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


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.
  • Organise the children into pairs or small groups.


You might like to read the book aloud again if you feel that the class would benefit from refamiliarising themselves with the text.

Explain that in their pairs or groups, each child must read through the book and find two true things, and then make up a lie. Model this for the children for a couple of rounds. For example, you could say:

  • Rhodopis was called this because she had rosy red cheeks.
  • Rhodopis couldn’t speak
  • Rhodopis loved animals
  • Pandas are found in Egypt
  • Hippos are found in Egypt
  • Cats are found in Egypt
  • Aesop liked Rhodopis and wanted to help her
  • Charaxos liked Rhopodpis and bought her a present
  • The three sisters liked Rhodopis and wanted to be her friend

Allow time for the children to select their truths and make up a lie. They might like to write them down. Once they are ready to play the game, 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 Greece to Egypt; make sure the children are secure in knowing where she is at what point in the story, and can identify the main characters.

You might like to ask some children to share their truths and lie with the whole class. Pupils could write out their truths and a lie, and decorate them, for display. 

Final reflection

  • Do you find this an easy story to follow?
  • Is there anything you feel confused about?

Looking at Plot: Conflict and Resolution


Developing a sound understanding of the elements of a story is essential for readers to follow and fully comprehend the stories they read. Plot contributes to the overall meaning and effect of a story. Looking at plot type and structure helps identify how plots work and can be assimilated when children read independently.


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


Fairy tales have a distinct and linear plot structure. They usually involve a character coming up against an insurmountable obstacle or impossible task, but overcoming this 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 have mistreated them get their just deserts. 

  • Can you think of some fairy tales which follow this structure?

Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots, Jack and the Beanstalk (although Jack is not conventionally ‘good’)

  • 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?

The children should use their answers to these questions to help them summarise the story. They should create a visual story arc or map to show their selection of main events of Cinderella of the Nile. Allow them freedom in how they do this. You might like children to work in pairs to facilitate discussion as they select the key events.

  • Add key 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 follow this plot structure?

It reminded her of another kingfisher…


In comprehending a story, children need to identify which is the more important information and which is peripheral. Motifs contained within the story can help children identify important themes or events within the text. Authors can use motifs to create a deeper sense of theme which they don’t make explicit. This session identifies a recurring motif and makes its meaning explicit.

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.


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 within the book, we might call them a motif. A motif is a symbol. The image stands for something deeper than its surface, 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. 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 in some cultures, birds symbolise the link between heaven/gods and earth. 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 not very intelligent birds, but they are often used in stories to symbolise wisdom.

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. A lion might represent bravery, or pride, or support for a sports team, for example.

Final reflection

  • Can you identify any other motifs in the text?



We are not privy to Rhodopis’ inner thoughts, and she says very little throughout the story. Pupils must, therefore, use the description of her, her actions, and other characters’ reactions to her, in the text, to infer her character. The development of these inference skills is vital for the comprehension of texts and can be transferred to other texts. The conscience alley strategy further supports inference skills and empathy by inviting children to put themselves in the shoes of characters in the story and think about Rhodopis’ point of view and why she might behave as she does.


  • 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?
  • With a partner, look carefully through the text and find descriptions of her.

Allow the children time to reread the text closely, make notes of relevant words and phrases, and then share their selections. On the whiteboard, collate any recurring words or phrases. Some ideas might be beautiful, sad, quiet. 

  • How else might you describe Rhodopis? Use what she does and says and the illustrations as clues, rather than the description of her in the text.

Add these words to your list. A lot of these words are character traits. Character traits are the qualities which people possess, which show their underlying values and inform 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?

Honesty and dishonesty are character traits. 

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 which you disagree with, and think should be removed? Why?
  • Can you think of any character traits we have missed out? Can you find evidence in the text to justify their inclusion?
  • Rhodopis is described in the book as being beautiful. Is being beautiful a character trait? Why do you think this?

Distribute the resources. The character trait cards have been provided to support the initial discussion, but you might prefer to use the blank frame and ask the children to fill them in with the traits you have generated as a class or come up with their own traits.

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

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

Reread pages 8 to 12. 

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

Feedback to the group your opinions on their advice.

  • When Rhodopis is sad, other people can see it. What character trait do you think this might show?

Final reflection

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