The Tiger Trainer Trainers

poem by Jonathan Sellars , illustrated by Queenie Chan

Learning Intention:

I am learning to develop my vocabulary using more complex and specific words so that I can produce more advanced writing.

Success Criteria:

  • I can identify the way language is used to make narrative poetry more interesting
  • I can use my understanding to collaboratively determine the meaning of more complex words
  • I can use a thesaurus and dictionary to locate more advanced words for my ideas
  • I can incorporate tier 2 vocabulary into my rewriting of a text.


Essential knowledge:

Explicit teaching of Tier 2 vocabulary should be embedded into this lesson. Information in this can be found on the Vocabulary page of the New South Wales Department of Education website.



Read the poem aloud to the class, or if you have a digital subscription you may wish to listen to the audio. Afterwards, write a collaborative summary of the story of the poem on the board, such as:

The tiger trainer tried to train two tigers, but they weren’t supposed to be trained so they ignored her and wouldn’t do anything. They just wandered around in their cage instead. One day, they finally did what the trainer asked, and she was very happy. She decided to reward them with some meat and climbed into their cage to give it to them. The tigers took the meat and ran out of the cage, locking the trainer in. Now she’s stuck in there and the tigers try to train her.

Discuss the way the composer has made their storytelling more interesting through their use of language in the poem. Begin with their use of alliteration, including:

  • The tiger trainer tried to train two tigers
  • lumbered lazily
  • tiger trainer’s tune
  • jumped for joy.

Ask students what the effect of this alliteration is on the way they read they poem. Answers may include it makes it more rhythmic, it makes the words more memorable, or it makes them more enjoyable to read.

Ask students to identify descriptive words that the author used to further make the narrative poem more interesting to read, even if they aren’t confident in their knowledge of the meaning. Write the words on the board. These are likely to include:

  • lumbered
  • mooched
  • conforming
  • unexpectedly
  • slab
  • snatched
  • prowl


Divide students into small groups and have them use their prior knowledge and context clues to determine the definition of each word on the board. Ask groups to share the definitions they have come up with, then collaboratively write one on the board, using a dictionary for reference as necessary.

Discuss the way this vocabulary creates specific meaning and imagery for readers (e.g. the trainer gave the tigers a ‘slab’ of meat rather than a ‘piece’ and the tigers ‘snatched’ it rather than ‘took’ it).

Explain to students that they are going to be rewriting the poem by replacing words. To do this, they should change the animal that is being trained and consider factors such as:

  • What would a trainer be trying to get this animal to do?
  • What food would they be giving the animal as a reward?
  • What might the animal’s behaviour and movements be like when they are being uncooperative?

The words they replace should include all of the alliterations and descriptive words identified earlier in the lesson as well as any others needed to reflect their change in animal. Once they have established their ideas, they should change the wording of the poem by beginning with their basic vocabulary and coming up with related tier 2 words that illustrate their ideas in a more specific way. To do this, they should begin with their idea (e.g. do what the trainer says), think of a word they know that expresses this (e.g. obey) and use a thesaurus to look it up so they can locate more advanced words (e.g. comply). Ideally, they should then cross-reference their new word with a dictionary to ensure the meaning aligns with what they are trying to capture.

Assessment for/as learning:

Using whiteboards to respond, ask children to record their answer to the following questions.

  • Why do authors use alliteration in their writing? What purpose does it have?
  • How does the use of precise vocabulary in writing help?
  • Record some examples of alliteration that you were able to create.

Allow time for class to participate in a Gallery Walk to review others whiteboard reflections.