The Rope Swing

story by Melissa Salisbury , illustrated by Amy Golbach

Learning Intention:

I am learning to analyse how narratives have characteristic rises in tension so that I can plot the rising tension in my own narrative writing.


Success Criteria:

  • I can identify points of tension within narratives.
  • I can plot rising tension on a graph.
  • I can use a graph to plot my own narrative.


Essential knowledge:

More information about text structures can be found in The School Magazine’s video on Code and Conventions.

Bullying No Way’s page on Resources and Support for Bullying Prevention

NSW Education’s page on Discussing Bullying



Prior to reading, discuss what the word tension means in terms of story structure. Students should conclude that tension is suspenseful moments in a story that makes the reader want to continue reading. Explain that tension doesn’t have to mean a huge battle – it can be as simple as a student who can’t find their pencil right before a test.

Tell students that the amount of tension changes in a story depending on the narrative structure. Ask students where they might find high and low points of tension in a typical narrative. See if anyone can describe the highest point of tension being in the climax scene, but don’t reveal this information if they don’t know yet.

If you have a digital subscription, complete the interactive activity Rising Tension.


Understanding text:

Read The Rope Swing as a class or listen to the audio recording if you have digital subscription. Ask students if they can pick moments of tension in the story. Answers may include:

  • The boys making fun of Toby.
  • One of the boys taking Inez’s cap.
  • Inez’s cap being thrown in the river.
  • Toby building up the courage to use the rope swing.
  • Toby swinging out on the rope.

Explain to the class that the boys in the story are exhibiting bullying behaviour, which adds to the tension and makes Toby and Inez – and therefore the reader – very uncomfortable. Resources have been provided under the Essential Knowledge subheading of the lesson to address this. There is also a fact sheet provided by the NSW Department of Education titled Anti-Bullying: Parents and carers tips available online for download. Some questions to pose to the class:

  • What else could the children do to help in this situation?
  • Do you agree or disagree with how the children responded?
  • What could the children have done/said differently?


If students don’t pick up any tension at the beginning of the story, point out the small moments such as Inez’s abrupt appearance, the brief mystery of what happened to Inez’s arm, Inez asking Toby if he wants to go to the rope swing and the mystery of why Toby is strongly opposed to going to the rope swing. Remind students it’s these moments of micro-tension that keep the reader hooked until the higher points of tension later in the story.


Draw a basic graph on the board with an x and y axis. Label the x axis “Plot Points” and the y axis “Tension”. Mark the y axis with a 0 at the bottom and a 10 at the top. Select willing students to write out points of tension on strips of paper and stick it to the board along the x axis. As a class, discuss what degree of tension the plot point is, with 0 being no tension and 10 being the highest. Draw a line between the strips of paper to make the graph. In general, the incline of tension should rise steadily until its peak for the climax.

A general example of a plot tension graph titled How to Create Tension in Your Screenplay can be found on the Screenwriter’s Utopia website.

Ask students what happens after the climax scene. Students may note the tension disappears from the story as things are wrapped up, so the tension line should drop from 10 on the y axis to a 0.


Creating text:

Using the same graph pattern, students are to plot a story by putting their own tension points on the graph. They can draw this in their workbooks. Remind students that the tension at the beginning of the story doesn’t need to be big – secrets, mysterious moments or minor inconveniences can start the narrative off. The events should lead on to the next, getting worse and worse until the climax. A useful format is to ask the following questions:

Who is the story about?

What do they want?

What is in their way?

How do they try to overcome this obstacle?

How do their actions make things worse?

How do they try to overcome this new obstacle?

How do their actions make things even worse?

How do they finally resolve the issue?


Assessment for/as learning:

Students swap their work with a partner to discuss where they have put points of tension on the graph. Partners can make suggestions and comments about the work.


Extension: Students write their plotted stories.