Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

Senior Secondary navigation

You are here:

Snapshot 9: I am not Esther

This snapshot describes how a teacher used the theme of “identity” to engage students in reading and responding to the novel I am not Esther.


This class comprised year 11 students in a wharekura. They had diverse learning needs, with achievement ranging from level 2 to level 8 of the English curriculum. They had been a challenging group and many were not at all motivated to learn in English.

I chose I am not Esther as our study novel because most of the class did not read for pleasure and I wanted to enthuse them about good writing. Also, it fitted in well with a school-wide theme that year: healthy living.

Curriculum focus


  • Multi-level (but the following achievement objectives and indicators are level 6)


  • Reading, writing, speaking, and listening

Processes and strategies

Integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies purposefully and confidently to identify, form, and express increasingly sophisticated ideas.

[Indicators] Selects and read texts for enjoyment and personal fulfillment … Integrates sources of information and prior knowledge purposefully and confidently to make sense of increasingly varied and complex texts … Thinks critically about texts with understanding and confidence

Purposes and audiences

Show a developed understanding of how texts are shaped … and how to shape texts … for different purposes and audiences


Show a developed understanding of ideas within, across and beyond texts … Select, develop and communicate connected ideas on a range of topics.

Teacher action

To hook the students in, we focused on the key concept identity and what gives us our identity.

An early task was to get the students to work in groups and brainstorm what made them who they are. Most had never thought about this before, so it proved a neat exercise.

The ideas they came up with included DNA, religion, parents, town, money, iwi/hapu, whakapapa, kura, how close they live to their marae, appearance, name, etc. What delighted me most was their dawning realisation that identity is predominantly cultural.

The charts they created when brainstorming were up on the wall for ages and helped provide ideas for later essays.

From this point on, the students were able to empathise with the main character in the novel. They understood that the story was about what happens when all the markers of identity are taken away.

Some of my students were unable to read the novel independently so I read it to them. Interestingly, even though I set tasks for the independent readers to do during this reading-aloud time, many of them also wanted to listen to the book being read.

What happened?

Everybody engaged with the novel. Many of the students had never written a formal essay in English and were not confident they had the skills to do so.

By taking their own ideas about identity (surfaced in the brainstorming) and relating them to events in the novel, the students found the process accessible, and everyone wrote an essay. I was able to use these essays as practice for a formal writing assessment later in the year, focusing on their theme study reports.

Last updated September 10, 2012