinions about John Christie. Most likely they will conclude that John Christie was an admirable detective. Emphasise that the vocabulary included in the article guided students to agree with the author.

Inform students that articles that focus on one person are called a profile piece. Inform students that they will be composing a profile piece about someone they admire, using a range of devices to position readers. Tell students that first you will be completing an example collaboratively. Discuss people students admire, such as famous sports players or someone from their own lives such as a family member or sports coach.

Discuss key information about their work. A brief internet search might be useful for obtaining background information. Select an example for students to work on collaborative, such as Cathy Freeman.

Jot down facts about the person. For example, that she excelled in to 400M race, she won a Gold Medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, she was chosen to light the Olympic flame at the Olympics in 2000 and she was the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to win an Olympic Gold. Discuss who she might be compared to, for example sporting legends from the past or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have secured a place in history. The webpage Famous Aboriginal People, Activists & Role Models from Creative Spirits has some useful information.

Note: inform students that sometimes there might not be a person with whom a comparison might be drawn. In this case, tell students that they can make comparisons based on the persons attributes, for example: Her dedication and commitment is a common trait amongst those greatest of sporting legends.

Discuss subjective language that might be used to describe Cathy Freeman for example: legend, inspiration, incredible runner, the ultimate sportsperson, hero, honored. Refer back to the list of subjective language compiled earlier for further inspiration.

Use this to compose a sample profile piece. For example:

Cathy Freeman is a sporting legend, a national hero and an Olympic Gold Winner. Her dedication and commitment to her sport, the 400M sprint, saw her compete in many races on the world stage. As with most of the well-known sporting heroes, her dedication and commitment to her sport goes without saying. Her hard work paid off when in 2000 she won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games, making her the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to do so.

Place students with a partner and instruct them to compose their own profile piece by completing the following steps:

  • Identify someone you admire
  • Note key facts about them (you may like to research them on the internet)
  • Identify someone they can be compared to, if a natural comparison can be made
  • Note vocabulary that might be used to influence readers to agree with your opinion
  • Compose a brief profile piece, that uses elements to position readers.

Assessment for/as learning: 

Discuss criteria students may use to peer assess the work of their peers. For example:

  • Includes persuasive/emotive vocabulary
  • Makes a comparison where appropriate
  • Features the persons attributes
  • Persuades readers to agree with the author.

Instruct students to assess their peer’s work using the criteria and to provide oral feedback to their peers.

Effective Feedback from the NSW Department of Education has more information on the types of feedback