London's Great Stink

article by Melissa Miles , illustrated by Fifi Colston

Learning Intention:

I am learning to identify how language choices evoke emotion and judgements so that I can use subjective language to position the reader in my own texts.


Success Criteria:

  • I can define and identify subjective language.
  • I can explain how subjective language can be used to position the reader.
  • I can describe how language choices convey the position of a text.


Essential knowledge:

For more information about word choices and connotation, view the Textual Concepts Video Connotation, Imagery and Symbol.


Oral language and communication:

Prior to reading the text, display the following sentence on the board:


  1. The house on the corner of the street has brown bricks and an overgrown garden out the front.


Ask students:

- what kind of impression this sentence gives of the house (good, bad, well-kept, neglected?)

- who might live there (an old lady, a busy family, no one?)


Now display the following sentence on the board:


  1. The house hunches in the corner of the street, its tangled, overgrown weeds suffocating any native plants that might be trying to grow.


Ask students what the difference is between the two sentences. Prompt the class to think about connotations for the words “hunches”, “tangled” and “suffocating”. Ask what tone the sentence is conveying. Students might recognise a negative tone to the text. Telling them to keep that in mind, ask the same questions:

- What kind of impression does this sentence give of the house (good, bad, well-kept, neglected)?

- Who might live there (an old lady, a busy family, no one)?


Ask students what they have noticed about their answers. Have they changed? Why? Explain that subjective language is people’s thoughts and opinions (as opposed to objective, factual language). Tell students that subjective language can be subtle – the sentence doesn’t have to say: “The house is disgusting” for the reader to understand that the house is disgusting.


If you have a digital subscription, complete the interactive activity Subjective Language to Position the Reader.


Understanding text:

Read London’s Great Stink as a class or listen to the audio recording. Explain to students that even though this is a non-fiction text, the author has used subjective language to position the reader to feel a certain way about the facts. Pose the following questions to the class:


  1. How do you think the author wants you to feel about London’s situation in 1858?
  2. How do you think the author wants you to feel about Joseph Bazalgette and his designs?
  3. Can you find subjective language to back up your answers?


After students have identified several instances of subjective language (Examples for question one: worst, grossest, disgusting, nasty, putrid, feculent; examples for question two: marvel, greatest, hero, meticulous), guide them to the sentence on page 16:


These pumping stations used the biggest steam engines in existence.


Ask students if this sentence uses subjective language. Explain that the word biggest can be verified by research and evidence, so it is classified as objective language.


Creating text:

Explain that students will now be writing a similar article as London’s Great Stink, but from the point of view of blowflies. Ask what they might think of the stink, sewerage situation and death, and what their opinion might be of Joseph Bazalgette. Students should recognise that, from a fly’s point of view, the opinions will be reversed.


Ask what subjective vocabulary flies might use for London’s situation in 1858 (e.g., wonderful, delicious, marvellous, golden age) and what they might use for Joseph Bazalgette (e.g., monster, villain) and his designs (e.g. ruinous, awful, horrendous).


Assessment for/as learning:

Display the following questions for students as they’re writing:

- Am I considering how blowflies would want to position the text?

- Am I using appropriate subjective language?


A marking rubric for informative texts can be found on The School Magazine website. Students can use this rubric to inform their writing, and it can be used for peer and teacher assessment.