The Birthday Book

story by Simon Cooke , illustrated by Aśka

Learning intention:

I am learning to analyse descriptive phrases so that I can create more detailed texts.


Success criteria:

  • I can identify noun and adjective groups/phrases.
  • I can describe how description enhances texts.
  • I can create a text using noun and adjective groups/phrases.


Essential Knowledge:

Noun groups

Adjectival phrases


Prior to reading the text, display the sentence “My sister’s experiment explodes.” on the board. Explain that while there’s nothing technically wrong with the sentence, it can be improved. Ask students what adjectives, adverbs and extra information could be included and expand the sentence as a class. Possible suggestions:

- The name of the sister

- Where the experiment explodes

- How the experiment explodes

- The after-effects of the experiment

- An adjective for the experiment


An example enhanced sentence could be: My sister Rebecca’s volatile experiment explodes powerfully in the science lab, blowing the eyebrows off her fellow students.


Refer to The Birthday Book and read the fifth sentence in: My sister Nicki’s latest experiment explodes in the back garden, flattening Dad’s crocodile roses (which smell nice, but will bite your nose off if you get too close). Explain that this sentence goes a step further and also describes the crocodile roses in parentheses. Ask how students might do the same to their own sentence.


For example: My sister Rebecca’s volatile experiment explodes powerfully in the science lab, blowing the eyebrows off her fellow students (who were busy studying at the time).


Explain to students that adding extra description to a sentence, such as noun and adjective groups/phrases, gives texts a richer reading experience. Read the rest of The Birthday Book as a class or listen to the audio recording, ensuring students take note of where they see descriptive phrases included in a sentence.


Some examples include:

Australia’s only female freshwater pirate

waggling a crescent wrench in my face

my oasis of peace in this crazy place

which is why we have the crocodile roses

like fish eggs poached in yak milk

giving him a big rib-cracking hug

sucked into an amazing world

in the gloom of the shed, listening to sounds of my family doing exciting, amazing things


After reading, go through students’ answers and discuss how each phrase adds a fuller description to the text, whether it gives more information about the characters, setting or situation, or even if it simply provides humour.


Have students choose a setting (a haunted house, a homestead, a beach, a cottage in a forest, etc) and create one or two characters to explore the setting. Students can include a beginning, middle and end, as well as a problem and solution, but they don’t have to be high stakes. Instead, tell students to focus on their descriptions. Ask the following questions:

  1. What sort of mood do you want to portray to the reader?
  2. What vocabulary and description can help with this mood?
  3. How will you describe your characters and setting (i.e. What adjectives or adjective phrases will you use)?


Give students time to write their short story or excerpt, then have them swap their writing with a partner. Partners are to find at least three instances where they have liked the description, and are to explain why they like it. They should also give at least two suggestions on where to add description or tweak description already included in the text.