Saturday Lights Fever

story by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Peter Sheehan

Learning Intention: 

I can understand the difference between the language of opinion and the language of factual reporting so that I can accurately produce a nonfiction summary. 

Success Criteria: 

  • I can distinguish between the language of fact and opinion. 
  • I can extract key information from a text to form a nonfiction summary. 
  • I can use the language of fact and opinion to signal when I am summarising verified information and when I am presenting a hypothesis.  

Essential knowledge: 

  • More information about the authority of a text, including its trustworthiness can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Authority 

After students have read the story, revise the terms fact (a thing known or proven to be true) and opinion (a view or judgement, not necessarily based on fact) with the class. Then explain that facts and opinions can often be distinguished based on the language used. For example:  

  • Words that signal facts include: proven, established, demonstrated, according, confirmed, discovered 
  • Words that signal opinion: claims, argues, views, suspects, believes 

Ask students to reread the text for a purpose: to find as much information as they can about the phenomenon of the Min Min lights. Students should record this information, either using a nonfiction graphic organiser, or a series of summary questions base on the five Ws. These questions could be structured as follows:  

  • Where do the the Min Min lights take place? (The Outback, specifically the town of Min Min.) 
  • Who has seen the Min Min lights? (A stockman in 1918, and many other travellers since then.)  
  • What do the Min Min lights seem to do? (They appear at night, like a fuzzy disc and appear to chase vehicles.)  
  • What is a myth surrounding the Min Min lights? (According to legend, if anyone chased and successfully caught the lights, they would never be seen again.) 

Outline the key idea that all the information extracted from the text is a fact. This even includes the information about myths surrounding the Min Min lights (draw students’ attention to the use of the word ‘accordingly’ twice on page 6). While the myths themselves are opinion, it is a fact to say that there are local stories that warn people about the lights.  

Explain the twofold nature of the task. First, students write a short, information report on the Min Min lights. They should use as much language as possible to signal that their report is based on fact. (For example: the legend of the Min Min lights was established in 1918; travellers accounts of the lights have demonstrated their spooky nature.) Second, they then provide their opinion, or a hypothesis about how to explain these mysterious lights. When explaining their opinion, they should also use signalling language. (For example: I will argue that the lights are most likely signs from aliens; I suspect that the lights are a sign of fatigue and the travellers should stop, revive and survive.) 

Students present their information report and hypothesis to their peers. The class could design bingo sheets featuring the language of fact and opinion. As people read out their report, students mark the appropriate phrases off their sheets.   

Finally, after students have been presented with a range of hypotheses explaining the Min Min lights, hand out the Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s article: The Min Min Mystery. (At this point you may wish to talk about authority of a text, referring specifically to the reliability of the website – Australian Geographic.) After reading the scientific explanation, ask students to locate the factual language in the article: solved, proved, show.