The Aeronaut

story by Paul Malone , illustrated by Queenie Chan

Learning intention

I am learning to make connections between my own experiences and those of characters and events represented in texts so that I can better understand how context influences texts.

Success criteria

  • I can discuss how historical contexts are revealed in texts.
  • I can analyse context clues to identify values and ideas common to the context.
  • I can consider elements of my own context.
  • I can compose a letter to a character outlining how our contexts differ.

Essential knowledge

View the video Context from The School Magazine. More information can be found on Context from the English Textual Concepts. Ensure students note that context refers to the ideas that influence a writer when they compose a text and those that have an impact on readers and that these can be cultural and historical.


Discuss historical texts students may have read, for example, Oliver Twist or The Famous Five. For students unfamiliar with these stories, briefly provide the following summaries:

  • Oliver Twist follows the misfortune of a child who ends up in a children’s home, having to beg for more food.
  • The Famous Five (which includes the characters George, Dick, Julian, Ann and Timmy) details the adventures of a group of friends who’d go out playing in the English countryside for hours on end.

Discuss clues about the historical context in both of these stories (the values and experiences common at the time they were written). For example, when Oliver Twist was written food was scarce. When The Famous Five was written it would be common for children to leave home in the morning to play with friends and not return home until dinner time. During this time parents would have no way of contacting their children or of knowing that they were safe. Some students may relate to this experience while others might consider it unusual to not be able to be contacted by a mobile phone.

Inform students that with some texts, where readers are unaware of the cultural or historical contexts they were written in, context clues can be subtler. Tell them that although we have no way of knowing the context of the author at the time of writing the story, we can identify ideas that were important to them.

Read The Aeronaut with students or listen to the audio recording. Once you have read the story, display the following extracts, and discuss what they might reveal about the context in which the story was written:

For one thing, I’m scared of heights. Not that I’ll ever admit it. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m a coward. (This reveals that the context of the writer has negative opinions of being seen as a coward.)

And as for becoming an aeronaut-spending my days flying from village to village around Felgistor to deliver the Royal Airmail-well, I would have thought that utterly ridiculous. (This perhaps reveals postal services were common during the time the author wrote this story. Discuss how this might differ in the future, where perhaps digital mail might one day replace the postal service.)

I’m about to ask him how well he can see with one eye, but I catch myself. I’m always blurting out such rude remarks. Mum thinks this is the reason Freylor made me an aeronaut-up in the sky I can’t offend anyone. (This reveals the writer’s context places value on sparing people’s feelings over being honest/asking direct questions.)

Discuss elements that are part of the culture where the students live. Students may identify elements such as:

  • compulsory education for children
  • working hard at school is rewarded
  • a mobile phone is seen as an essential item for adults and some older children
  • learning to swim is an important skill
  • helping out with chores at home is common practice.

Tell students that they will be writing a letter either to Elfi from The Aeronaut or to one of the characters in the stories discussed earlier (Oliver Twist or The Famous Five). Inform students that they will be explaining features of their own context to the character. Compose an example collaboratively with the students first, to scaffold their ideas. Students can use the list of elements from their own context to guide them with what to include in their letter. A sample letter is:

Hi George from The Famous Five,

I was surprised to hear you could go on adventures with your friends for hours on end. It does sound like fun. I generally have to let my family know where I’ll be and when I’ll be home. I carry my phone on me in case my dad needs to contact me. I’m too busy with chores, homework and swimming lessons to have many adventures. When I leave school at seventeen, I might look for some adventure and travel overseas.

Instruct students to work with a partner or independently, composing their own letter by completing the following:

  • Select a character from the stories discussed
  • Identify elements of your own context that differs from the context of the story that features the character you have selected
  • Compose a letter to the character, outlining your own context.