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The Pharaoh in the Attic

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By David Clayton —Author

Ellie is thrilled when hears she that the Tutankhamun exhibition is coming to town. But her brother, Joe, is more cautious. He has heard stories about strange curses and happenings linked to this Ancient Egyptian king. And the children’s great- grandad had some first-hand experience of the Pharaoh’s real resting place. The children are curious to look through his souvenirs – but what mysterious objects will they find and will there be any truth to the legendary curse?

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This original story, written especially for Literacy Time PLUS, is an example of a story with a familiar setting yet based on historical fact and legend. It has a clear and simple structure, and is ideal for identifying features of narrative writing, including setting and characterisation. It also draws on previous knowledge of Ancient Egyptian tombs, and the legend of Tutankhamun.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9, July 2009.

Before reading

  • Discuss what the children know about Tutankhamun.
  • Look at the title. What might the story be about? Speculate on genre, justifying ideas. Briefly discuss the meaning of narrative writing, and recap some of the usual features.

During reading

  • Read the story, using vocal expression and noting how punctuation affects how we interpret speech.
  • Collect powerful verbs and adjectives as you read, briefly noting the effect of specific choices – eg, snorted, sneaking, hurtling, hypnotised, menacing.
  • Identify similes (eg, ‘like a flea in a bucket.’) and discuss their effect.
  • Note the different time connectives used to move the story on – eg, ‘A little later’, ‘Just at that moment’.

Further reading

Dream Museum – On-screen resource 1 has information on Tutankhamun’s death mask. Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9, November 2007, Issue 56 – Resources on an Ancient Egypt theme, including an interactive dictionary game and story-writing kit, Sphinx shape poem and a retelling of the Joseph and His Coat of Many Colours story.

Responding

  • Note typical storytelling features – past tense; third person; clear beginning, middle, end; dialogue; description.
  • Discuss the characters. What sort of person is Joe? How does the writer make Joe’s feelings clear? What shows us Dad is a joker, and Mum keeps the peace? What does Ellie think of Joe’s fears, and how do her feelings change?
  • Discuss how superstition can affect how people view events, making connections instead of dismissing as coincidence. Which superstitions do children know?
  • Discuss the story structure. How does the writer create a comfortable, familiar setting to start with? How is the tension built up before and during the museum visit? What is the climax? How is it resolved? How is humour used to stop this being a horror story?
  • Consider why Joe is so nervous about the Curse, while Ellie is not. Discuss the differences between Mum’s response to Joe’s fears, and Dad’s.
  • Look at the ending. How do they feel about what happens to Dad? Some of the mystery is explained but what about the thunderstorm and the power loss? Discuss how the writer uses coincidence to keep a sense of uncertainty.
  • Use the activity sheet below to interrogate the text.

Speaking and listening

  • Role play the scene at breakfast. Encourage children to evaluate body language and vocal/facial expression in each other’s performances.
  • Hot seat Dad to find out why he teases Joe so much; Mum to find out why she is more sympathetic; and Ellie to ask how she felt in the museum.
  • Imagine a conversation between Dad and Ellie, when Dad is planning the trick with the luminous paint. Devise and perform a short script.
  • Devise a conversation in which Mum and Ellie try to persuade Joe to go to the exhibition.

Literacy Framework

See the Using this issue chart to identify the Learning Objectives covered by these activities, to track progression from Year 2 through to Year 5, and to identify links with Year 3 and 4 Literacy Planning Units.

Ideas for writing

  • Find out about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the subsequent events. Write a short report.
  • Choose a superstition mentioned in the story, or a different one. Plan and write a short story, modelled on this one, in which the bad luck – or good luck – seems to prove the superstition.
  • Write character descriptions of Dad and Joe.
  • Find pictures of Tutankhamun’s treasures. Use a thesaurus to help describe the items as vividly as possible.

Plenary

Discuss how this story combines slapstick humour with a little bit of horror, to enhance its appeal. Why do we like to be a little bit frightened? How does the jokey Dad make the fear alright? Think about the effect the story would have if Dad had been a serious character. How might the ending have been different?

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