The Underwater Genius

poem by Kevin Christopher Snipes , illustrated by Tohby Riddle

Learning Intention:

I am learning to use appropriate interaction skills so that I can justify an opinion.


Success Criteria:

  • I can connect texts to my own experiences.
  • I can use appropriate interaction skills to justify an opinion.
  • I can use persuasive techniques to convince someone else of my opinion.


Essential knowledge:

For more information about understanding character, view The School Magazine’s video on Character.


Oral language and communication:

Pose the following question to the class: Has someone ever convinced you to do something you didn’t want to do?

Encourage students to consider any situation, from a parent convincing them to try a strange new food, to a friend daring them to dive from a high diving board. Ask them how the other person ended up convincing them. Do a think, pair, share for answers.


Understanding text:

Read the text The Underwater Genius or listen to the audio recording if you have digital subscription. Ask students what sort of person they think Erika is. Remind them that it’s more complicated than a single answer, as she has a contradictory personality – the narrator tells us she’s academically gifted, but not logical. Ask students to discuss in pairs why Erika is determined to swim with a bowling ball, and how their answers affect the type of person she is. Possible answers:

- She thinks swimming is too easy and wants to make it harder for herself (prideful)

- She is curious to see what would happen if she swam with a bowling ball (scientific)

- She doesn’t feel confident swimming and thinks a bowling ball will help her (misinformed)

- She thinks a bowling ball will help her get deeper quicker than anyone else (arrogant)

Willing pairs can share their answers with the class.


Creating text:

Explain that students will individually write dot points with reasons to convince Erika not to swim with her bowling ball. Encourage students to use high modality words (outlined in the NSW Department of Education’s page Modality) and other persuasive techniques learnt in the classroom.


Explain that students will now roleplay best friends of Erika. With you in the hotseat playing Erika, students have to convince you that you shouldn’t swim with a bowling ball. Encourage deeper interaction skills by asking:

- How can you use questioning to your advantage? (Questioning allows students to better understand Erika’s reasoning and help Erika think about her choice)

- How can you use paraphrasing in your argument? (Paraphrasing will help students better understand Erika’s point of view)

- How can your past experiences help in this situation? (Draw on strategies other people have used to convince them, helps empathise with Erika)

Remind students they can refer to their dot points where necessary.


Call students up in groups between 2-5 students depending on class size. For each group, select a different reason for why “Erika” (you in the hotseat) has chosen to go swimming with the bowling ball, so groups will have to use different arguments and questions each round.


Assessment for/as learning:

Once all students have had a turn, they can fill out a self-evaluation using the statements below, rating their performance from one to five (with one being strongly disagree and five being strongly agree).

I used questioning to clarify Erika’s choices.

I used paraphrasing to confirm Erika’s ideas.

I clearly outlined and justified my opinion.

I used high modality words to persuade Erika.

I used my past experiences to empathise with and persuade Erika.