Sylphie's Squizzes: Here be Dragons

article by Zoe Disher , photo by Alamy

Learning intention

I am learning to compose noun groups/phrases to expand descriptions so that I can make the texts I compose more descriptive.

Success criteria

  • I can reflect on the fact that noun groups provide additional information.
  • I can identify noun groups in a text.
  • I can identify the additional information noun groups provide.
  • I can compose my own noun groups.
  • I can include these in an article about an animal of my choosing.


Essential knowledge

Ensure students are familiar with what nouns are (names of things) and the fact that noun groups/phrases are a group of words that describe the noun. Definitions can be found in the Australian Curriculum English Glossary.


Prior to reading Sylphie’s Squizzes: Here be Dragons display the following sentence:

With their bodies and their legs, olms look like dragons that have just hatched.

Without discussing the sentence further, instruct students to sketch an image of an olm based on the description. Most likely students will find this challenging the description doesn’t include much detail.

Discuss questions students have about the appearance of olms and note these on the board. Sample responses include:

  • What do their bodies and legs look like?
  • In what way do they look like dragons that have just hatched?

Display the first sentence Sylphie’s Squizzes: Here be Dragons and read it with the students or listen to the audio version.

With their thin, snaky bodies and their stubby little legs, olms look like baby dragons that have just hatched.

Identify the nouns and the noun groups/phrases:

Noun group 1: Noun; bodies, noun group; thin, snaky

Noun group 2: Noun; legs, noun group; stubby little

Refer back to the students’ questions about olms and discuss how the descriptions in the noun groups provide a far clearer image of what olms look like. Instruct students to sketch a new image of an olm. Emphasise how much easier it is now to sketch an olm due to the information in the noun groups.

Place students in small groups. Instruct them to read the remainder of the article with their group so that they can investigate noun groups. Instruct students to identify further noun groups in the article and discuss the additional information they provide. For example:

In fact, in the seventeenth century, people living near Postojna Cave in Slovenia thought that’s exactly what they were. (The noun group ‘near Postojna Cave in Slovenia’ provides more information about the type of people who thought olms were dragons)

Olms are only about 30 centimetres long, and after heavy rain they’re sometimes found washed out of the cave.  (The noun group ‘only about 30 centimetres’ provides more information about olms appearance)

People thought this sight meant there must be a fearsome mother dragon living inside. (The noun group ‘fearsome mother’ provides more information about the type of dragon people thought lived there)

Inform students that they will be experimenting with constructing descriptive noun groups, tell them that to do this they will need to research a creature before composing sentences to describe it. Tell students that first you will be composing an example collaboratively.

Collaboratively select an animal from Animals on the National Geographic Kids site, for example an aardvark. View the accompanying photos and discuss the key features of the animal’s appearance, for example it has a long snout, brown fur, short stubby legs and a long tail.

Collaboratively compose noun groups to describe the creature’s appearance, for example:

  • it has a long, narrow snout
  • it has short, stubby legs with clawed feet
  • it has a long, curly tail, covered with brown fur

Identify further facts from the webpage and note these on the board, for example:

  • They use their front paws to dig holes at a rate of 0.6 metres in 15 seconds
  • Their common ancestors are elephants and golden moles.

Compose a brief article about aardvarks as a class, using the noun groups and the factual information. For example,

Aardvarks are known for their long narrow snouts. It will come as no surprise then that their ancestors include elephants and golden moles. They have short, stubby legs with clawed feet. Don’t be fooled into thinking these short legs aren’t powerful. In fact, they can dig holes in the ground at a rate of 0.6 metres in 15 seconds.

Emphasise that you haven’t copied the information from the website and that instead you have used it to form your own descriptive sentences.

Instruct students to work with the same groups as earlier. Students may also work independently for this task if they wish. Tell students to complete the following steps:

  • Select a creature from Animals on the National Geographic Kids site
  • Compose noun groups to describe their appearance
  • Include the noun groups in a brief article about the creature

Peer assessment

Once students have had time to compose their articles instruct them to swap with another group. Tell students that they will be reading their peer’s work and creating a sketch of the animal using the information included. Once complete, tell students to compare their sketch with the image on the website to assess how accurately the noun groups composed by their peers described the animal. Discuss a criteria for assessing the noun groups. A sample one has been provided. Tell students to peer-assess the work of their peers using the agreed criteria.


  • Describes the animal’s appearance accurately
  • Includes key features of the animal
  • Includes factual information.

The webpage Effective Feedback has more information on the types of feedback.