When We Were Alone

Grade All Grades • 60 minutes

Created by Caitlin Davey on 29/3/17


In this lesson students will learn about Canada’s residential school history through the story of a little girl and her grandmother as told in the story ‘When We Were Alone’ by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett.

Prep Work

Check out our Teacher Guide for tips and tricks! 
Review the sample Scratch project to see what students will be building.

We have partnered with the CBC to support teachers with historical content for what is a very sad part of Canadian history.

Note to Teachers:
The exploration of sensitive and controversial issues may provoke emotional responses in students. A high degree of care should be taken before the lesson to ensure that the learning environment allows for conflicting sets of values to be processed analytically and with respect for differences in peoples and their cultures, identities, and world views. As with all activities that involve complex thinking, teachers should build in time for reflection and metacognitive activities.

The Lesson

This lesson was made in partnership with David Alexander Robertson, Julie Flett, and Portage and Main Press.

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We’ve built a series of tutorial videos to help you learn how to teach Canada Learning Code lessons! Each lesson is broken down into its own video tutorial and accompanies the step by step instructions on the lessons page.

Historical Context  Thumb historica canada logo

This video from Historica Canada is a powerful reminder of the history of residential schools in Canada. Please review the video to ensure it is appropriate for your classroom.

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Explore the material and links in the References section on the right side of this page for additional material about this topic.


  • Have students turn, pair, and then share the 3Ws
    • What do I know about residential schools?
    • What do I want to know about residential schools?
    • And what do I want to learn about residential schools after reading ‘When we Were Alone’
  • In pairs have students select a scene that resonated most with them to recreate using Scratch
    • Students may want to act out the scene to get a better understanding of how the dialogue works between the two characters.
  • Once students have planned their scene have them open the starter project.


    • Open the sample Scratch project.
    • Review the project Sprites and backgrounds: time permitting, have students create their own leaf Sprite. The leaf will be used at the end of the scene.
    • Have students click on the sprite "Nosisim" and begin to write the first script by adding an Events block: When green flag is clicked. 
    • As this sprite will be hidden at a later point, we need to make sure that we use the Show block in the Looks section. 
    • Next, there’s a second Looks that will help us ask the first question: say _ for 2 seconds. (The time variable at the end of this block can be a very useful way to control your interactions in Scratch.)
    • Lastly, we need to broadcast this question to the rest of our game using the Events block Broadcast. Broadcast is another important way to control interactions in Scratch. Broadcast is a message that is sent through Scratch, activating receiving scripts. You’ll see a bit more what those look like in the next few steps.

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    • Before we add any more of the conversation on Nosisim, click on the second Sprite ‘Nokom’. This sprite has two costumes or looks. We want to the ‘nokom’ costume to appear first so our first script has an events when green flag clicked block and a looks switch costume block.
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    • The ‘nokom’ Sprite will receive the broadcast that was sent from ‘nosisim’. To do this click on events and add a when I receive block and select the same message which we set as ‘convo-start’. Then we have two looks say blocks to respond when the broadcast is received. Once Nokom has finished saying her second line we can broadcast to Nosisim to continue the conversation. Notice how we are broadcasting a new message. Remember to add a  new message to broadcast click on the dropdown and select ‘new message’.
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    • Try out what the story looks like so far by clicking the green flag. Pretty cool! Let’s add more to the conversation to build out the story!
    • Now we will switch Sprites again so that Nosisim can receive the message Nokom broadcast. This next script is very similar to the first and continues the conversation pattern. Now the ‘nosisim’ is receiving the message we need her to say something back to Nokom. Add a looks say block to have her ask her second question. Next, we’ll add an events block so that we can broadcast to nokom to respond. You may notice a pattern starting to occur.
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    • Switch back to the Nokom Sprite again and add an events when I receive block that receives the message from Nosisim. Once Nokom receives the message she can respond using a looks say blocks and then change costumes using a looks switch costume block. In this scene Nokom’s response is broken up in the text. This might be an opportunity to discuss punctuation and flow within a story. We can break up the text in Scratch as well. Now Nokom will use looks block to say a final message to nosisim. 

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    • Switching back to the nosisim Sprite. We will then use the events block when I receive the message from Nokom. Now that Nosisim has received the message we want to remove this sprite from the stage and move to the part of the next scene. To do this we will use a new block, a looks hide block.

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    • Test out the code at this point to see the progression of the conversation before we move to the next part of the scene.
    • Now switch back to the leaves sprite. This sprite has two scripts. In the first one we have an event block, a looks hide block, and a pen clear. This set of blocks is important to hide and clear the leaves ahead of the other scenes.
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    The second script receives the ‘leaves’ broadcast message. Next, we have 
    a control repeat block to repeat what’s inside this block 100 times. So what gets repeated is a looks show and change effect blocks; a motion go to and turn blocks; a pen stamp; and finally a control wait block. These blocks show a leaf, change it’s colour, position, angle, and stamp it on the Stage.

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    • Run your program to see the conversation in action. Try changing the leaf or adding other leaf shapes.


    Do students use broadcast and when I receive blocks? Have students thoughtfully completed the workbook activities?


    • Have students draw the flowers in the garden, leaves that cover Nokom, grass that Nokom braids into her hair, or another scene within the story.

    Suggested Lessons

    Intended Province:


    • Subjects:
    • English Language Arts
    • Social Studies

    Key Curriculum Concepts

    Students use elements of design in artworks to communicate ideas, messages, and understandings for specific audience and purpose. Students can reflect on how they can leverage their talents to create change whether that be athletic, artistic, social, etc.