part one of a two-part story by Susan Hall , illustrated by Greg Holfeld

Learning Intention:

I am learning to identify plot beats so that I can adapt a plot structure to create my own narrative.


Focus question: How does researching facts (e.g., historical events) help us craft fictitious characters and situations?


Success Criteria:

  • I can identify plot beats in a story.
  • I can use research skills to find the warning signs of a natural disaster.
  • I can compose a text on the natural disaster based on adapted plot beats.


Essential knowledge:

More information about plot structure can be found at The School Magazine’s webpage on Narrative.


Oral language and communication:

Prior to reading the text, ask students what they know about Pompeii. Ensure students understand that the entire ancient city was buried under a volcanic explosion.


Understanding text:

After reading Pompeii as a class or listening to the audio recording, ask students to list the main events of the story using the following questions (display these plot beats on the board):

  1. What was the first sign something was wrong in the story? (Dog barking)
  2. What was the next sign? (No animals in the forest)
  3. What prompted Lucius to feel something was wrong? (The air was too quiet)
  4. What was the next sign something was wrong? (Small landslide)
  5. What prompts Lucius to think about earthquakes? (There’s a small tremor)
  6. What prompts Lucius to think about the ‘plain of fire’? (A small, hot mound)
  7. Why does Lucius become alarmed? (Several larger tremors)
  8. How do the other characters react to Lucius’s worry? (Laughs, doesn’t believe him)


Explain to students that their knowledge of Pompeii along with the slow build-up of increasingly worrying warning signs creates tension in the story. Tell students that the tension reaches its peak when Lucius realises midway through the story what’s happening, but when he tries to warn others, no one believes him. Ask students what would compel a reader to continue reading the next part of the story. Students might recognise that, because they know what happens to Pompeii, they know Lucius is right and want to see him survive.


Creating text:

Explain to students that they will be creating their own narrative based on the plot structure of Pompeii using a different natural disaster. Give them time to research a famous natural disaster, but to focus on the warning signs rather than the event itself. They will also need to have some understanding of the location to write their story.


Suggested topics:


2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

Information on warning signs for tsunamis can be found on American Geosciences Institute’s webpage What are the natural warning signs for a tsunami? and NSW’s State Emergency webpage Natural warning signs of a tsunami.


1960 great Chilean earthquake

Information on warning signs for earthquakes can be found on Toowoomba Region’s webpage Preparing for an earthquake and Scientific America’s webpage on Subtle Movements Preceding Earthquakes.


The Black Saturday Australian bushfires (Note: If this suggested activity is too close to home for your community, you may leave it out)

Information on warning signs for bushfires can be found on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology page Bushfire Weather (under the subheading How does weather influence fire behaviour?)


1974 Cyclone Tracy in Darwin

Information on warning signs for hurricanes can be found on Direct Energy’s page on Storm Warnings (under the subheading What is the life cycle of a hurricane?).


2005 Hurricane Katrina in the United States

Information on warning signs for hurricanes can be found on Direct Energy’s page on Storm Warnings (under the subheading What is the life cycle of a hurricane?).


1931 China floods

Information on what caused the floods can be found on Verisk’s China Floods page (under the subheading Natural and Anthropogenic Causes)


When students are ready to write their narrative, remind them to use the least worrying warning signs first, and continue to build intensity as the story continues. Ensure their main character recognises what’s about to happen, but when they try to warn people, no one believes them.


Assessment for/as learning:

Self-evaluation checklist during and after writing:

- Do I know when and where the disaster took place?

- Have I included warning signs in my story from least dangerous to most?

- Does my main character notice the warning signs midway through the story?

- Does my main character try to warn others, but is not believed?


A marking rubric for imaginative 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.