Monkey Business on the Rock of Gibraltar

poem by Amelia Shearer , illustrated by Sarah Davis

Learning Intention:

I am learning to use general and specific words so that I can make deliberate word choices when producing texts.

Success Criteria:

  • I can analyse a text to identify general and specific words.
  • I can consider why general and specific words have been used in the places they appear.
  • I can identify general and specific words to describe a subject.
  • I can use the vocabulary I identify in a poem.
  • I can edit my poem to ensure it follows the shape of the item I am describing.


Essential knowledge

Discuss the difference between general words and specific words. Ensure students note the following:

  • That general words (Tier 1 words) are common words we use often
  • That specific words (Tier 2 words) refer to particular topics

View Vocabulary from The NSW Department of Education for more information on the types of vocabulary, including tier 1 and tier 2 words.

Ensure students understand the term ‘synonym’ refers to words with the same or similar meanings.



Display the following words:

  • Car
  • Water
  • Cup
  • Run
  • Talk

Select the first word ‘car’ and discuss synonyms for this word, for example:

  • Automobile
  • Vehicle
  • Automotive
  • Motor car
  • Old banger
  • Rust bucket


Place students in pairs or small groups. Select the next word from the list, water. Set a timer for one minute and instruct them to jot down in their workbooks or on individual whiteboards all the words they associate with this word and any synonyms they can think of. Sample responses include:

  • H2O
  • Liquid
  • Aqua
  • Sea
  • Ocean
  • Lake

Repeat this process with the remaining words on this list. Create a challenge where pairs/groups should compete over who can identify the most words for each topic.

Discuss why it is important to identify synonyms, ensuring students note that it is so we can avoid repetition (unless it is a deliberate choice) when composing texts.


Understanding text:


Read the poem Monkey Business on the Rock of Gibraltar or listen to the audio file if you have a digital subscription. Discuss specific and general words that have been used to describe the subject matter (monkeys).

Note: Ensure students are aware that pronouns are general words.

  • Specific: The Apes of Gibraltar, two primates, ten monkeys

Note: Emphasise that the specific terms vary and discuss the reasons for this (To add variety)

  • General: they’re, they, they’ve

Discuss the following questions:

  • Where has the author used specific words? (At the first mention of the subject, then two further mentions towards the end of the poem)
  • Where do they use general words? (General terms have been used throughout much of the middle of the poem)
  • Why has the author varied between general and specific terms? (The first mention is specific to make the subject matter clear to readers. From there, general terms have been used as readers are familiar with the subject matter. Specific words have been reintroduced towards the end of the poem to remind the reader what the subject matter is and to add variety)


Creating text:


Inform students that they will be composing a poem that uses a variety of specific and general terms. Refer back to Monkey Business on the Rock of Gibraltar and discuss the structure of the poem. Ensure students note that the number of words in each line gradually increases throughout the poem to form a triangular shape similar to a mountain-like structure.

Discuss other objects that include a diagonal line, where the base is wider than the tip. Sample responses include:

  • An ice-cream cone
  • The pyramids of Egypt
  • A drink bottle
  • An umbrella
  • A slice of watermelon
  • A traffic cone
  • A slice of cheese

Inform students that they will be selecting one of these topics as the subject matter for a poem. Gradually release responsibility by constructing an example together first.

Select an item from the list, for example an ice-cream cone. Discuss synonyms for the term and note these on the board such as, cornet, wafer, and for ice-cream, such as gelato, sorbet, frozen treat. Discuss general terms that might be used to describe an ice-cream cone or an ice-cream, for example, it, its, they.

Discuss ideas that could be included in a poem about an ice-cream cone, for example that it drips all over a child’s hands or that it is a delicious treat on a hot day. Collaboratively compose a poem about the topic using a variety of specific and general terms. A sample response is:

The child grips their ice-cream cone,

The bright treat trickles down the wafer,

A sea of ice-cream pools along it,

It will be soggy soon.

The sun makes it melt further,

The frozen treat will be a river,

It runs down the child’s arm,

And drips on the floor.

Edit the poem so that it forms the shape of a cone by gradually increasing the number of words per line. You may need to add words so the lines can gradually increase in length. Ensure you have included a variety of general and specific terms. For example:


child grips

their ice-cream cone,

The bright treat trickles

down the golden coloured wafer,

A sea of ice-cream pools along its edge.

It will be soggy soon as the sun makes it melt,

The frozen treat will become a wide-running river,

It runs down the child’s arm, cool and sticky, and drips on the floor.


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

  • Select a triangular shaped item
  • Identify general and specific terms for the item, using pronouns and synonyms
  • Identify an idea about your chosen item
  • Construct a poem about the topic
  • Edit your poem to ensure you have included both general and specific terms
  • Present your poem in a triangular shape


Assessment for/as learning:

Display the poems around the room and instruct students to conduct a gallery walk, examining the work of their peers.

Display the following questions for students to respond to in their workbooks as they examine each other’s work.

  • What do you notice about where specific words and general words have been used in the poems?
  • Are there any examples of specific words that might be replaced with synonyms?
  • Identify one poem you think has responded excellently to the criteria.
  • Select one of the poems to suggest how it might be improved.

Allow time for students to orally share their comments about the poems.