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Painting with words

Students respond to an extract from ‘Seven Little Australians’ and explore and analyse the use of interesting language choices. Students compare the written description with a painting from the collection, noting the similarities and differences. Students then use a painting from the collection as the inspiration for their own descriptive writing and use Ethel Turner’s manuscript as stimulus for editing their own work.
Focus Text #1: 
Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
Focus Text #2: 
Sunset in New South Wales, 1865 by Eugene von Guerard

Text type

Novel and painting

Learning Intention

Students are learning to:

  • Recognise and analyse descriptive techniques and use them in their own writing

Success Criteria

Students will be successful when they can:

  • Identify the use of descriptive writing techniques
  • Analyse the effect of those techniques
  • Use a visual stimulus to compose own piece of descriptive writing
  • Reflect and edit their own writing

Background notes for teachers and students

Who was Ethel Turner?

Ethel Turner was born in England in 1870. In 1879 she migrated to Australia with her mother and two sisters. The family settled in Sydney where Ethel and her sister Lilian attended Sydney Girls High School. They both edited a schoolgirls' magazine, Iris, and later the Parthenon, a literary magazine which ran for three years. In 1892 Ethel took over the children's page in the Illustrated Sydney News. Turner was prolific during her time in Lindfield, writing three novels as well as newspaper articles and short stories between 1891 and 1894.

Her first novel, Seven Little Australians, was originally titled 'Six Pickles’. When it was published in 1894 it became an immediate success and has been in print ever since. It was followed by a sequel, The Family at Misrule, in 1895.  Turner married a lawyer, H.R. Curlewis in 1896 and by the time of her death in 1958 had produced over 40 books as well as numerous short stories and poems.

The Library holds Ethel Turner’s original manuscript for Seven Little Australians, hand-written in ink. The story has been translated into many languages, staged for the theatre (1914) and filmed (1939). Its frequent reprinting and an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) television version in 1973 have confirmed its status as one of Australia's few undeniable children's classics.

Glossary of terms

Emotive language - Language that creates an emotional response.

Figurative language - Words or phrases used in a way that differs from the expected or everyday usage. Figurative language creates comparisons by linking the senses and the concrete to abstract ideas. Words or phrases are used in a non-literal way for particular effect, for example simile, metaphor, personification. Figurative language may also use elements of other senses, as in hearing with onomatopoeia, or in combination as in synaesthesia.

Imagery - The use of figurative language or illustrations to represent objects, actions or ideas.

From the NSW Education Standards Authority Glossary

Student Activities

Reading and analysing language

Students engage with an extract from Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner and a painting by Eugene Von Guerard separately analysing the use of techniques in each, before making a judgement about whether written or visual language is more engaging.

Number of set tasks: 2

Writing from a stimulus

Students engage with a painting from the collection to write their own piece of descriptive writing based on the visual features of their chosen painting. They will then edit their own work, making changes that improve the aesthetics of their writing.

Number of set tasks: 2


A student:

  • effectively uses a widening range of processes, skills, strategies and knowledge for responding to and composing texts in different media and technologies (EN4-2A)
  • makes effective language choices to creatively shape meaning with accuracy, clarity and coherence (EN4-4B)


  • consider and apply a range of strategies to improve their texts, including editing by rereading and peer editing, checking accuracy of paragraphing, grammar, spelling and punctuation, and considering relevance for purpose, audience and context
  • edit for meaning by removing repetition, refining ideas, reordering sentences and adding or substituting words for impact (ACELY1726)



  • recognise and appreciate the ways a wide range of texts communicate by using effective language choices
  • explore and analyse the ways purpose, audience and context affect a composer's choices of content, language forms and features and structures of texts to creatively shape meaning
  • create literary texts that draw upon text structures and language features of other texts for particular purposes and effects (ACELT1632)

General capabilities

Critical and creative thinking 


In each Year of Stage 4 students must study examples of:

  • print texts
  • visual texts

Across the stage, the selection of texts must give students experience of:

  • texts which are widely regarded as quality literature
  • a widely defined Australian literature, including texts that give insights into Aboriginal experiences in Australia