Finnegan's Well

story by Kathryn England , illustrated by Michel Streich

Learning Intention:


I am learning to understand the typical structure for revealing the theme in a story so that I can write stories that clearly express a theme.


Success Criteria:


  • I can identify possible themes in a story.
  • I can consider how structure reveals the theme.
  • I can compose an ending to a story.
  • I can use structure to express a story’s theme.


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:


View the story of King Midas or listen to the audio version. Discuss the following:

  • Why is King Midas’ daughter upset? (She wishes her dad paid her more attention)
  • What does King Midas love most in the world, apart from his daughter? (Gold)
  • What does his obsession lead the king to do? (Midas makes a wish that everything he touches turns to gold. The wish means he turns his beloved daughter to gold.)
  • What does Midas learn from this wish? (Remember that loved ones are more important than any wealth and be careful what you wish for)


Understanding text:


Read Finnegan’s Well or listen to the audio version if you have a digital subscription. Place students with a partner and instruct them to discuss the following:

  • What does Finnegan want? (A well to collect water from)
  • What does Henry want? (The gold that he believes Finnegan must have)
  • How does Henry try to get what he wants when he first meets Finnegan? (He threatens to not let Finnegan go until Finnegan gives him his gold)
  • What does Henry’s desire lead him to do? (Finnegan tricks Henry into digging a hole and to shoring up the sides to make them strong, creating the well that Finnegan had been hoping for)
  • What does Henry learn? (To not be ruled by greed)

Discuss how the theme is revealed through Henry’s character. Sample responses include, greed will lead you to failure, don’t trust others, don’t allow greed to rule your head. Emphasise how this is revealed due to the fact Henry acts in the following ways:

  • In the beginning he acts in the opposite way to the idea portrayed in the theme (He allows greed to dictate his actions)
  • He encounters a challenge (Digging the hole)
  • This distracts him from his original purpose (Getting to his fence building job on time)
  • He learns his lesson in accordance with the theme (Don’t allow greed to distract you from your goal/to dictate your actions)

Discuss the following question:

  • How are themes expressed through characters? (Through their actions, by initially acting in a way that is opposite to the theme, before undertaking a challenge that leads them to learn the lesson expressed in the theme)

Emphasise that while Henry learns this lesson, Finnegan does not. Ensure students note that Finnegan gets away with tricking Henry in the story. Discuss the fact that tricking people isn’t kind.


Creating text:


Reflect on how themes are revealed in stories by using Henry’s experiences in Finnegan’s Wall to consider the approach. Ensure students note the following:

  • The character acts in a way that is different from the theme (For example, by Henry acting greedily and trying to take gold from Finnegan)
  • The character has a problem to overcome (Digging the hole for Finnegan)
  • The character learns a lesson that expresses the theme (Not to be ruled by greed)

Discuss ideas for a better lesson that Finnegan might learn in the story, for example:

  • That it isn’t kind to trick people
  • That tricking people into doing your dirty work doesn’t always pay off

Discuss ideas of ways Finnegan might learn this lesson in story, by following the structure identified earlier. Display ideas for students to refer to later. For example:

  • Henry chases after Finnegan and steals his gold
  • The water in the well isn’t fresh and tastes of mud
  • The well collapses and Finnegan has to return to collecting water from the river

Inform students that they will be composing their own ending to the story that ensures Finnegan learns not to trick others. Tell students that they can choose one of the ways Finnegan can learn this lesson from the list or create their own. Remind students to use structure to reveal the theme.

Students may work independently or with a partner for this task.


Assessment for/as learning:


Prior to the feedback section, the teacher should view the short video 20 Minute Peer Feedback Session. Note, the time of this session can be reduced depending on your students. Teachers may choose to show the video to students or not.

Match students into small groups and instruct them to use the process from the video to provide peer feedback to each other. The steps include:

  • The student requiring feedback should provide an elevator pitch of their idea by reading their ending
  • The students providing feedback can ask clarifying questions if necessary
  • The students providing feedback should give specific feedback, for example strengths and weaknesses
  • The students receiving feedback should paraphrase the feedback in their own words
  • The students receiving feedback should make a list of possible changes to be made to their work
  • Students should then switch roles to ensure all students have an opportunity to give and to receive feedback


Instruct students to respond to the following exit-ticket question in their workbooks:

  • How are themes expressed through characters?