I Was A Rat – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

If you’re a teacher looking for inspiration to bring fresh ideas into your classroom, look no further! I Was A Rat is an exciting children’s novel by Philip Pullman that can be used as part of a multi-subject unit plan.

This post will provide a comprehensive overview of incorporating this story into your lesson plans and activities.

Students can engage deeply with the topics by exploring the themes, characters, settings and issues raised in this novel while developing their critical thinking skills .

Get ready to take your class on an adventure with one seemingly ordinary rat who goes on an incredible journey full of mystery and discovery!

Related: For more, check out our article on Lionboy by Zizou Corder here.

Story Outline

I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman is a children’s novel about a young boy discovered in the streets of London claiming to be a rat.

The book begins when a cobbler and his wife, Bob and Joan, find the boy on their doorstep one night. He is dressed in rags and has no memory of his past except that he was once a rat.

Bob and Joan take the boy in and give him the name Roger. They try to teach him how to behave like a human child, but they quickly realise that he has some unusual habits, such as eating cheese with his teeth instead of using utensils.

Despite these quirks, Roger proves to be an affectionate and curious child who wants nothing more than to please his new family.

However, things worsen when news of Roger’s existence reaches the media. The authorities become involved in figuring out where Roger came from and whether or not he poses any danger to society.

As tensions rise, Roger becomes increasingly anxious about his identity and struggles with feelings of isolation as he tries to understand who he is.

Throughout the book, readers follow Roger on his journey as he tries to uncover clues about his past while also navigating the challenges of existing within human society.

Along the way, he encounters various characters, such as reporters, scientists, and even royalty, who are all fascinated by his unique story.

Ultimately, I Was a Rat! is a heartwarming tale about acceptance, identity, and humanity.

Through Roger’s experiences, readers are encouraged to question societal norms and embrace those who may seem different or unusual at first glance.

Themes and Characters


  • Identity: The book explores the theme of identity through the character of Roger, who struggles with understanding his place in the world and reconciling his past as a rat with his present existence as a human child.
  • Acceptance: Another central theme in the book is acceptance. Roger faces discrimination and rejection from many characters in the story because of his unique background and physical appearance. However, some characters accept him for his identity and help him find a sense of belonging.
  • Society’s treatment of outsiders: The book also comments on society’s treatment of those perceived as different or unusual. Roger’s story becomes a media sensation, and he is celebrated and vilified by various individuals fascinated by his uniqueness.


  • Roger: The protagonist of the story, whose past as a rat challenges him as he tries to fit into human society.
  • Bob and Joan: The kind-hearted couple who take Roger in and try to help him adapt to life as a human child.
  • Mr Tapscrew: A scientist interested in studying Roger’s unique biology.
  • Lady Lupin: A wealthy aristocrat who becomes fascinated with Roger and invites him to live at her estate.
  • The Duke and Duchess of Normandy: Royalty who take an interest in Roger’s story and invite him to their palace.
  • Cinderella: A character from another fairy tale that appears in the story, providing commentary on society’s obsession with fairy tales.

Other minor characters include reporters, police officers, shopkeepers, doctors, and other members of society who have varying reactions to Roger’s existence.

Roger’s Journey To Acceptance

Roger’s journey to acceptance is a central theme in I Was a Rat! and is one of the most compelling aspects of the story.

At the beginning of the book, Roger is lost and confused, unable to understand why he feels so different from those around him. He struggles to fit in with Bob and Joan’s family and often feels isolated and alone.

However, as the story progresses, Roger finds people who accept him for who he is. Lady Lupin, for example, sees Roger as more than just an oddity or a curiosity; she genuinely cares about his well-being and provides him with a haven to be himself.

The Duke and Duchess of Normandy also show kindness towards Roger, inviting him to their palace and treating him like a valued guest.

Through these interactions, Roger develops self-confidence and sees himself as more than a former rat. He learns that others can accept him despite his differences and that he has value as an individual regardless of his past.

The turning point in Roger’s journey comes when he finally discovers his true identity towards the end of the book.

This revelation helps him make sense of his experiences up until that point and allows him to embrace who he is entire. By accepting himself for who he is, Roger understands belonging and becomes more comfortable in his skin.

Overall, Roger’s journey to acceptance shows how important it is for individuals to find approval from others but also emphasises the importance of self-acceptance.

Through his experiences in the novel, Roger learns that being different does not make him any less valuable or worthy of love and respect than anyone else.

Teaching Opportunities

Teachers have many opportunities to teach literary devices using I Was a Rat! Here are a few examples:

  1. Foreshadowing: The book is full of foreshadowing, particularly in Roger’s dreams and the hints of various characters about his true identity. Teachers can use these moments to teach students how authors use foreshadowing to build suspense and create anticipation for what’s to come.
  2. Symbolism: The book uses symbols such as Roger’s rat costume and the glass slippers that Cinderella leaves behind at the ball. Teachers can use these symbols to teach students how authors use objects or images to represent abstract ideas or themes.
  3. Irony: There are several instances of irony in the book, such as when Roger is mistaken for a toy rat and is imprisoned for his past crimes as a rat. Teachers can use these moments to teach students how authors use irony to create humour or highlight contrasts between expectations and reality.
  4. CharacterisationCharacterisation: The book features a range of complex characters, each with motivations and perspectives. Teachers can use this aspect of the book to teach students about different characterisation methods, such as direct characterisation (where traits are explicitly stated) and indirect characterisation (where features are revealed through actions, thoughts, or dialogue).
  5. Point of View: The book is told from multiple points of view, including Roger’s perspective and those of other characters who encounter him throughout the story. Teachers can use this aspect of the book to teach students about different types of point-of-view narration (such as first-person or third-person limited) and how they affect readers’ perceptions of characters and events.

Overall, I Was a Rat! It provides ample opportunities for teachers to teach literary devices engagingly and memorably, which will help students develop critical reading skills that they can apply across different texts.

Lesson Plan

Title: Exploring Literary Devices in “I Was a Rat!”


Students will be able to identify and analyse literary devices used in “I Was a Rat!” by Philip Pullman.


  • Copies of “I Was a Rat!” by Philip Pullman
  • Whiteboard or chart paper
  • Markers
  • Handout with definitions of literary devices (such as foreshadowing, symbolism, irony, characterisation, and point of view)


Introduction (10 minutes)

  • Begin by asking students if they have ever heard of or read the book “I Was a Rat!” Explain that it is a children’s book written by Philip Pullman about a rat who turns into a boy.
  • Ask students what literary devices are and why authors use them. Record their responses on the whiteboard or chart paper.
  • Distribute the handout with literary device definitions and review each with the class.

Reading and Analysis (30 minutes)

  • Have students read the first few chapters of “I Was a Rat!” independently or in pairs.
  • After reading, have them work together to identify examples of literary devices used in the text. They should record their findings on the whiteboard or chart paper.
  • Once all groups have had time to share their findings, discuss which examples were most effective at creating suspense, humour, or other effects as a class.

Group Project (20 minutes)

  • Divide students into small groups and assign each group one literary device from the handout (foreshadowing, symbolism, irony, characterisation, or point of view).
  • In their groups, have them reread sections from “I Was a Rat!” that demonstrate this device and make notes on how it is used in those sections.
  • Have each group present their findings to the class using visual aids such as posters or PowerPoint slides.

Conclusion (10 minutes)

  • Recap which literary devices were covered during this lesson and ask students to reflect on what they learned about how these devices contribute to compelling storytelling.
  • As an extension activity, please encourage students to find examples of these same literary devices in books they read for pleasure or school.


Students will be assessed based on their participation in group discussions and presentations and their ability to identify and analyse literary devices used in “I Was a Rat!”.


Website Resources

  1. [TES] (https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/reciprocal-guided-reading-i-was-a-rat-by-philip-pullman-yr-3-and-yr-4-11787854): This resource provides a guided reading lesson plan for “I Was a Rat!” aimed at Year 3 and Year 4 students. The plan includes pre-reading activities, discussion questions, and follow-up tasks to help students develop reading comprehension skills.
  2. [National Academy] (https://teachers.thenational.academy/units/i-was-a-rat-by-phillip-pullman-40cb): This website offers a series of video lessons on “I Was a Rat!” that is designed for use in the classroom or for remote learning. The classes cover different aspects of the book, such as characterisation, plot development, and themes.
  3. [CLPE] (https://clpe.org.uk/books/book/i-was-rat-or-scarlet-slippers): This page provides an overview of “I Was a Rat!” from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). It includes information about the author, a plot summary, and suggested teaching ideas for using the book in the classroom.


In wrapping up, remember that the journey through I Was A Rat isn’t just an exploration of a captivating story. It’s an opportunity to engage your students in multi-subject learning, deep critical thinking, and rich discussion.

By integrating this novel into your curriculum, you’re not just teaching them about literature. You’re providing them with a platform to explore themes, characters, settings, and issues that resonate beyond the pages of the book.

Think of each lesson plan as more than a schedule of activities. It’s a roadmap to discovery, encouraging students to dive deeper into the story, challenge their perspectives, and develop their analytical skills.

Are you ready to embark on this extraordinary adventure with your class? The world of I Was A Rat is waiting, filled with mystery, discovery, and invaluable lessons.

Remember, the goal is not just to teach, but to inspire. Let’s use literature like I Was A Rat to ignite curiosity, foster a love for reading, and instill our students’ lifelong passion for learning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Is I Was A Rat suitable for all age groups?

While I Was A Rat is a children’s novel, its themes and narrative complexity make it suitable for a broad range of ages. It can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys a good story, regardless of their age.

Q2: Can this novel be incorporated into different subjects?

Absolutely! The themes, characters, and settings in I Was A Rat can be used to spark discussions and assignments in various subjects such as English, Social Studies, and even Science.

Q3: How can this novel enhance my students’ critical thinking skills?

Exploring the themes and issues raised in I Was A Rat encourages students to think deeply, ask questions, and form their own opinions. This process of inquiry and reflection is key to developing critical thinking skills.

Q4: Can this novel be used in a book club or reading group?

Yes, I Was A Rat is a great book club or reading group choice. Its engaging story and thought-provoking themes make it perfect for group discussions.

Q5: How can I use this novel to inspire a love for reading in my students?

By presenting reading as an exciting adventure filled with mystery and discovery, you can ignite a passion for literature in your students. Using engaging novels like I Was A Rat can make reading a fun and rewarding experience.

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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