The Boy Who Cried Alf

play by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Tohby Riddle

Explore how intertextuality can be used to add humour to a text and experiment with using intertextuality in creative writing.

To explore the concept of intertextuality deeper review and discuss the Textual Concepts video on The School Magazine website. Click on the link:

Read the play as a class. After reading, you may want to complete a quick summarising activity (suggested resource: Summarizing Stories with Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then).

Students should recognise that the main character is Dagbert, a shepherd-boy, who finds the job so boring that he repeatedly lies about the appearance of Alfred Nobel. When Alfred Nobel finally appears no one in the village believes him, forcing him to take Nobel to the village himself. This leaves the sheep unsupervised, and they are blown sky high when they uncover his esky full of dynamite.

Once students confidently understand the narrative, ask them to scan the text while they go on a ‘pun hunt’ (the definition can be found in the NESA Curriculum Glossary). Particular attention should be paid to pages 14 and 15. Some puns include:

She pulls the wool over their eyes all the time

They wanted to watch the seven o’clock ewes bulletin

Rambo … A Star is Shorn, Wool You Were Sleeping, Strictly Baleroom…

Introduce students to the concept of intertextuality: the association or connections between one text and other texts. (The full definition can also be found in the NESA Curriculum Glossary and further information, including stage statements, can be found at the English Textual Concept’s page on Intertextuality). Then divide the puns into two categories: puns that are a simple play on words and puns that are both a play on words and a play on other texts. For example:
Play on words:
- She pulls the wool over their eyes all the time.
- They wanted to watch the seven o'clock ewes bulletin

Play on words and texts:
- Rambo
- A Star is Shorn
- Wool You were Sleeping
- Strictly Baleroom

Then explain that the play also contains three intertextual references to other fairy tales / fables. Challenge students to find these references (The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Students may also make the connection that this play has intertextual references with the article ‘Alfred Nobel: Merchant of Death, Man of Peace’ (this issue).

Ask students why an author might use intertextuality. Acknowledge answers that make the following points:

Puns made about famous texts can be clever and very funny

There is pleasure in making connections between texts

Intertextuality can make us see the original text in a new way, for example, what would The Boy Who Cried Wolf be like in a modern context?

Ask students to choose a fairy tale or fable that they know well. Students complete the worksheet: Make Some Connections to plan an intertextual adaptation of this text.