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Touching the Void

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By Joe Simpson

Literacy Time PLUS for ages 7 to 9 January 2008 features an extract from Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. The book recounts a harrowing climbing accident that tested the friendship and survival skills of Joe and his climbing partner Simon Yates. The print version of the leaflet has information text on the Andes mountain range where Joe’s ordeal took place.

Key learning outcomes:

To use drama and role play to explore issues/viewpoints;

To empathise and debate moral dilemmas;

To explore why writers write;

To find information effectively;

To explain how writers use figurative and expressive language to create images and atmosphere;

To clarify meaning using phrases, clauses, adverbials and exclamation marks.

Useful websites

Joe’s website,, is a valuable resource, though teachers will need to be selective in the material they use. Useful elements include the article ‘Joe Simpson – Under the Spotlight’, an interview which could be used selectively, and the gallery section which contains photographs and biographical facts about Joe.

Before reading

  • Identify the genre and some of its key features: 1st person; past tense; use of thoughts and mental images to convey atmosphere; chronological order.
  • Pull out some of the vocabulary specific to the text eg, belay plate, taut, protruded, avalanche, stifled. Make sure the children understand what these words mean. Later, children could create a glossary for the piece.
  • Discuss the events that led to the writing of Touching the Void. You may decide to look at the Andes information sheet now, to provide a context for the extract. If so, explore the information text, pointing out text organisation and features.

During reading

  • Read the introductory paragraph to the children then support them as they read it themselves. Use syllabification to work out more complex words and discuss the silent letters in knot, knife and overwhelmed.
  • Identify adverbs (words ending with -ly) in the text and their purpose within an extract such as this. How do they assist the reader?
  • Explore the figurative language that is rich within this text, in particular the use of personification eg, ‘Panic threatened to overtake me’, ‘Snow hissed over me’. Why does the author use these? How does it help the reader to picture the scene?
  • Point out the short sentences and the use of exclamation marks. Why is this technique used? What effect does it have on the text? Find examples.


  • Discuss personal responses to the text. How did it make the children feel? Why?
  • Discuss the idea of an ‘extract’. How effective is this extract in making you want to read the book?
  • Look again at the accompanying information sheet. Is it useful to have? What else would you like to know?
  • Use the SAT-style comprehension activity below.

Speaking and listening/Drama

  • Role-play a conversation between Joe and Simon when they are re-united.
  • Act out an ‘internal monologue’ of either Simon or Joe during the ordeal.
  • Hot seat children as Joe or Simon. Have the rest of the class asking effective questions.
  • Set up a class debate: Did Simon make the right/wrong choice? Ask the children to use the language of possibility, and evidence from the extract, when reporting their decision.

Previous learning

It is useful for the children to have had previous experience of reading recounts and to be relatively familiar with the genre, as this is a challenging text. Having some prior understanding of who Joe Simpson is and what happened would also assist their understanding.

Ideas for writing

  • Look again at the two text types in the leaflet. Create a checklist of success criteria for each genre. Revisit some of the features explored during reading.
  • Use the drama activities to write 1st person recounts from Joe’s perspective. Plan the recounts the activity sheet below.
  • Create a similar information text for another mountain range, using the same format and headings.
  • Get the children to word-process texts they have created. Alternatively, they could make web pages, simple presentations or create a web blog about the subject.

Links with…


Joe’s website features the trailer for the movie, Touching the Void. Analyse, and evaluate its effectiveness. Does it do the extract justice? Use digital movie cameras to create a new trailer.


Use the leaflet as a starting point for work on mountains.