Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Literary Arts

Not just a footnote

A lesson on the use of structure, anaphora and situational irony in Mustafa Centre. A Fact Sheet


Subject: Character and Citizenship, Language & Literature


Level: Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary

In this guide, students interact students use choral reading to help consider the poet's use of structure, anaphora and situational irony in Mustafa Centre. A Fact Sheet, a poem about Mustaq Ahmad, founder of Mustafa Centre in Little India, before offering an informed creative response of their own.


This educator's guide is created alongside the little red comma series looking to explore the intersections of place, history and society through adaptations of Singapore literature using digital media.

Each guide comprises three to four suggested lesson activities and handouts you can consider enacting with your students in the Literature or Language Arts classroom across one to two 50-70 minute lesson periods. All handouts mentioned in this guide can be downloaded from the download section below. All lesson overviews, additional notes and suggested answers can be found in the Educator's Lesson Plan & Notes

This educator’s guide presumes the availability of Personal Learning Devices (PLDs) in the classroom, or any other devices that afford individual students direct access to little red comma during the activity in class. 


By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

1. use choral reading to experience the different voices in the poem
2. respond to stylistic elements and to consider possible implications of stylistic choice the poet has made
3. understand the effects of the writer’s use of structure, anaphora and situational irony
4. construct a sensitive and informed creative response to the subject matter of the poem through collaboration

Activity 1A: Choral Reading

In this activity, teachers will use the practice of choral reading to help students experience the two different voices presented in the poem. Distribute Handout 1: Poem in Original Format. Using Handout 1, teachers may choose to assign the reading of the poem as follows:

Individual stanzas: Assign an individual student to read each stanza.

Footnotes: Assign a chorus (group of students) to read each footnote whenever it is referenced in the poem. These will come as interruptions to the reading of individual stanzas. This can range from a fixed group of students, to the rest of the class who are not reading the individual stanzas.

Activity 1B: Post-reading Reflections

Post-reading Question

Teachers can address this question specifically to the students that read either section of the poem:

  • Across both the stanzas and footnotes, what are the top three to five lines that are most impactful to you? Highlight them.

Teachers can invite students to share which ones they felt were the most impactful. What is important is that students experience the story of the poem. Students do not need to fully explain and justify themselves at this stage.

Teachers can share that in order to explore the possible reasons why they felt these lines were impactful, the class will learn together about the style and structure of the poem and its effects in Activity 2: Appreciating Style and Structure.

Activity 2A: Thematic Framing (Optional)

Before starting this activity, distribute Handout 2: Appreciating Style & Structure to students. Teachers can introduce these frames with a series of questions. To prepare for Activity 2, teachers can introduce a thematic frame of belonging and displacement. These questions can be used to help them interpret the use of structure, anaphora and irony. Students can refer to Handout 2 for the questions.

Theme 1: On belonging

Singapore is a nation of migrants. This poem is about first generation migrants to Singapore pre-independence. Despite moving to Singapore when he was only 5 in 1951, Mustaq was only recognised as a Singapore citizen in 1991, and PM Lee even described him as “the right kind of foreigner” in 2006.

  1. Across both the stanzas and footnotes, what are the top three to five lines that are most impactful to you? Highlight them.
  2. For a young child migrant, what is the difference between being a foreigner and a local in the country they have settled in? 

To prepare for Activity 2, teachers can introduce a thematic frame of belonging and displacement. Teachers can introduce these frames with a series of questions. These questions can be used to help them interpret the use of structure, anaphora and irony.


Theme 2: Displacement

The displacement of people happens when they are being involuntarily moved from their homes because of war, government policies, or other major circumstances beyond their control. This creates significant disruption to people’s lives and can have emotional and financial consequences.

In the poem, Mustaq is displaced at least three times: once, as a child from his home after his mother’s death and twice, his business was displaced due to government policies in 1971 and 2017.

  1. How do displaced people respond to these forces beyond their control?
  2. What are your views on people being displaced due to government policies?


Activity 2B: Appreciating Use of Structure & Footnotes

In this poem, the poet has used the practice of footnotes to structure the poem, a practice more commonly associated with academic essay writing than poetry.

  • Footnotes are notes indicated in your text with numbers and placed at the bottom of the page.
  • They are used to provide additional information that would otherwise disrupt the flow of the text if inserted directly.
  • Footnotes and endnotes are used in printed documents to explain, comment on, or provide references for text in a document. Many people use footnotes for detailed comments and endnotes for citation of sources.

Before referring students to Handout 2, Activity 2B, give them time to read the poem in its original form (Handout 1) and the poem as presented on little red comma. Pay attention to the reverse reading format the poem is presented in on the site and the impact it has on readers. Afterwards, allow students time to think about the following.

a. What is unusual about the poet’s use of footnotes? Where possible, compare the original version of the poem with the version of the poem on little red comma, where the original footnotes of the poem are presented as the main text, and vice versa. Instruct students to write their response in the space provided in the handout.

Activity 2C: Appreciating the Use of Anaphora

Anaphora (pronounced “uh-naf-er-uh”) is a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences.

For example, Martin Luther King's famous I Have a Dream speech contains anaphora: "So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania..."

Why Do Writers Use Anaphora?
On the simplest level, writers use anaphora to give a series of repeated words emphasis. More broadly, anaphora can produce a variety of stylistic effects. It can:

i. Express a strong feeling.
ii. Create rhythm in text, whether that rhythm is pleasing, rousing, or relentless.
iii. Clearly connect two or more ideas through the repeated phrasing.
iv. Make a phrase more memorable for the reader/listener.
v. Give structure to a lengthy list.

b. Extending from these effects (i - v), what is one thematic significance of the poet’s use of anaphora in the footnotes of this poem? You can consider the theme of who gets to feel a sense of belonging as a Singaporean. Refer students to Handout 2: Activity 2B (column 2 & 3) for students to fill in their answer. 

Activity 2D: Appreciating the Use of Situational Irony

In this section, refer students to Handout 2: Activity 2D. explain to students that writers use irony to show the contrast or incongruity between how things appear and how they are in reality. Irony can be categorized into different types, including verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony.

Explain to students that it is important to note that irony is not coincidence: If you buy a new camera and then accidentally damage it while filming a YouTube vlog, that is coincidental and unlucky, but not ironic. However, if a professional content creator known for their skilled camera handling damages their brand new camera, that is situationally ironic.

For Mustafa Centre: A Fact Sheet we will focus on situational irony. In literature, situational irony is a literary or plot device occurring when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. Well known author Margaret Atwood briefly explains how writers employ situational irony as a literary device for various effects, such as:

i. Creating a surprise twist.
ii Communicate a message or moral.

By steering readers to an unexpected destination, writers can remind readers that an expected outcome is not always guaranteed. This creates a contrast between appearances and underlying truths. However, it requires a reader to read between the lines to understand its intentions. A reader who does not notice the irony will take the poem or story at face value. Refer to the handout for examples of each effect. 

Allow time for students to think about the following:

3. How does the poet use situational irony to communicate a message about who gets to feel a sense of belonging as a Singaporean?

Fill in their answer in handout 2.

Activity 3A: Invitations to Feeling

In Literature, writers produce works with ethical invitations to explore narratives, histories and cultures that can expand a student’s understanding of the world. In this poem by Pooja Nansi, her focus is on Mustaq Ahmad, the founder of Mustafa Centre. Distribute Handout 3: Not Just a Footnote to students.

In small groups, discuss the following questions about the poem:

i. What significant events have affected Mustaq in the text?
ii. How does he respond?
iii. What are your feelings towards Mustaq as you learn of his experiences?

Students can fill in their answers in the handout provided.

Activity 3B: Creative Response - Not Just a Footnote...

Assign the following activity either as an individual, pair or group task. Refer to handout 3. Students to write a short response poem of at least eight lines from the perspective of one of the workers in Mustafa Centre who is faced with the closure of the Serangoon Plaza branch. In your short response poem, make use of the anaphora “not just a/an…” and end your poem with “We are not just a footnote.” 


Extension Activity: Reading Aloud of Response Poem

Instruct students to read aloud their original response poems either individually or by way of choral reading. If by way of choral reading, students should assign the roles to their classmates. 

Contributed by:

Dominic Nah

Nah Dominic is currently a PhD candidate at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, under the supervision of A/P Suzanne Choo in the English Language and Literature Academic Group. His doctoral research draws from classroom data in Singapore mainstream secondary schools to examine students’ receptive and resistant responses towards ethically oriented Literature pedagogies. He is the co-author of Teachers’ Guide to Sense and Sensitivity (2019) and the forthcoming study companion (2023) to the latest O-Level Singapore short story collection How We Live Now: Stories of Daily Living by Ethos Books.