The Hyena's Lament

poem by Val Neubecker , illustrated by David Legge

Learning intentions:

I am learning to identify my relative context and perspective so that I can compare my experience as a reader to others with different contexts and perspectives.


Success criteria:

  • I can describe how different perspectives lead to different audience responses.
  • I can describe how texts affect audiences depending on context.
  • I can use metalanguage to describe the effects of texts.


Essential knowledge:               

  • More information about context can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Context.
  • More information about perspective can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Perspective.


Focus question:

How can context and perspective influence an audience’s thoughts and feelings?


As a class, read or listen to the audio recording of The Hyena’s Lament. Invite students to discuss with a partner whether they enjoyed the poem or not. Ask them to study the poem and illustration to figure out what it’s trying to make them feel (pity for hyenas). Encourage them to look at the hyena’s expression in the illustration, the symbol of the D (for dunce), the line “nobody thinks we have any brains”. Now ask students how they actually felt hearing the poem (e.g., sympathetic, happy, angry, curious). Discuss how their response correlates to how much they know about hyenas and their personal relationship with hyenas. (As most students won’t have much to do with hyenas, they may not have a fully formed response to the poem at this point.)


Explain that students will be examining an audience’s response considering context and perspective.


View the English Conceptual video Perspective. Ask students to imagine someone with a different perspective to their own and how their responses to the poem would differ. For example, view the Animal Planet video The Man Who Tickles and Plays with Hyenas and ask how Kevin Richardson might feel about The Hyena’s Lament. Then view the Disney song Be Prepared and ask how a young child who is frightened of the hyenas in the song might respond to the poem. Students may note that Richardson’s close relationship with hyenas would make him more understanding to the hyenas’ bad reputation, while a child who is frightened of the hyenas from The Lion King would be unsympathetic when reading the poem.


View the English Conceptual video Context. Ask students where they are situated right now (such as in a warm, comfortable classroom with no fear of wild animals). Now tell them to imagine they’re in an African savanna, facing down a hungry pack of hyenas. Ask how their change in context might influence their response to The Hyena’s Lament.


In small groups, students roleplay someone with a unique perspective or context to themselves responding to the poem. Sample perspectives could be a:

  • zookeeper
  • African safari guide
  • a person who’s been bitten by a hyena
  • person who has been surrounded and attached by a group of hyenas.

Sample contexts could be:

  • trapped in the hyena enclosure at a zoo
  • camping in grasslands while hearing a hyena’s laugh late at night
  • visiting Antarctica.

For the roleplay, students first explain their context or perspective and then pretend to be responding to The Hyena’s Lament. An example roleplay could be:

I’m five and I just saw The Lion King. The hyenas were so scary. I had to hide my eyes whenever they came on, but I could still hear them laughing and making all kinds of strange noises. When I read The Hyena’s Lament, I didn’t feel sorry for them at all! It’s their own fault that nobody likes them, because they’re mean.