The Cupboard

story by Mark Konik , illustrated by Tohby Riddle

Learning intention

I am learning to use prior knowledge and textual information to make inferences so that I can pick up on subtleties in the texts that I read.

Success criteria

  • I can identify relevant information.
  • I can call on prior knowledge to assist with making inferences.
  • I can make inferences to understand character relationships.
  • I can compose dialogue that supports readers to make inferences.


Prior to reading The Cupboard, display the following extract of a story:

Ling heard a loud crash. She turned to look. Byron was making a weak attempt at gathering up the groceries that had rolled from the bag that now lay tumbled on the floor. Her kid brother had a habit of causing mayhem wherever he went. She picked up her novel and headed to her bedroom. Best to shut herself away from all this and get lost in her favourite story instead.

Discuss the relationship between the characters by focusing on the following:

  • How does Ling behave when she sees Byron has made a mess? (She picks up her novel and heads to her bedroom)
  • Underline clues in the text that reveal how Ling feels about her brother. (Students should underline, Her kid brother had a habit of causing mayhem wherever he went and best to shut herself away from all this)
  • How might you interpret this behaviour if you experienced something similar in your own life? (I would feel like the older sibling isn’t helpful or supportive of their younger sibling)
  • Using your prior knowledge of how you might interpret this behaviour and the clues you underlined what conclusions might you draw about the relationship between the siblings? (That they are not close, that Ling doesn’t like helping her brother)

Emphasise that you have used prior knowledge and textual clues to make inferences. Students can use an inference equation for this. (Note, teachers may need to click on Appendix 1 to access this resource.) Inform students that stories often include relationships between two people. Tell students that often the relationship the characters share will not be explicitly stated. Instead, readers have to make inferences to discover the dynamics of the relationship.

Read The Cupboard or listen to the audio recording. Discuss the following questions:

  • Why does the main character hide in the cupboard? (To cheer-up his brother after his brother’s pet rabbit dies)
  • What clues allow readers to make inferences about the two brothers’ relationship? Underline clues such as:

I thought he needed cheering up, and there was only one obvious way to do it.

But, hey, for all his annoying habits and the headlocks he gets me in, I like my brother, and if this was going to make him happy, I could put up with some foul smells.

Then, like great friends, we’d laugh and share a biscuit and in no time Mr Fluffy would just be just some rabbit that had died.

It was horrible—the song, the scene—everything was horrible, and here I was, stuck in his cupboard, peeping at him cry. I felt like the worst brother on earth.

I didn’t want to scare him now; I didn’t want to do that to him. I wanted to be the type of brother that walked into the room, saw that he was upset and then put my arm on his shoulder and told him everything was going to be fine.

He was happier than he had been in days. He started pulling my ears; the pain was excruciating, but I could live with it because I had made my brother happy again.

  • Does this remind you of anything you have experienced? (For example, when my sister fell over, I tried to make her laugh to cheer her up)
  • What can be inferred about the brothers’ relationship? (That the main character cares about his brother’s feelings and that he is there to support him when he encounters difficulties)

Inform students that they will be composing a role-play that reveals a relationship between two characters. Discuss potential dynamics in relationships. Tell students to draw on relationships they’ve experienced for ideas. Note students’ ideas on the board for students to refer to later. Examples include:

  • One person being more dominant
  • A respectful and equal relationship
  • One person being suspicious/not trusting the other
  • One person misleading the other.

Discuss ways each of the examples of dynamics may be revealed, for example:

  • One person being more dominant (one character giving orders while the other follows meekly)
  • A respectful and equal relationship (both parties listening to each other’s point of view and dealing with conflict respectfully)
  • One person being suspicious/not trusting the other (one character hesitating when the other suggests something)
  • One person misleading the other (one character making overinflated promises while the other agrees a little reluctantly)

Select one of these ideas for example, one person being suspicious/not trusting the other. Discuss how you might reveal this dynamic through dialogue in a brief role-play. Jot student’s ideas of dialogue on the board. For example:

Character 1: I’ve lost my phone, have you seen it?

Character 2: Me? Why would I have seen it? No, I haven’t seen it anywhere.

Character 1: Right, OK. (Character 1 eyeing up character 2 suspiciously) Would you mind if I take a quick look in your pocket? There seems to be something in there.

Character 2: Not a chance, there’s no way you can look in my pocket. (Character 2 stepping away)

Phone tumbles to the floor from Character 2’s pocket.

Choose students to perform the dialogue. Emphasise how the clues in the text, such as Character 2 being very defensive and backing away, combined with prior knowledge, about how people can act when they are hiding something, allows the audience to make the inference that one character is suspicious of the other.

Inform students that they will now be working with a partner to create a brief role-play that reveals the dynamics of a relationship between two people. Pair the students together. Instruct them to complete the following:

  • Select a relationship dynamic (students may choose one from the ideas displayed on the board)
  • Discuss how to reveal this dynamic through actions and dialogue
  • Rehearse a role-play that incorporates the ideas (students can also write their ideas down in the form of a script if they wish)

Once students have had time to create their role-plays, place them with another pair. Instruct the students to perform their role-plays to each other. Tell students that they should use inference (the clues in the performance coupled with their own knowledge and understanding) to draw conclusions about the dynamics in the relationship performed by their peers.