Clockwork – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

Are you looking for a captivating novel to get your students excited and engaged in literature? Clockwork by Philip Pullman may be just the ticket!

This story will undoubtedly enthral your students through its intriguing plot, vibrant characters, and suspenseful scenes. But how do you ensure each student gets the most out of reading it?

With careful planning and implementation of activities and assessments before, during, and after the book selection period, you can ensure that everyone gains something valuable from experience.

Related: For more, check out our article on The Magic Finger – Planning Overview.

Clockwork by Philip Pullman: Story Overview

The story takes place in a small German town, where a clockmaker named Herr Ringelmann creates an extraordinary clock that can perform various tasks independently. The clock’s most impressive feature is its ability to write and draw pictures with a pen attached to its mechanism.

Three characters enter the clockmaker’s shop one day and become involved in strange events:

  1. There is Karl, a young apprentice who dreams of becoming a master craftsman like his mentor.
  2. There is Fritz, a cruel and selfish boy who bullies Karl and steals from him.
  3. There is Dr Kalmenius, a mysterious figure who claims to have invented the clock.

As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the clock has some supernatural power that allows it to control events around it. The characters’ lives become intertwined as they try to solve the mystery behind the clock’s authority and how it relates to their fates.

Throughout the story, Pullman weaves elements of Gothic horror with fairy tale themes. There are references to Frankenstein and other classic horror stories and nods to traditional tales like Pinocchio, Hansel, and Gretel.

Ultimately, Clockwork delivers a satisfying conclusion that ties all these threads together while leaving readers with plenty of questions about fate and free will. It’s an engaging read for anyone who enjoys dark fantasy or fairy tale retellings.

Characters in Clockwork

  1. Herr Ringelmann – A skilled clockmaker who creates a great clock that can draw and write independently.
  2. Karl – An apprentice to Herr Ringelmann who dreams of becoming a master craftsman. He is kind-hearted and hardworking but lacks confidence.
  3. Fritz – A cruel and selfish boy who bullies Karl and steals from him. He becomes intertwined in the strange events surrounding the clock.
  4. Dr Kalmenius – A mysterious figure who claims to have invented the clock. He has a sinister presence and seems to have ulterior motives.
  5. Gretl is a young girl who appears briefly in the story but plays a significant role in the plot.
  6. The Automaton – The clock itself, which becomes a character with its motivations and desires as the story progresses.

Each character has a distinct personality and motivations, which drive the plot forward as they become entangled in the mystery surrounding the clock’s power. Pullman does an excellent job of creating complex characters that readers can relate to, even when flawed or morally ambiguous.

Key Themes in Clockwork

  1. Fate and Free Will – One of the story’s central themes is whether our lives are predetermined or we have the agency to shape our destinies. The characters struggle with this throughout the story as they try to understand their roles in the events unfolding around them.
  2. Power and Control – The clock’s ability to control events around it raises questions about who has power and control in society. Dr Kalmenius seeks to use the watch while Karl and Fritz battle over control of their lives.
  3. Good vs Evil – The story plays with traditional fairy tale tropes of good versus evil but blurs the lines between these categories. Characters like Herr Ringelmann and Karl are sympathetic despite their flaws, while figures like Dr Kalmenius are more complex than simple villains.
  4. Creativity and Imagination – The clock’s ability to write and draw on its highlights the importance of creativity and imagination in our lives. It also raises questions about what it means to be truly alive.
  5. Gothic Horror – Pullman draws on elements of Gothic horror throughout the story, including references to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and other classic horror stories. This adds an eerie atmosphere that keeps readers on edge throughout the book.

Power and Control Dynamics

In Clockwork by Philip Pullman, power and control dynamics are central to the story. The clock that Herr Ringelmann creates has the power to control events around it, raising questions about who holds society.

Dr Kalmenius is one character who seeks to use this power for his purposes. He wants to use the clock to achieve his ends, even if it means manipulating or harming others. This desire for control ultimately leads him down a dark path.

Karl and Fritz also struggle with issues of power and control throughout the story. Fritz is a bully who takes pleasure in exerting authority over others, while Karl lacks confidence and struggles to assert himself. As the story progresses, these two characters become intertwined in a battle for control over their lives.

The clock itself is also a symbol of power and control. It can write and draw independently, making it seem almost alive. This blurs the lines between what is real and what is not, adding to the book’s eerie atmosphere.

Ultimately, Clockwork highlights how power can be both seductive and dangerous. Those who seek it out may find themselves consumed by their desire for control, while those who lack it may feel powerless to shape their destiny.

Teaching Opportunities

Clockwork by Philip Pullman is an excellent resource for teaching students grammar, spelling, and literary devices. Here are some examples of how teachers can use this text in their lessons:

  1. Grammar – Teachers can use Clockwork to teach various aspects of grammar, such as sentence structure, verb tenses, and parts of speech. For instance, the book contains examples of complex sentences with subordinate clauses that students can analyze and learn from.
  2. Spelling – The book contains many challenging words that can be used to teach spelling. Teachers can create spelling quizzes or games using the vocabulary from the book.
  3. Literary Devices – Clockwork also provides opportunities to teach various literary devices such as foreshadowing, imagery, symbolism, and irony. For example, there are several instances where the author uses foreshadowing to build suspense and tension.
  4. Creative Writing – Clockwork can also be used as a prompt for creative writing exercises. Students can write their own stories based on the themes and characters in the book or write alternative endings to the story.
  5. Vocabulary Building – Finally, teachers can use Clockwork to help students build their vocabulary by introducing them to new words and encouraging them to use them in their writing.

Lesson Plans

Grammar Lesson Plan: Analyzing Complex Sentences

Objective: Students will be able to analyze complex sentences in Clockwork by identifying the subordinate clauses and main clauses.


  • Copies of the relevant passages from Clockwork
  • Whiteboard or chart paper
  • Markers


  1. Begin by reviewing the concept of complex sentences with students.
  2. Ask students to read a passage from Clockwork and identify the subordinate and main clauses.
  3. Discuss as a class what makes these sentences complicated.
  4. Have students work in pairs or small groups to identify other examples of complex sentences in the book.
  5. On the whiteboard or chart paper, create a list of complex sentence structures found in the book.
  6. As an extension activity, have students write their complex sentences using prompts related to Clockwork.


  • Students will be assessed on their ability to identify subordinate clauses and main clauses within complex sentences found in Clockwork.

Spelling Lesson Plan: Vocabulary Building

Objective: Students will be able to identify challenging vocabulary words from Clockwork and use them correctly in writing exercises.


  • Copies of relevant passages from Clockwork
  • Whiteboard or chart paper
  • Markers
  • Spelling quiz template or game materials (optional)


  1. Begin by introducing challenging vocabulary words found in Clockwork.
  2. Have students read a passage from the book and identify unfamiliar words.
  3. Create a list of these words on the whiteboard or chart paper.
  4. Teach students to look up definitions for unfamiliar words using online dictionaries or print resources.
  5. Provide opportunities for students to practice using these words correctly in writing exercises such as creative writing prompts or journal entries.
  6. For an extension activity, have students participate in a spelling quiz or game incorporating vocabulary from the book.


  • Students will be assessed on their ability to define and use challenging vocabulary words from Clockwork accurately.

Literary devises Lesson Plan: Foreshadowing

Objective: Students will be able to identify instances of foreshadowing used in Clockwork and explain how they build suspense and tension.


  • Copies of relevant passages from Clockwork
  • Whiteboard or chart paper
  • Markers


  1. Begin by reviewing the concept of foreshadowing with students.
  2. Have students read a passage from Clockwork and identify instances where foreshadowing is used.
  3. Discuss how these instances build suspense and tension within the story as a class.
  4. Create a list on the whiteboard or chart paper of examples of foreshadowing found throughout the book.
  5. As an extension activity, have students write stories incorporating foreshadowing techniques learned through reading Clockwork.


  • Students will be assessed on their ability to accurately identify instances of foreshadowing used within passages from Clockwork and explain how they build suspense and tension within the story.

Website Pages

Web Page 1:—a-book-based-unit-for-ages-9-11-en-gb

This web page provides a comprehensive book-based unit for Clockwork by Philip Pullman, aimed at ages 9-11. The unit contains six lessons covering the book’s aspects, including character analysis, setting description, and story structure.

Each lesson includes various activities such as discussion questions, creative writing prompts, and group projects. The unit also includes assessment tasks and extension activities to challenge students who finish early.

Web Page 2:

This web page provides whole-class reading planning for Clockwork by Philip Pullman. The planning is suitable for upper KS2 and lower KS3 classes and includes eight sessions covering different aspects of the book, such as character development, themes, and language use.

Each session includes various activities, including discussion questions, comprehension tasks, and creative writing prompts. The planning also includes assessment opportunities and links to other resources that can be used alongside the book.

Web Page 3:

This web page provides various activities related to Clockwork by Philip Pullman that can be used in the classroom or for individual study. The activities include character analysis worksheets, comprehension quizzes, and creative writing prompts.

There are also suggestions for further reading related to Clockwork, such as other books by Philip Pullman or works in the steampunk genre.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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