Sylphie's Squizzes: Peli-can-do!

article by Zoë Disher , photo by Alamy

Learning Intention:

I am learning to explain key vocabulary choices and the use of structural features in a text so that I can understand how these work together to convey a theme in a text.


Success Criteria:

  • I can use the context of new vocabulary to understand meaning
  • I can identify and explain the importance of structural features in a text
  • I can work in a group to discuss the key themes in a text
  • I can connect the way that different language and structural features of a text work together to convey a theme


Essential knowledge:

View the video Understanding theme on the NSW Department of Education website.



Prior to reading the story, investigate the following words from the article:






Read the introductory line of the article in green ‘These birds are true opportunists: if they see a chance, they’ll snap it up!’ Discuss the following questions with the class.

  • In this sentence, what does ‘opportunist’ mean? (Somebody who takes advantage of a good situation)
  • Can you think of any other words that are similar? (opportunity)
  • How is the word ‘opportunist’ connected with the word you gave in the previous question?


Write the word ‘boom’ on the board and ask students to explain what that word could mean.

As a class read the excerpt from the text:

‘If there’s been a lot of rain, that means a lot of water, which means a lot of fish—good times for pelicans! In 2022, after two very rainy years, a colony of over 30 000 birds nested at the swollen Lake Brewer in inland New South Wales.’

Explain to students that the subheading for the section where this information comes from is called ‘peli-boom.’ As students to explain what ‘boom’ might mean in this context?

Show the Merriam Webster dictionary definition of ‘boom and bust.’  Ask students if they are able to explain the connected between the pelicans in the extract above and the word ‘boom.’


Now that students have seen the definition of ‘boom and bust’ ask students to predict what the paragraph with the subheading ‘Peli-bust’ might be about.


Understanding text:

Read the article as a class, or listen to the audio recording if you have a digital subscription.

Compare the final paragraph with the predictions the class made about it based on the heading ‘Peli-boom’ and the connection with the idea of opportunists, boom and bust. Discuss the ideas given by the class.


Place students into small groups and give each group a large sheet of paper for their work. Complete a placemat activity where each group member has a section of the page in which they write down their ideas and evidence from the text in answer to the following questions:


  • What is the main theme or idea presented in the article ‘Peli-Can-Do’?
  • What key textual features help convey this theme or message? Give evidence from the text (quotes)


Suggested answers:

  • Pelicans are resilient and resourceful bird. They are able to thrive and survive in different weather conditions and locations. When food becomes scarce, they are able to move to a new location and find more.
  • Subheadings such as ‘Peli-can-do’ and ‘Peli-boom’ suggest that the birds are capable creatures. Puns like ‘peli-can-do attitude’ and the play on ‘boom and bust’ also convey the theme. Word choice – such as the use of the word ‘opportunist’ to describe pelicans.


The initial stage of the activity requires students to think on their own about the given questions and refer to the text independently. Once sufficient time has been given, allow plenty of time for the group to compare their ideas and place common information in the centre of the placemat page.


Bring the groups back together as a whole class. Use the probing questions from the Collaborative for teacher and learning resource placemat webpage.



Assessment for/as learning:

Students complete a self-reflection using dice. Simply use dice from the classroom, or an online dice such as roll-a-dice from Online Stopwatch. Students roll the dice and answer the question associated with the number they have rolled as follows:

  1. What was one thing you learnt from this lesson?
  2. Why are subheadings important in an article like ‘Peli-can-do’?
  3. What can people learn from pelicans by observing their ‘can-do’ resilient attitude?
  4. When have you been an ‘opportunist’ in your life?
  5. Identify and explain one language feature and how it conveys the theme
  6. What does ‘boom and bust’ mean? Can you apply this term to something other than pelicans?