Fern's Dilemma

story by Wendy Graham , illustrated by Anna Bron

Learning Intention:

I am learning how to identify pivotal plot points so that I can offer my perspective on the choice characters should make and potential consequences.

Success Criteria:

  • I can locate the pivotal plot points in a narrative.
  • I can consider a range of choices that a character could make.
  • I can offer my perspective through written expression.

Essential knowledge:

More information about the values that responders and composers bring to a text can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Perspective.

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

After listening to the story, explain that narratives have pivotal plot points. This is an incident that directly impacts what happens next in the story. Some examples are:

  • When mum decides to host a birthday party.
  • When Fern explains her living situation in the caravan park.
  • When Fern decides to be sick to cause the party to be cancelled.
  • When Fern accepts that the party is going ahead.

Instruct students to map out the major plot events onto a graphic organiser. This could be done on Google Jamboard with an image of the narrative planner used in your class. Then students in groups begin annotating their selections of the key plot points in the story.

Discuss the title with the class by focusing on the word dilemma. Define the term (a difficult choice, or a choice in which both outcomes are unsatisfactory). Discuss why this story presents a dilemma for Fern by comparing her perspective with that of her mother’s. Explain that students will need to use inference and read between the lines to work out the perspective of Fern and her mother. You may wish to arrange this information in a T-chart. Some suggested answers are presented below:

Fern's perspective Mum's perspective
  • She likes where she lives but is also embarrassed and wants to keep it a secret from her classmates.
  • Her classmates live in houses and apartments.
  • She wants to belong and is scared of becoming an outsider
  • Thinks all children want a birthday party.
  • Wants to do something nice for her daughter.
  • Is proud of where she lives in the caravan park

Explain to students that they are going to write letters to an Agony Aunt and responses from an Agony Aunt. This will require them to present two perspectives: the perspective of Fern and their own perspective. Provide students with samples of Editor/ and identify texts Agony Aunt letters and responses, such as the example letter from the BBC Skillwise website.

Instruct students to choose a key plot point in the narrative. They need to imagine how Fern would be viewing events at this moment and to see the story from her perspective. Students then need to write a letter to an Editor as Fern. For example:

Dear Editor,

I don’t know what to do! My mother is planning a birthday party for me. I know I sound really ungrateful, but we live in a caravan park. I’ve always kept this a secret from my friends. She’s written the invitations and it has our address on them. I’m tempted to lose them or let them get wet. Do you have any advice to give me?


Sad Birthday Girl

Students seal their letters and place them in a container, post box etc.

Randomly distribute the letters. Direct students to respond to the letter as the Agony Aunt. Remind them that they now need to write from their perspective. It should reflect how they view the situation and their values. Some students may value respecting the mum and her plans, while other students may prioritise Fern’s wish for privacy.

After students have written their response, return the letter to the original ‘Fern’. Students can then rank the usefulness of the advice and reflect on how similar the Agony Aunt’s perspective is to their own.