Unravelling Meaning


Reading a portion of text repeatedly, until it can be read proficiently and fluently, allows children to concentrate on reading at an appropriate rate, with meaningful expression and comprehension. Developing mastery over a given text develops skills which transfer to the first reading of a new text. This is a complex text with many multi clause sentences. By concentrating on an extract, children are provided with a  technique they can use to tackle the rest of the text and other independent reading.


  • Distribute copies of Cinderella of the Nile, at least one for every two pupils.


Explain that the pupils are going to read a portion of the book repeatedly until they can read it fluently and without error. We have selected pages 17 and 18, because the multi clause sentences can be hard to read with pace, and can hinder comprehension. By teasing out meaning during the read, skills can be developed, which can transfer to the reading of the whole text. You may prefer to choose another section of the book. Whichever text you decide to use, structure the repeated reading session as follows:

Check that children understand the word practice.

Write the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ on the board. What does the phrase mean and how might it relate to today’s lesson.

  • Give plenty of time for initial independent reading and provide support with unfamiliar vocabulary, and the pronunciation of names.
  • Check pupils’  comprehension by close questioning, unravelling the multi clause sentences. For example: What is meant by Remembering Aesop, she made friends with the ginger cat and pet monkey that lived with Charaxos. The short phrase remembering Aesop carries a great deal of meaning. How does remembering Aesop affect how Rhodopis acts? Does she befriend the animals because she remembers enjoying Aesop’s animal stories, or because he helped her to make friends with the owl, which made her happy, or because he told her to be flexible and adapt to her surroundings? All these ideas could be said to be imparted by these two words. You can also draw attention to the fronted adverbials used, such as One afternoon, and Down by the river, by asking when or where things happened.
  • Encourage character inference by asking simple questions such as: How does Rhodopis feel? How does Charaxos feel about Rhodopis?
  • Read the paragraphs aloud yourself, modelling good practice. Draw attention to any decisions you make as you read. 
    • I am pausing here because there is a comma.
    • The italics here mean I should read this with a different emphasis. Try out some different voices until you find the best fit for the song.
    • These are happy times for Rhodopis, so I am reading in a cheerful, light voice. I would read about her being abducted in a sad voice.
  • Pair children up according to your classroom management requirements.
  • They should practice reading their pages individually before reading aloud to each other.
  •  Read the pages aloud to each other three times each.
  • If the children are comfortable to do so, read aloud to the class. 

Final reflection

  • Do you feel more confident reading this passage aloud now?
  • Is there a page which you find difficult to read or understand you would like to try this technique on in another session?

Two Truths and a Lie (Cinderella of the Nile)


Before moving on to more in-depth study, this activity allows children to discuss their reading and secure a literal understanding of what has happened in the story, and the characters involved. This is quite a complex plot, and misunderstandings need to be clarified for deeper comprehension to develop.


  • Distribute copies of Cinderella of the Nile, at least one for every two pupils.
  • Download the Two Truths and a Lie slideshow.


Explain that in today’s lesson, the children will have an opportunity to see how good their knowledge of the story is because you will be playing two truths and a lit.

Share the Two Truths and a Lie slideshow.

Show the first slide.

  • Which one is the lie?
  • Can you find evidence for the two true statements?

Share the second slide

  • Which one is the lie?
  • Can you find evidence for the two true statements?

Make the point that a good lie is one that could almost be true.

  • Can you write two lies and a truth to catch your friends out?

In pairs ask the children to look through the book and then write their own Two Truths and a Lie statements. Take the opportunity to remind them to rehearse sentences orally before writing them.

While the children are working, move around the room, participating and using the children’s selection to assess their understanding of the story. Correct any misunderstandings. The plot is complex, and Rhodopis moves from  her home in Greece to a Greek island and then to Egypt.  Check the children know where she is at what point in the story and can identify the main characters.

When all the children have had time to write some statements, gather the class and play the game. Once the children have identified the lies ask them to confirm by finding evidence for the truths.

  • Do we need to look through the entire book to find the truths?
  • Can we work out roughly which part of the story to check?

Final reflection

  • Was the story easy or difficult to follow?
  • Did you find it easier to write truths or the lie? Why do you think that?

Plot: Overcoming Problems and Happy Endings


Plot is one element of a story. A sound understanding of story elements helps readers follow and comprehend the stories they read. Analysing plot type and structure helps readers identify how stories work, and the knowledge is then internalised, supporting independent reading and writing.

Fairy tales have a clear plot structure. They usually involve a character facing an insurmountable obstacle or impossible task, which they overcome with the help of their personal qualities and a little outside (often magical) intervention. The hero or heroine is usually ‘good’, and their kindness and bravery are rewarded with a positive outcome, while those who mistreated them get their just deserts. 


  • Distribute copies of Cinderella of the Nile, at least one for every two pupils.
  • Download the Fairy tale plot  organiser for making notes (optional)


Fairy tales have a clear plot structure. They often involve a character facing an insurmountable obstacle or impossible task, which they overcome with the help of their personal qualities and a little outside (often magical) intervention. The hero or heroine is usually ‘good’, and their kindness and bravery are rewarded with a positive outcome, while those who mistreated them get their just deserts. 

Write these elements on the board:

  • Introduction of the hero or heroine
  • The obstacle/problem
  • Overcoming the problem by virtue of their personal qualities
  • Some outside intervention
  • The heroine is rewarded
  • Can you think of some fairy tales which follow this structure?

Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White are some examples.

Display the fairy tale plot organiser and choose a story from the above list to model for the children.

Make sure children have copies of Cinderella of the Nile available for reference.

  • Does this plot structure fit with Cinderella of the Nile?
  • What is Rhodophis’ problem or obstacle?
  • How is it overcome?
  • Who mistreats her?
  • Who helps her?
  • What is Rhodopis’ reward?

Ask the children to discuss the answers to these questions in pairs.

Take oral feedback. There is no need to write the children’s answers on the grid, as you want them to have some agency in representing the plot. They could do this visually, using the grid or a flow chart. Have examples ready for children who need extra support.

You can add important words and phrases from the text to your story arc.

Keep the visual representations as these can be used to retell the story in the following sessions.

Final reflection

  • Do all fairy tales have happy endings? (This will depend on the versions children have heard and there may be cultural variations)
  • Can you think of any stories that have a different structure? (For example, Chicken Little, The Enormous Turnip and The Gingerbread Man are cumulative stories.}
  • How could you use this knowledge of how stories work in your own writing?

It reminded her of another kingfisher…


In comprehending a story, children need to distinguish important information from minor details. Motifs can signal important themes or events within the text. Authors use motifs to create a deeper sense of theme which they don’t make explicit. This session identifies a recurring motif in Cinderella of the Nile and makes its meaning explicit.

Teacher’s note: This is a challenging lesson. Still, it can be made concrete by making connections with things that are familiar to the children – a mascot for their favourite football team might symbolise qualities of strength or speed, a school emblem might have the image of an owl, which symbolises wisdom and learning. Find out what the best connections are for your children before teaching this lesson.


  • Distribute copies of Cinderella of the Nile, at least one for every two pupils.
  • Download the slide with the image of the kingfisher.
  • Have available a copy of The Star Whale by Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek (see book recommendations, optional)
  • Have available a copy of Grandpa and the Kingfisher by Anna Wilson (see book recommendation, optional)


Sometimes, when we have finished reading a book, particular images stay with us, perhaps because they have been repeated or were especially striking. If these repeated images are connected with important events in the story, we might call them a motif. A motif is a symbol. The image has a meaning more important than itself and is often linked to an important theme in the book. 

  • Can you think of a repeated image in the book that appears at important moments?

An obvious repeated image is Rhodopis’ red hair. It makes her immediately identifiable in the illustrations and is important as it marks her out as different.

  • Why is Rhodopis’ hair colour important?
  • Can you think of other repeated images?

Turn to page 5. 

  • Does the kingfisher reappear in the story?
  • Can you find where?
  • What is happening in the story when the kingfishers appear?
  • What do you think the kingfisher might symbolise?

There is an image of a real kingfisher in the resources. You might also like to show a clip of a Kingfisher in flight. There are plenty to choose from on YouTube.

Show this to the pupils and ask them to describe it. Encourage them to think about the words that they are using; what associations does the kingfisher evoke?

  • Are there any other birds in the story?
  • Look through the text and find them.
  • What might they symbolise?

Birds often symbolise freedom in art and literature because they can fly. The children might also be interested to know that birds symbolise the link between heaven/gods and earth in some cultures. The fact that Horus is a falcon god gives weight to this interpretation. Sometimes, specific birds embody certain qualities: think of an owl, for example. Owls are often used in stories to symbolise wisdom (even though in nature, they are not particularly intelligent)

  • Where does an owl appear in this story?
  • Do you think that is significant/important?

Children might find the concept of symbolism very difficult. It might help to compare motifs in stories to tattoos. The image someone chooses to tattoo on their body often has a deep and important meaning to them that means more than just the picture. For example, a lion might represent bravery, pride, or support for a sports team.

Final reflection

  • Can you identify any other motifs in the text?
  • Can you tell your partner what a motif is and why they are important in stories?

You might like to end this lesson by reading one of the recommended stories or poems featuring a kingfisher. Reading comprehension is strengthened by the connections we make. Try to build in opportunities to read texts that connect with the main text you are studying. You might simply read without discussion and let the thoughts settle and percolate.




We are not privy to Rhodopis’s thoughts, and she says very little throughout the story. Children must, therefore, use the description of her, her actions, and other characters’ reactions to her in the text to infer her character.

The elaborative inference is essential for a deeper understanding of the character and the story.

The conscience alley strategy supports inference and empathy by inviting children to put themselves in the characters’ shoes in the story and think about Rhodopis’ point of view and why she might behave as she does.

Teacher’s note: We advise that the conscience alley is conducted with the teacher in role as Rhodopis. This is likely to model a more reflective and nuanced stance. As children become more experienced and confident in using this strategy, they might like to take on the role after the teacher.


  • Distribute copies of Cinderella of the Nile, at least one for every two pupils.
  • Download and print copies of the Character Ladder and Character Traits resources, one for each child or pair of children.


  • What do we know about Rhodopis?

Take initial thoughts.

Turn to page one. With a partner, read this page and discuss what we know about Rhodopis.

We are told that she is beautiful (physical description)

We are told that she is kind (character trait). Character traits are the qualities people possess that show their underlying values and affect their behaviour. They can be good, such as kindness, loyalty, friendliness, and generosity or bad, such as laziness, spitefulness, and cowardice.

Imagine there was a five-pound note on the classroom floor.

  • What would an honest person do?
  • What would a dishonest person do?

Hones and dishonest are character traits.

We also know that Rhodopsis does everything that her parents ask with a smile (behaviour).

  • What character trait does this behaviour suggest? (Some possibilities: keen to please, happy, carefree, loving).

Now, skim through the book to see if you can find out more about Rhodopis. (Remind the children that they can use the illustration and the text)

Gather the class and take feedback.

List ideas on the whiteboard. Decide whether the information is a description, behaviour, or character trait. You might organise your thoughts using the three-column grid.

As a class, review the list of character traits you have generated. 

  • Which traits do you think most accurately describe Rhodopis?
  • Are there any words you disagree with and think should be removed? Why?
  • Can you think of any character traits we have missed? Can you find evidence in the text to justify their inclusion?
  • Rhodopis is described in the book as beautiful. Is beauty a character trait? (No, it is her physical appearance)

Distribute the resources. The character trait cards have been provided to support the initial discussion and expand children ‘s vocabulary. However, you might prefer to use the blank frame and complete it with the class or group, or the children can write them independently. Vary the support for the needs of your class.

The character ladder is a way of ranking character traits from most to least important to most dominant. 

  • Which traits do you think are most dominant in Rhodopis’ personality? A dominant trait is what we first notice about a person. This trait should go at the top of the ladder. 
  • Place the traits down the ladder in descending order of dominance.
  • Compare your ladder with a friend’s. Did you think the same way?

Gather the class and reread pages 8 to 12. 

  • Why is Rhopis sad?
  • Do you think Rhodpois should smile more?
  • Should she be grateful for her new life?
  • Should she pretend to be happy?
  • Why do you think this?

Create a conscience alley by forming two lines of children facing one another.

The teacher passes along the line, in the role of Rhodopis, and children advise her on whether or not she should smile. Listen carefully to each opinion; you can ask children to whisper to you so they don’t feel shy or influenced by more vocal peers.

Feedback to the group. Explain what you heard and which thoughts were persuasive.

Final reflection

  • What do you think your own most dominant character trait is? Why?

Reinforce the point that we are not told everything about a character when we read stories. We use clues to make inferences about the character.