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Ministry of Education.

Tomorrow when the war began

Students study several aspects of the novel Tomorrow When the War Began, then plan and write about responses based on a selected aspect.

Learning Outcomes | Teaching and Learning | Assessment and Evaluation | Printing Version

Writer: Mark Osbourne
Year level 11
Who are my learners and what do they already know? See:  Planning using inquiry
School curriculum outcomes How your school’s principles, values, or priorities will be developed through this unit

Learning Outcomes

 (What do my students need to learn)

Curriculum achievement objectives (AOs) for:  

Processes and strategies

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

  • thinks critically about texts with understanding and confidence
  • creates a range of increasingly varied and complex texts by integrating sources of information and processing strategies


Select, develop, and communicate connected ideas on a range of topics.

  • develops and communicates comprehensive ideas, information, and understandings

Language features

Select and use a range of language features appropriately for a variety of effects.

  • uses a wide range of text conventions, including grammatical and spelling conventions, appropriately, effectively, and with accuracy.


Organise texts, using a range of appropriate, effective structures.

  • achieves a sense of coherence and wholeness when constructing texts
Achievement Standard(s) aligned to AO(s) 1.1 Show understanding of specified aspect(s) of studied written text(s), using supporting evidence

Teaching and Learning

 (What do I need to know and do?)

1-2 related professional readings or links to relevant research

Effective Practices in Teaching Writing in NZ Secondary Schools [available from February 2011]

Planning using inquiry

English Teaching and Learning Guide [available from February 2011]

Assessment and Examination Rules and Procedures

Learning task 1:

Learning intention(s)

Establishing prior learning and linking it to the text

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Thinking – explore texts

Relate to others – peer discussion

Learning task 1

Exploring the text

  1. Use the internet to locate answers to these questions. Before you begin, select keywords you will use to carry out your search.
    • How many wars has New Zealand been involved in during the last 50 years?
    • Was there any warning before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre Towers in New York? (September 2001)
    • Are there any civil defence guidelines for what to do if New Zealand was attacked by another country?
    • Where is East Timor, who invaded it in 1975, and what was New Zealand's response to this invasion?
  2. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden is about a group of young people trying to survive after a foreign invasion of Australia. As you read the novel, consider any comparisons you can make between information you located in the pre reading internet search and the text.
  3.  Complete the cloze activity after you finish reading the first chapter.

Learning task 2:

Learning intention(s)

Examining key text aspects

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Thinking – using a range of thinking strategies to build understandings

Learning task 2

Examining plot, setting, character and theme

Plot sequence

Photocopy these events resources and cut them up. In groups, refer to your copies of the novel to put the events in the order in which they occur in the novel.

Plot - building tension

Map key events listed on the plot graph resource to show rising tension within the text.

Being succinct about setting

The broader setting for the novel is modern day Australia. This exercise asks you to clarify exactly what you believe is important and to think carefully about how you express your opinions. Talk about these two questions then develop an answer to each of them within a tight word limit of no more than 25 words for each:

  • How would the novel have been different if it was set in a different time?

  • How would the novel have been different if it was set in a different country?

Understanding characters

  1. Use the profile resource to draw up a list of profiles from the story. Look at all of the major characters (Ellie, Fi, Homer, Chris, Corrie, Lee, Kevin, Robyn).
  2. Choose one of the characters you have created a profile for and examine them in greater depth. Look at the way they develop or change over the course of the novel. Choose one of the characters you think is most important in the novel.
  3. For this character:
    • Identify the kind of person they are at the beginning of the novel. Provide a piece of evidence like a quotation from the novel, or an action that the person undertakes.
    • Identify three steps in their development throughout the novel. Think about behaviours they adopt, new ways of thinking or viewing the world, decisions they make, or things they learn. For each step, identify how they change and provide a piece of evidence for this change. How do you know they have changed?
    • Identify what kind of person they are at the end of the novel. Provide a piece of evidence for how they have changed since the beginning of the novel: a quotation or an action that the person undertakes
    • Comment on why you think they changed. This may be a response to a situation or a challenge, or it may have more to do with what kind of person your character is.
    • Choose the event you believe to be the most important in the novel. Explain how your event does the following:

      • helps to develop character
      • teaches the reader or the character(s) something
      • gets the reader thinking about important ideas behind the novel
      • overcomes a problem for the character


A theme is a "big" idea contained in a text. It should be a generalised statement that has no reference to the actual text.
Using the themes resource, find three events from the novel and identify the themes these events make you think about.

Learning task 3:

Learning intention(s)

Examining key text aspects

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Thinking – close reading

Learning task 3

Close reading - style

One of the reasons Tomorrow When the War Began is so successful as a novel is the way that John Marsden maintains suspense through his writing. Explore exactly how he does this by completing the following activities.

In this passage, the narrator, Elle, is entering a house where she suspects foreign soldiers might be present. This analysis focuses on the passage which begins on P 127 (McMacmillan edition) with "I sidled closer to the door and stood in an awkward position ...... to P 128 "Robyn!" I screamed.” Read the passage a couple of times. The author has created a mood of suspense and tension. He has done this through:

Choice of words

  1. The author's choice of verbs is important in the passage. He creates a sense of tension, stealth and caution though his use of verbs like "sidled", "pressed", "crouched" and "slipping" early in the passage as Elle enters the room. Later Elle's fear is made clear through the use of verbs like "grip the knob".
  2. The author also makes considerable use of adverbs ("silently", "smoothly", "quietly", "desperately") to underscore the fear and tension of the scene. He also uses adjectives such as "dull shapes" and "dreadful confirmation" to provide insight into the Elle's state of mind and "slow, careful step" "creaking board and "soft tread" to stress the tension of the moment and the need for quiet.


  1. The author makes limited use of imagery. When he uses the metaphor "screech of a tortured soul" to compare the sound of the door opening to someone being tortured he is trying to suggest how loud the sound seems to Elle at the same time as he implies the danger she is in.
  2. He uses the simile "I could hear Homer shuffling around, sounding like an old dog trying to get comfortable" to exaggerate the noise Homer was making and also to try to make it clear that this added to Elle's fear.


  1. The sentences, especially at the most tense moments, are mainly short or broken up into shorter phrases with commas. This helps create a tense breathless feel from Elle, underscoring her fear and the tension of the scene.
  2. the idea of the need for quiet and Elle's attempt to be quiet, is repeated throughout the passage in words like "sidled" "silently and smoothly" "slow, careful" "quietly slipping".
  3. The passage build towards the climax of the sound of the gun being cocked.


  1. The author uses the alliterative "silently and smoothly" with the repetition of the 's' helping to establish the idea of stealth and the need for quiet and tension.
  2. He also uses onomatopeia eg: “screech" and "rasped" to depict how loud even small sounds seemed to the nervous Elle.


The only dialogue used is the one word "Robyn!" which together with the "I screamed" and the exclamation mark helps emphasise her panic, her fear of being shot.


  1. Read the sample evaluation of this passage:

    Although written in simple language the passage is mainly successful in depicting the tension felt by the narrator. The short, sometimes staccato sentences, together with the well chosen verbs such as "sidled" and "grip" help us understand her fear and adverbs like "silently and smoothly" and "desperately" are also effective in conveying her state of mind.

    I found the author's choice of images less convincing as I could not imagine how a door opening could sound like "the screech of a tortured soul". Also, to compare Homer to "an old dog trying to get comfortable" in such a tense and dangerous situation, seemed homely, friendly and inappropriate.

    Overall though John Marsden succeeded in making me feel the tension of the scene and the fear of the narrator.

  2. Your teacher will select another short passage. Using the headings above, complete a close reading identifying examples and making comments about meanings and effects.

Thinking Critically

Read this review of the novel
. Identify the key reasons why the reviewer thought the book was excellent. For each reason, decide whether you agree or disagree with the reviewe and provide a piece of evidence (different from examples contained in the review) from the novel to back up your opinion.

Learning task 4:

Learning intention(s)

Drafting and polishing writing.

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Use language, symbols and texts – structure and express understandings about texts

Learning task 4

Developing a piece of formal writing

  1. Develop your responses to this novel in a piece of formal writing. Your writing can be developed and assessed against Achievement Standard 1.5 Produce formal writing. At the end of the year, this work will also become part of preparing for the externally assessed AS 1.1 Show understanding of specified aspect(s) of studied written text(s), using supporting evidence. AS 1.1 requires you to show an understanding of a text and support the points you make with relevant examples and details.
  2. In selecting a topic, it is vital that you select one suited to this text and to your understandings about it. As a first step in choosing, reading then responding to a text you have selected, consider the sample topics set in the draft external assessment resources for AS 1.1. Note the highlighted sections: there are two parts to each topic that should be addressed. After describing a key text aspect [like character, setting, language features, or an event], you are asked to comment on why that aspect helped you understand an important idea in the text.
  3. Choose or adapt one of these topics from the sample topics. Use ideas from learning tasks 1 -3 to help develop your response. Follow the writing guide.
  4. Craft a piece of formal writing which will later be assessed as a piece of formal writing for AS 1.5. Write at least 350 words. Support your ideas with specific details from your text.
  5. After completing a first draft, read your piece aloud to help identify parts of the writing that require reworking. Before writing a final version of your piece, proof-read it to improve on technical accuracy. This piece of writing can now be considered for assessment for AS 1.5 Produce formal writing.

Preparing for the external standard 1.1

Look back at the formal writing piece you developed earlier and use it to help prepare for AS 1.1 Show understanding of specified aspect(s) of studied written text(s), using supporting evidence. Don’t rote learn this essay then attempt to somehow adapt a learnt essay to a topic in the exam. You will be much better prepared if you familiarise yourself again with the text as well as its ideas and supporting evidence, then adapt your understandings and supporting evidence to fit the requirements of the topics set.

Assessment and Evaluation

 (What is the impact of my teaching and learning?)

Formative and/or Summative assessment task(s), including how will feedback be provided 1.5 Produce formal writing. Refer to the assessment schedule.

Provision for identifying next learning steps for students who need:

  • further learning opportunities
  • increased challenge

This piece of writing should be an integrated part of the year’s writing programme. Refer to

English Teaching and Learning Guide 

Conditions of Assessment Guidelines for formal writing

Effective Practices in Teaching Writing in NZ Secondary Schools

for more details.

Tools or ideas which, for example might be used to evaluate:

  • progress of the class and groups within it
  • student engagement

leading to :

  • changes to the sequence
  • addressing teacher learning needs
See:  Planning using inquiry

Printing this unit:

If you are not able to access the zipped files, please download the following individual files.

Published on: 17 Dec 2010