Mervin the Vermin

part one of a three-part story by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Greg Holfeld

Learning Intention: 

I am learning how to write and punctuate dialogue so that I can consider the text from an alternate point of view. 

Success Criteria: 

  • I can understand and apply the grammar and punctuation rules of direct speech. 
  • I can track how the primary and secondary points of view are expressed in a text through dialogue.  
  • I can use my understanding of the purpose and structure of dialogue to compose the story from a different point of view. 

Essential Knowledge: 

More information about the position from which a text should be perceived can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Point of View. 

The NSW Education resource Stage 3 Reading - Text Features provides additional information on the use of speech marks in writing.  

Read the story individually or as a class.  

After reading, explain the textual concept of point of view to the class by focusing on the idea of the narrator. Ensure that the class understands that a narrator is different to the author and can be a character inside or outside the story. Narrators can usually be identified by looking at whether the story is written in the first, second, or third person.  

Provide students with the following quotation from the story and then ask them to identify and describe the narrator:  

I was furious. I was white with rage. I was ready to take my brother Mervin and throttle him until he wished that he’d never been born.  

Students should recognise that the narrator is a character inside the story. Her name is Felicity and she is the central character in the narrative which focuses on her brother’s (Mervin’s) disappearance.   

Remind students that a narrator positions us to interpret information in a story. We mainly see Felicity’s thoughts and feelings about events. Ask students to construct a list of opinions that Felicity expresses in the text. Some examples are:  

  • That her scrunchies should not be used as tutus, 
  • That Francis is deeply annoying, 
  • That her mum is an excellent cook, 
  • That Fernhurst is an eerie property, 
  • That Doctor Bompas is eccentric. 

Unpack an extract from the text, identifying the language used by the author to construct Felicity’s point of view on one of these topics. Examples of Felicity’s thoughts, which include negative descriptions and words with negative connotations, have been identified in the suggested passage: 

‘Enough!’ I snapped. ‘You two live in dream land. One day it’s going to catch up with you something fierce.’ 

Eeee-yeeeeeeessss,’ said Francis loudly (another of his annoying traits, saying yes like that). ‘And then we’ll be rich and famous.’ 

‘Which is why,’ said Mervin, ‘Melicent, Milicent and Molicent are becoming ballet dancers. They are our rodent road to riches.’ 

‘Look.’ Mervin pointed at one of the rats. ‘Milicent looks just like Darcey Bussell.’ 


‘She’s a ballerina Frank found when he was Googling.’ 

Francis nodded in a don’t you know anything? sort of way.  

I rolled my eyes and stood.  

Ask what the effect of these language choices are. Students should identify that Felicity thinks that Francis is an infuriating know-it-all. The effect on us, as the audience, is that we don’t like him either and take Felicity’s side (even though Felicity repeatedly threatens him). 

Then explain to students that even though Felicity’s point of view is the primary way we see the story, the dialogue gives us hints into the points of view of the characters of Mervin, Francis and Mum. Ask students to identify their points of view on the following topics:  

  1. Using Felicity’s scrunchies as tutus on the rats (Mervin and Francis think that the rats will appear on Australia’s Got Talent and allow them to become rich.) 
  1. Whether Fernhurst is a spooky place (Mum thinks that it just stands out because it is an older house with period architectural features.) 
  1. What Doctor Bompas is like (Mum thinks, like Felicity, that he is a bit of a recluse and probably strange.) 

Explain that dialogue gives us secondary points of view in a text and alternative interpretations of events.  

Finally, consolidate student understanding by considering the story from an alternative point of view (Francis). Instruct students to write a section of the story (after the fight between Francis and Felicity, when the boys go to Fernhurst to photograph the rats) using Francis as narrator. Their story should combine narration which incorporates Francis’s thoughts with dialogue between Francis and Mervin. There should be roughly the same amount of narration and dialogue.  

Ensure that students are familiar with the grammar and punctuation rules of dialogue before commencing this task: 

  • Each speaker gets a new line. 
  • Each paragraph is indented. 
  • Punctuation for the direct speech goes inside the quotation marks; for example, if the character is yelling, the exclamation mark goes inside the quotation marks. 
  • Quotation marks are placed outside the direct speech and its punctuation. “Mervin, your sister is entirely unreasonable.” 
  • If using dialogue tags (she said/whispered/hollered, etc.) after the direct speech, then the dialogue tag goes outside the quotation marks, while the comma goes on the inside. “Francis, do you think she’d really kick us?” queried Mervin.   
  • If using dialogue tags before the direct speech, the comma goes before the quotation marks. Mervin whimpered, “Francis, I am getting a weird vibe from this house.” 

Assessment as/of learning:  

Imaginative Text Rubrics can be found on The School Magazine website. Students can use these rubrics as success criteria in the crafting of their imaginative writing via anchor charts. The rubrics can also be used to provide structure for peer or teacher assessment.