The Donkey's Tale

play by Sue Murray , illustrated by Aska

Learning intention

I am learning to re-read and edit texts for meaning so that I can ensure texts I compose make sense.

Success criteria

  • I can identify elements of style in dialogue.
  • I can consider how the style of dialogue contributes to characterisation.
  • I can compose dialogue.
  • I can write the dialogue in a style to suit the character.


Essential knowledge   

View the video Style from The School Magazine. Ensure students identify that style refers to the personal approach of a writer/illustrator and the features they include.

Read The Donkey’s Tale or listen to the audio file. Discuss the style of language used by the character Donkey. Ensure students note that the Donkey uses formal language. Identify examples and jot them on the board for students to refer to later, such as:

  • Oh me, oh my
  • There I was
  • It’s off to Bremen for me
  • And what brings you out and about on this chilly winter’s morning?


Place students with a partner and instruct them to identify further examples. Discuss the words and phrases students identify and add these to the list on the board.

  • Pardon my saying so
  • Shall
  • Care to join me.


Discuss what this style of language reveals about Donkey’s character. For example, that Donkey is quite traditional, something we often associate with being older, and that this supports the idea that Donkey is elderly. Inform students that any elements that help construct the idea of a character in a reader’s mind is known as characterisation.

Refer students to the story Can of Worms, found on pages 5 to 10 of this issue of Countdown. Read the first two pages of the story, up to the end of page 6. Instruct students to discuss the following with their partner:

  • What is distinctive about the style the character Bob uses when he speaks? (He uses made up words and unusual phrases)
  • What are examples of some of the unusual things Bob says?

I am not sure if me old tummy will like the thought of worms.’

No, siree, all those squirmy little critters sliding down me throat and wrigglin’ about in me stomach regions. Yergh.’

Ooh, my word, I’d rather eat baked spregnockits and roasted flartydirvlers out of the Webweaver’s engine than have worms dancin’ around in me insides!’

  • What does the style of language reveal about the character? (It makes the character appear unique, a little old and eccentric and it gives the character a distinctive style)


Display a list of characters and discuss examples of the style of language they might use, for example:

  • A knight (authoritative/bossy, using traditional words and phrases)
  • A pop music star (slang and modern language)
  • A scientist (complex vocabulary and scientific words)
  • A pirate (piratical language)


Inform students that they will be composing a brief extract of dialogue between two characters where one character has a distinctive style. Tell students that first you will be completing an example collaboratively. Inform students that when composing texts writers will often go through many drafts. Tell students that the first draft is for getting ideas on the page. Then for the next draft authors will spend time editing. Inform students that they will be following this same process with their texts.

Refer back to The Donkey’s Tale and identify how the characters in the story meet (they are running away, trying to find a new place to live). Tell students that the dialogue they will be composing will focus on this same idea. Collaboratively select a character, for example a knight. Discuss vocabulary the character might use and note words and phrases on the board, for example:

  • Good day fair maiden.
  • Where goes thee?
  • You can’t be too careful around these parts
  • I will duel anyone who attacks you.

Collaboratively compose dialogue, using the vocabulary identified. Tell students that this dialogue can be recorded in the style of a play script, in the same way the story appears in The Donkey’s Tale. A sample response is:

Knight: Well, goodness me, what are you doing here fair maiden?

Princess: I am running away. The king wanted me to marry a dreadfully dreary prince. I just had to escape.

Knight: Well, we can’t have you travelling alone around here. I’ll keep watch over you.

Refer back to the list of vocabulary compiled for the knight. Collaboratively edit the dialogue to include more of the vocabulary identified. For example:

Knight: Good day fair maiden. Where goes thee?

Princess: I am running away. The king wanted me to marry a dreadfully dreary prince. I just had to escape.

Knight: Well, you can’t be too careful around these parts. I’ll keep watch over you and I’ll duel anyone who attacks you.


Instruct students to work with the same partner as before and to complete the following:

  • Select a character and consider how they might talk
  • Note vocabulary in your workbooks
  • Use the vocabulary to compose a brief piece of dialogue, where the character meets another person while running away.


Assessment for/as learning:

Collaboratively decide on criteria students might use when peer-assessing their classmates work. For example:

  • Created a story about a character running away
  • Composed lines of dialogue
  • Write them in a style to match the character.

Display the criteria and instruct students to swap work with a partner. Tell students to assess the work of their peers, making brief notes on one element of the criteria their peer was successful with and one element they might improve in.

Effective Feedback has more information on the types of feedback.