Willy Wagtail

poem by Ursula Dubosarsky , illustrated by Lesley McGee

Learning Intention:

I am learning to understand past, present and future tense so that I can consider their meanings in a sentence.

Success Criteria:

  • I can identify the tense used in a text.
  • I can consider why the tense might change.
  • I can identify my reactions to a video.
  • I can compose a poem that features both the past and the present/future tense.


Essential knowledge:

Display the following sentences:

  • I went to the park.
  • I am at the park.
  • I will go to the park.

Discuss the following:

  • Identify when the narrator went to the park in each sentence.
  • How do you know? (By the tense of the verbs, either past, present or future)



Display with the following events:

  • Going for a swim
  • Attending a birthday party
  • Completing a task at school

Place students in small groups and allocate each group to one of the events. Instruct students to discuss how they might change the tense of the sentence to reflect it happening at a different time, either past, present or future. Instruct students to note their ideas on individual whiteboards.

Share responses and underline the words that change when the tense changes. Ensure students identify that these are the verbs in the sentences.


Understanding text:

Read Willy Wagtail or listen to the audio version if you have a digital subscription. Ensure students understand that Willy Wagtail is a bird.

Discuss the following:

  • What tense is the poem written in? (Mostly past tense)
  • What vocabulary supports this? (For example, heard, knew, were, closed, could, went, was)
  • Is this consistent right the way through the poem? (No, it changes at the end to future tense)
  • Why do you think the tense changes? (The future tense forms part of direct/quoted speech)

Ensure students identify that when using direct/quoted speech we use the present and/or future tense, depending on what the character is referring to. Display examples and discuss the difference in tense between the direct/quoted speech and the indirect/reported speech. For example:

  • “This is the best ice-cream in the world,” Sara squealed.
  • “I am working with a group of my closest friends on this project,” Sanjeet informed Ms Janjić.
  • “I will help you with that tomorrow,” La’raya explained as she dashed out the door.

Creating text:

Inform students that they will be experimenting with using both past and present tense, in a poem. Tell students that they will be including directed/quoted speech in their poems. Inform students that you will be planning an example together prior to students being required to work independently/in pairs.

View the video Bird Mimics Chainsaw, Car Alarm and More from National Geographic Wild. Discuss the sounds made by the Lyrebird, and note vocabulary on the board, under the heading ‘Sounds of the Lyrebird’, for example:

  • Chirruping
  • Chirping
  • Whooping
  • Whi whoo
  • Urrr urr urrr urr
  • Whoo whoo
  • Clicking
  • Motor drive
  • Car alarm
  • Trilling
  • Chain saw buzzing/scraping.

Discuss anything students found interesting/surprising about the sounds the lyrebird makes and encourage them to provide examples, such as, ‘I was amazed at the siren song’. Record responses on the board, under the heading ‘Reactions’. Note: Use the past tense when describing the reactions. Model this for students as they provide their reactions. Sample responses include:

  • Amazed at the siren song
  • Impressed with how it sang its heart out
  • It was hilarious how it imitated other sounds
  • It was like a sound-chameleon
  • The way it mimicked sounds around them made me laugh.

Collaboratively compose a brief poem that focuses on students’ reactions to the video of the lyrebird. Tell students that the poem should feature mostly the past tense, with an example of direct/quoted speech, in the present/future tense, that features the sounds of the lyrebird. Inform students that they can choose whether to make the poem rhyme or not. A sample response is:

As I watched that bird chirrup,

I was amazed by its siren sound.

Never before have I seen a bird,

That sounded like a chain saw.


The way it imitated other sounds,

The joker of the bird world.

It made me laugh, it made me cry,

So impressed was I.


As I listened to its calls,

And pondered what they meant.

Perhaps, ‘Chirp, be my friend,

Come and play with me,” it said.


Place students in pairs and instruct them to complete the following:

  • Select sounds the Lyrebird made in the video
  • Consider your reaction to the video
  • Compose a poem that features your reactions, using the past tense
  • Include an example of direct/quoted speech, in the present tense.


Assessment for/as learning:

Once students have completed their poems, place them into groups of four. Discuss criteria students may use to assess the poems, using the instructions for the task as a guide. Instruct students to use the criteria to peer-assess the poems and to provide oral feedback using the Two Stars and a Wish strategy.