Five Lions

story by Kim Rackham , illustrated by Peter Sheehan

Learning Intention:

I am learning to analyse how authors create story tension using dialogue so that I use dialogue to create tension when composing texts.

Success Criteria:

  • I am learning to analyse texts to identify how authors create story tension.
  • I can compose dialogue to express emotions.
  • I can compose texts that use dialogue to create tension.

Essential knowledge:

Ensure students understand the term ‘story tension’ and that they correctly identify the following:

  • Author’s use tension to hook readers
  • Tension creates anticipation and emotional reactions in readers
  • Tension provides excitement and suspense

Discuss methods authors use for building tension, guiding students towards identifying that methods include:

  • The setting
  • The choice of vocabulary
  • The use of dialogue
  • The type of sentences employed

Discuss the purpose of dialogue (to reveal details about characters thoughts, feelings, emotions and their personalities). Tell students that dialogue is a useful tool for authors when striving to build tension.

Oral language and communication:

Display the following extracts of dialogue and discuss the emotions expressed in each line. Select students to role-play each of the lines and instruct them to read with emotion:

  • “This is the worst day ever. I spilt my breakfast on my uniform and now I’ve realised I have forgotten my homework.” (Emotion, disappointment, frustration, expressed by a morose tone)
  • “This is a dangerous situation. We’ve got to find a way out!” (Fear, expressed by speaking quickly and loudly)
  • “If we don’t make it in time, the party will be ruined.” (Nerves, expressed by speaking quickly and emphasisng the word ‘ruined’)

Understanding text:

Prior to reading Five Lions, display the following events from the first half of the story and read through them with the class:

  • A family hear on the radio that a family of lions, one lioness and four cubs, have escaped from the zoo
  • The dad leaves for work
  • The school announces it is closed due to the escaped lions and that the students will be learning from home
  • The dad hides behind the letterbox as he doesn’t want to walk to work due to the fear he might run into the lions
  • The mum and dad both decide to work from home

Discuss how students might rate the events for story tension, on a scale of one to ten, with one being no tension and ten being a lot of tension. Most likely students will rate the level of tension around a five.

Then, read Five Lions or listen to the audio version, up to the end of page 17. Discuss how tense students find the story and use the same scale to rate the story tension. Students will likely give the story a far higher rating than the events on their own.

Discuss the methods the author has used to create tension in the story for example, through vocabulary, characters’ inner dialogue and through their spoken dialogue.

Select the first event from the list of dot points. Identify dialogue that adds tension to this event, such as:

‘Will you take a look at this!’ he says.

‘Lions?’ I ask.

‘Escaped!’ he says. ‘Five of them, last night.’

‘Oh goodness,’ says Mum. ‘Where did they escape from?’

‘Let’s see. They escaped in the middle of the night. Something about a hole in the fence.’

‘Yes, but did they find them yet?’ asks Mum.

Discuss the following:

  • What emotions are expressed through the dialogue? (Fear, disbelief, nerves)
  • What can be inferred about how the family are feeling? (They are nervous about the escaped lions and worried about the implication of lions being on the loose)
  • How does this add to the story tension? (It inspires readers to feel nervous about the lions too and it adds further tension to the events)

Place students with a partner and instruct students to identify further examples of dialogue that adds more tension to the events. Discuss responses. Draw attention to how descriptions of the character’s reactions as they deliver the dialogue have been used to add additional tension, for example:

‘Oh dear, I see what you mean,’ says Dad, and he turns a little grey.

‘Yes,’ she says. But she doesn’t sound certain.

Read the remainder of the story with students or listen to the audio file.

Creating text:

Inform students that they will be composing their own stories where they will use dialogue to add story tension.

Discuss ideas for tension in stories that focus on animals. Sample ideas include:

  • Pets becoming more human and wanting to take over the world
  • Animals escaping
  • Animals getting lost

Gradually release responsibility by completing a collaborative example first. Select one of the story ideas and plan challenging events that might occur in the story and the emotions the events may inspire. For example, for the idea about pets taking over the world:

  • A pet hamster begins talking and its family notice (Emotion, disbelief)
  • The hamster escapes from its cage (Emotion, fear it will be lost)
  • The hamster teams up with other pets and starts ordering the family around (Emotion, horror, fear)
  • One of the children in the family enlists the help of their friend and the two of them recapture the hamsters (Emotions, desperation, hope)

Discuss ideas for dialogue that could be used to express tension around these events. Sample responses are provided in a table:

Event Dialogue with tension

A pet hamster begins talking and its family notice

“Whoah, did Mr Fluffy just talk?”

“What on Earth is happening? Hamsters don’t talk!”

“I must be dreaming.”

The hamster escapes from its cage

“Oh no, Mr Fluffy isn’t in his cage. Where could he be?”

“Poor Mr Fluffy, anything could happen to him in the big, wide, world.”

“We have to find him, immediately!”

The hamster teams up with other pets and starts ordering the family around


“The fridge will remain locked until you do as we say,” Mr Fluffy said.

“This is dreadful, we’ll have to live the rest of our lives under Mr Fluffy’s command!” Mum screeched.

“How can we live like this? Our every move dictated to by a, by a, by a… hamster!” Dad said.

One of the children in the family enlists the help of their friend and the two of them recapture the hamsters

“We cannot let those fluffy rodents boss us around any longer. It’s time we snatched back control,” Kyah whispered.

“Quick Charlie, open the cage door now before the hamsters notice,” called Millie.


Discuss how you might combine the events and the dialogue into a brief story.

Inform students that they will be working with a partner to plan events for a story and to compose dialogue that creates tension. Tell them that they should then incorporate the events and the dialogue into a brief story. Allow time for students to compose their stories. Those students who find planning challenging may use the plan created collaboratively.

Assessment for/as learning:

Place students in small groups and instruct them to share their work with one another. Discuss criteria that can be used to assess the stories for example:

  • Includes challenging events
  • Uses dialogue to create tension
  • Incorporates ideas into a brief story

Instruct students to provide oral feedback on each other’s stories, using the criteria to guide their responses.

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

  • How does dialogue help authors to create tension in texts?
  • How might you use this in your own writing in the future?