A great story about perspective. The theme of the story is the difference between how we view something depending on our background.

Patricia Frances Grace, DCNZM, QSO, (born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1937) is a notable Māori writer of novels, short stories, and children's books. Her first published work, Waiariki (1975) was the first collection of short stories by a Māori woman writer. She has been described as "A key figure in contemporary world literature and in Maori literature in English"

Butterflies by Patricia Grace - Official Website - BenjaminMadeira
Butterflies by Patricia Grace - Photo: illustration

University studies | Benjamin Madeira —

Prepare an oral presentation where you, in some detail, describe how you would work with this text, focusing on:

language learning
ways of reading
or other perspectives that you find relevant

Tasks for 'Butterflies' by Patricia Grace

Text chosen: 'Butterflies' by Patricia Grace

Class: Lower secondary school (ungdomsskole) 10th-grade students

Time estimate: Two two-hour/double class lesson and some homework

About the author, Patricia Grace:

A New Zealand maori writer, Patricia Grace, wrote a very short story about a teacher's response to a Maori child's writing. The teacher is presumably white - "pakeha" as Maori refer to New Zealanders of European (mostly British) descent.

Summary of ‘Butterflies’ by Patricia Grace

In the story ‘Butterflies’ a young Maori girl living with her grandparents goes to a school where she is taught by a Pakeha teacher. The girl writes a story at school about killing all the butterflies but the teacher tells her "butterflies are beautiful creatures." What the teacher doesn't know is that the girl is killing the butterflies to protect the cabbages her family is growing. When the little girl tells her grandfather what the teacher said, he tells her "your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the super market, that's why." This symbolizes how Maori and Pakeha are different in their values. This shows a different idea on what it means to them to be Maori. Although this short-story is written in the third person, the story is in the voice of the little girl.

The short story "Butterflies" is a thought-provoking piece. In this short-story, “Butterflies”, we are invited to see an aspect of New Zealand in a grain of sand. Patricia Grace's presents different aspects of what it means to be Maori in her stories. An idea she portrays is that Maori are different in their way of doing things and their values. Careful 10th-grade readers will notice that this selection involves a clash of cultures: rural and city, even black and white. Butterflies, to a farmer, are pests that destroy crops, but to a city dweller, they have a romantic quality that symbolizes beauty and change. Topics are familiar to both child and teacher but that have different values to child and teacher.

Competence aims after grade 10

Students will be informed why we will be reading this short-story and what the students aim to get out of the reading (see competence aims). The teacher will start by writing the competence aims on the whiteboard.

Competence aims from LK06 for lower secondary school (10th-grade) that are covered by this reading activity are:

Language learning

• use various situations, work methods and strategies to learn English


• understand spoken and written texts on a variety of topics
• read and understand texts of different lengths and genres

Culture, society and literature

• discuss the way young people live, how they socialise, their views on life and values in (...) English-speaking countries and Norway
• describe the situation for some indigenous peoples in English-speaking countries
• read and discuss a representative selection of literary texts from the genres (...) short stories, (...) from the English-speaking world
• prepare and discuss his/her own oral or written texts inspired by literature and art

Task 1: Pre-reading activity or warm-up

Some ideas:


Students are asked to study some pictures of various kinds of butterflies and tell what they think of butterflies, and then they can decide what they would do with those butterflies. Each decision must be accompanied by an explanation in English. Students are grouped to compare decisions briefly.


Students are told that they are going to read a story called ‘Butterflies’. Can they think what the story is about? They are asked to draw a mind-map when speculating about the title. All suggestions are accepted at this stage. The teacher puts them on the board, while students jot them down in their notebooks. Students’ thinking can be developed when they collaboratively construct meaning during discussions.

Task 2: Reading or listening in sections

Students read or listen to the first three lines of the story (ending ‘You come straight back after school, straight home here.’). The grandmother has told her granddaughter to hurry up home after school. The class is asked to recall whether they have read or heard a similar story. It resembles a fairy tale such as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, in which a little girl goes out of the safety of her home into the big, wild world. Here, a Maori girl goes into the Pakeha world.

Task 3: Reading or listening in sections

Students keep reading or listening. Now they read the next two lines of the story (ending ‘"Listen to the teacher," she said. "Do what she say"’). The grandmother has told her granddaughter to do whatever her teacher says, and her grandfather will also tell her to obey her teacher. The class is asked to recall whether they have been given the same advice by a relative in their lives before going to school. It might be that a student points out that the grandmother feels that by advising her granddaughter so, she is less likely to have problems fitting in at school.

Task 4: Reading or listening in sections

Students keep reading or listening stopping at the point at which the little girl will start reading her story written at school. (ending ‘The granddaughter took her book from her schoolbag and opened it’). Each group is asked to discuss a likely ending (that is, they try to work out that the girl’s story is about butterflies). Once an ending has been deduced, students are asked to write it using approximately 130 words. They are advised to study the writer’s style (English dialect) and to bear it in mind. Finally, they read the original ending and compare it with their own efforts.

Task 5: Follow-up, after reading or listening

The end section of the story describes the written story of the girl (ending ‘your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the supermarket and that's why.’). A response activity is appropriate here in a second lesson class:

Students are put into pairs for an improvised role play. The teacher gives each pair a story-related situation to think about and then act out. Situations include the following:

– Girl and teacher meet in a supermarket shortly after school the same day; she is buying vegetables.
– The next-door neighbor talks to the girl when she comes back from school; the girl tells their neighbor about the story she wrote at school, what is the neighbor’s answer?
– The girl’s grandparents meet the teacher downtown; they all talk about the girl’s story; how do they deal with the butterflies’ issue?
– Some days later the girl is asked again by her teacher to write a story about butterflies; do students think that she will write the same ending again, why or why not?
– Do students think that the next day the girl’s grandparents will ask their granddaughter again to do what her teacher says?

Students prepare their respective sketches and each situation is performed for the rest of the class by volunteering pairs. The teacher monitors for later language repair work, as necessary.

Task 6: Re-reading the short-story – better comprehension

All students read the short story again knowing all vocabulary and how it ends, and why it ends that way.


One of the many immediate and striking advantages of reading "Butterflies" is that: It offers a practical length. Patricia Grace has encapsulated experience with a masterly economy of language in her short-story. It can be read entirely within one class lesson, but if students are going to respond to it on an emotional level we need two class lessons because we need some time for preparation, discussion, and follow-up activities (Collie, p. 167).

I expect my 10th-grade students to read this short-story without stopping to look up every unknown word. In fact, it has few unknown word for their level. Efferent reading: we will NOT be reading this short-story to “take away” particular bits of information. In the classroom we will not be interested in this short-story as a butterfly guide to learn more about how butterflies are born, live and die. With this short-story we will focus on aesthetic reading, which is used to explore the work and oneself. Here, students will be engaged in the experience of reading, itself. I expect the students to be aware of how the ‘qualities of the text’ affect their understanding, appreciation and interpretation of the literature they read and discussed.

It might be that students argued that when the little girl shares her butterfly story in class, she undergoes a moment of awakening as to one's true situation or the transition from innocence to experience, and then students can be asked if it also could be true that her teacher reflects as well on why her student has written her story that way and learn how life is in other parts of the country.

The Grandmother plaited her granddaughter's hair and then she said, "Get your lunch. Put it in your bag. Get your apple. You come straight back after school, straight home here. Listen to the teacher," she said. "Do what she say."

Her grandfather was out on the step. He walked down the path with her and out onto the footpath. He said to a neighbor, "Our granddaughter goes to school. She lives with us now."

"She’s fine," the neighbor said. "She's terrific with her two plaits in her hair."

"And clever," the grandfather said. "Writes every day in her book."

"She's fine," the neighbor said.

The grandfather waited with his granddaughter by the crossing and then he said, "Go to school. Listen to the teacher. Do what she say."

When the granddaughter came home from school her grandfather was hoeing around the cabbages. Her grandmother was picking beans. They stopped their work.

"You bring your book home?" the grandmother asked.


"You write your story?"


"What's your story?"

"About the butterflies."

"Get your book then. Read your story."

The granddaughter took her book from her schoolbag and opened it. "I killed all the butterflies," she read. "This is me and this is all the butterflies."

"And your teacher like your story, did she?"

"I don't know."

"What your teacher say?"

"She said butterflies are beautiful creatures. They hatch out and fly in the sun. The butterflies visit all the pretty flowers, she said. They lay their eggs and then they die. You don’t kill butterflies, that’s what she said."

The grandmother and the grandfather were quiet for a long time, and their granddaughter, holding the book, stood quite still in the warm garden.

"Because you see," the grandfather said, "your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the supermarket and that's why."

REFERENCES - further reading:

Collie, Joanne and Stephen Slater (1987) Literature in the language classroom. Cambridge University Press.

• Grace, Patricia (1987). Butterflies. In Electric city and other stories. New Zealand: Penguin.

• Grace, Patricia. "Kahawai." Electric City and Other Stories (1987) in Collected Stories. Auckland: Penguin, 2001.

• Iversen, Anniken Telnes (2013) Reading Novels and Short Stories. Anna Birketveit and Gweno Williams (eds.) Literature for the English classroom : theory into practice. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget

• Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, English Subject Curriculum The Norwegian LK06, in English; The Norwegian LK06, in Norwegian

An Interview with Patricia Grace

Patricia Grace visits Cannons Creek School (1989)

The NZ Transport Agency to appeal ruling on Patricia Grace's ancestral land

RT: #Butterflies #ShortStory #English #Literature ✔ #Society — #Culture #Education #Children

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