Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students will consider how a story can change people’s minds. They will view a short clip from the documentary Dying to Live that features the story of Holly, the recipient of donated lungs. Students then watch a clip detailing research findings into how people’s brains can change when they are told stories with a plot that follows a specific dramatic arc. Students respond to the clip using a Seed Discussion Organiser, then dig deeper into how stories change minds by reading an article. Students then come together, and using the discussion seeds they wrote down as a guide, discuss what they have learned about how stories can change people’s minds.

Dying To Live is a documentary feature film that examines organ and tissue donation and transplantation in Australia through seven different stories that highlight the social, physical and emotional effects of being on the organ donor waiting list. The film also aims to dispel myths about organ and tissue donation while encouraging family conversations so that family members are aware of their loved ones’ donation intentions. You can purchase a DVD of the film at The Education Shop or you can stream the film on YouTube or Google Play for minimal cost or via DocPlay.

Learning intentions:

  • Students understand how a story can change people’s minds.
  • Students understand more about organ and tissue donation, and the impact it can have on people’s lives.

21st century skills: 

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions: 

Year 9 English

  • Explore and reflect on personal understanding of the world and significant human experience gained from interpreting various representations of life matters in texts (ACELT1635)
  • Investigate and experiment with the use and effect of extended metaphor, metonymy, allegory, icons, myths and symbolism in texts, for example poetry, short films, graphic novels, and plays on similar themes (ACELT1637

Year 10 English

  • Evaluate the social, moral and ethical positions represented in texts (ACELT1812)
  • Identify, explain and discuss how narrative viewpoint, structure, characterisation and devices including analogy and satire shape different interpretations and responses to a text (ACELT1642

Syllabus outcomes: EN5-3B, EN5-4B, EN5-7D, EN5-2AENLS-10B, ENLS-14D, ENLS-15D, ENLS-5A, ENLS-6A, ENLS-7A 

General capabilities: Literacy, Ethical understanding

Relevant parts of Year 9 achievement standards: Students evaluate and integrate ideas and information from texts to form their own interpretations. They select evidence from texts to analyse and explain how language choices and conventions are used to influence an audience. They listen for ways texts position an audience.

Relevant parts of Year 10 achievement standards: Students develop and justify their own interpretations of texts. They evaluate other interpretations, analysing the evidence used to support them. They listen for ways features within texts can be manipulated to achieve particular effects.

Topic: Social Issues

Unit of work: Dying to Live – English – Year 9 & 10

Time required: 60 mins.

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium – facilitate class discussion

Resources required: Student Worksheets – one copy per student. Device capable of presenting a video to the class. Seed Discussion Posters – printed. Article: How Stories Change the Brain – printed, one per student. Dramatic Arc Factsheet – printed, one per student. 

Related Professional Development: Exploring General Capabilities: Ethical Understanding

Keywords: Organ and tissue donation, changing minds, ethics, health, wellbeing, social issues, stories, narrative, changing minds, persuasion, Dying to Live

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.

Cool Australia, Aquarius Productions and Intrinsic Story would like to acknowledge the generous contributions of GoodPitch² Australia, Shark Island Institute, and Documentary Australia Foundation in the development of these teaching resources.


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions:

Students will...

  • ...understand how a story can people’s minds.
  • ...understand more about organ and tissue donation, and the impact it can have on people’s lives.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • ...identify how a story can influence how people think.
  • ...describe the change in their own thinking in response to a text.

Teacher content information: Organ and tissue donation are not always easy topics for discussion. However, with an average of 1,500 Australians on the transplant waiting list, increasing rates of donation is vitally important: a donation can both save and improve lives.

Although the majority of Australians (69%) are generally willing to become organ and/or tissue donors, only 1 in 3 have registered to become donors. And because families have the final say about whether someone donates their organs or tissues, conversations about the intentions of loved ones are critical. While the majority of Australians (71%) t

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Student Worksheet

Thought starter: Stories shape our brains, tie strangers together, and move us to be more empathic and generous.

1. After watching the clip from Dying to Live, summarise Holly’s story in a series of dot-points.

2. Summarise your reaction to Holly’s story in the table below:

What does Holly’s story make you THINK? What does Holly’s story make you FEEL? What does Holly’s story make you want to DO?










3. Plot Holly’s story according to the Dramatic Arc outlined by Paul Zak:

4. Was the way that Holly’s story was told effective in changing your mind? If so, how? If not, why not? In your response, refer to what you have learned about Paul Zak’s research into how stories change minds.


Work independently to respond in writing to the following question: 

"Do you think it’s ok to change people’s minds using stories? Why/Why not?"


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