Mervin the Vermin

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

Learning intention

I am learning to distinguish between the main ideas and the supporting details in texts so that I can compose summaries.

Success criteria

  • I can identify the main ideas in a text.
  • I can summarise the main ideas on each page.
  • I can use these to compose a summary.



Prior knowledge


Ensure students understand terms such as the ‘main idea’ of a story and supporting details. Tell students that the main idea is what the text is mainly about. Inform students that supporting details add further information to the main idea but are not vital to any text.


Display the following extract:

Last Saturday we went for a day out at the beach. I wore my favourite green hat and my red shoes. It was windy but still nice and sunny. My whole family went, even my grandma and grandad. It was a great day out.


Discuss the following questions:

  • What is the main idea of this paragraph? (That they all went for a day out at the beach)
  • What are supporting details in the extract? (They wore their favourite green hat and their red shoes, it was windy and sunny, the whole family went)

Note: prompt students further with distinguishing the supporting details from the main idea by informing them that the supporting details could be removed, and the extract would still make sense.

Read the paragraph that begins ‘The story so far’, found at the beginning of Mervin the Vermin, page 4. Emphasise that the part that appears in this issue of the magazine is part three. Therefore, this summary outlines the main ideas from the previous two parts of the story.

Discuss the following:

What are the main ideas included in the summary?

  • Something very peculiar has happened to Mervin.
  • His older sister Felicity decides to get to the bottom of it, and so she takes Mervin and his friend Frank Nelson up to the house in the hope that the man who dwells there can solve the mystery.

What supporting details have been included?

  • The fact Mervin was briefly trapped inside the old mansion.
  • That the mansion is at Fernhurst.
  • The man Felicity hopes will help them is a mysterious electro physicist named Doctor Bompas.

Emphasise that limited supporting details have been included.

Inform students that they will be creating a summary of part three of Mervin the Vermin, focusing on the main ideas and including only limited supporting details.

Read this part of the story, Mervin the Vermin or listen to the audio file. Re-read the first page, page 4. Discuss the main ideas on this page and compose dot points collaboratively with the students to summarise them. For example:

  • As the characters make their journey towards Fernhurst, Francis shares that she’s noticed Mervin’s nose is getting longer and that his whiskers are growing
  • He was also becoming paler
  • Fernhurst is in darkness, only lit by bolts of lightening

Support students who may find it challenging to identify which are supporting details by emphasising how these are not essential to the story, for example:

Mervin half ran, half scurried

Melicent, Milicent and Molicent remained upright, as still as little statues, their beady red eyes watching the rain ahead.

Discuss how to make the main ideas of page 4 expressed in the dot points more concise, for example:

  • As the characters make their journey towards a dark Fernhurst, they notice Mervin’s nose is getting longer, his whiskers are growing and that he is becoming paler.

Place students with a partner and instruct them to complete the following:

  • Re-read each page in turn
  • Compose three of four dot points to summarise to main ideas on that page
  • Condense the ideas on each page into one sentence.

Students may note their responses in their workbooks or use digital programs such as Google Jamboard.

Bring the class back together and discuss the sentences students have composed to summarise the main ideas on each page. Sample responses are:

Page 5: The characters arrive at Fernhurst, all the while Mervin is looking less and less like a boy.

Page 6: The characters nervously enter the house, and a bolt of lightning reveals strange structures in the foyer.

Page 7: A completely white character appears, terrifying the characters. They label it ‘the thing’, and when the thing catches sight of Mervin it seems upset.

Page 8: Mum arrives, introduces the thing as Doctor Bompas and informs them he is an albino. Doctor Bompas reveals that what is going on is called ‘Transmogrification’.

Page 9: Doctor Bompas informs that that Transmogrification means that a change is happening and that due to a lightning strike Mervin is turning into his rats and they are turning into him.

Page 10: Doctor Bompas attempts to use the lightning to reverse the change, and after strikes of lightening Mervin turns back into a boy and Milicent and Molicent turn back into rats.

Page 11: The characters thank Doctor Bompas and head back home feeling relieved.


Check back to summary of the previous parts of the story at the top of page 4. Emphasise that these two parts of the story were summarised in only one paragraph. Tell students that they will be condensing the dot points they have composed into a brief summary. Inform them that they will need to decide which ideas are essential to the summary and which can be left out. Allow time for students to compose their summaries.

A sample response is:

The characters arrive at Fernhurst, all the while Mervin looking less and less like a boy. Doctor Bompas reveals lightning to cause Mervin and his rats to change into each other. He uses lightning to successfully reverse the change and the characters head off for home, relieved it’s all over.


Assessment for learning: Peer assessment.

Instruct students to swap summaries with a peer. Tell students that they will be workshopping their ideas, discussing the following questions:

Note: inform students that there are many possible responses and that the goal here is to reflect on whether they have included any details that might be removed.

  • Which information have they included that definitely needs to be there? (Responses may vary)
  • Is there any information in the summary composed by your peer that might be removed? (Be specific) (Responses may vary)
  • Based on discussions with your peers, how might you edit your summary? (Make the changes if time allows) (Responses may vary)


Effective Feedback from the NSW Department of Education has more information on the types of feedback.