When Plants Attack!

article by Zoë Disher , photo by Alamy

Learning Intention:

I am learning to understand how authors experiment with text structures by combining genres so that I can explain what makes a text humorous.

Success Criteria:

  • I can define the term sensationalism and identify examples of it in an informational text.
  • I can identify the aspects of the text that inform the audience about a topic, and, in contrast, I can also identify the entertaining aspects of the text.
  • I can experiment with using sensationalism in my own writing.

Essential knowledge:

More information about how texts are grouped according to form and function can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Genre.

More information about how the concept of genre should be addressed in Stage 3 can be found on the English Teachers Association’s page on Genre.

Guiding Question:

How can genres be combined for different purposes?

Before reading the text, introduce the genre of sensational news and sensationalism. First, you may wish to show the Academy for Social Change’s (Academy4SC) video on Sensationalism. Next, provide students with the Academy4SC’s definition of sensational news: when news is either released as the story breaks or with flashy content at the expense of accuracy. Explain that the aim of a sensational approach to writing news is to attract as many readers as possible. You may then want to provide students with some of the features of sensational news stories:

  • Headlines with big, bolded words and exclamation marks
  • Creating fear or preying on the fears of the audience
  • Inaccurately quoting an expert or twisting their words
  • Not checking the facts before presenting them

You may then ask students to brainstorm examples of sensational news in Australia. Some examples include: television news programs like ‘A Current Affair’, clickbait articles on the internet and some YouTube channels.

As a class read the text with students assuming the roles of Sensational News Reporter, Colin Claptrap and world-renowned botanist, Professor Thorne.

After the initial read-through, explain that texts can be organised into genres based on their social purpose/function (to inform, persuade, entertain etc.) Ask students to identify the purpose ‘When Plants Attack!’ Students should recognise that the primary purpose of the article is to inform as it contains many interesting facts and details about carnivorous plants. However, as the article is structured as a sensational news segment, the purpose is also to entertain. This is for two reasons. Most obviously, as the article contains lots of jokes in the form of outlandish claims (even the journalist is called Claptrap – absurd talk). The second is that the article is satirising sensationalist news stories and therefore is full of jokes.

Instruct students to conduct a second, independent read through. This time they should highlight all the information that is included to inform in one colour. In another colour they should highlight all the information included to entertain. Ask students what they notice about the structure. After reading, students should be able to visually see that around half of the article is informative and the other half entertaining. As the article concludes, the jokes increase.


Students could take this activity further by annotating quotations that feature elements of the sensational news genre. For example, the headline ‘When Plants Attack!’ contains both an exclamation mark and a strong verb to create a sense of fear.

Finally, ask students to experiment with writing their own sensational news story. They should choose an ordinary item in the classroom or playground. This will be the basis of a newspaper report in which the risk posed by this object is exaggerated. For example, Clag glue could be described as having destructive strength, or a blade of grass sharp enough to cause paper cuts.