Christmas crackers

The Christmas cracker was invented in 1847 by a sweet-maker called Tom Smith. His inspiration was the yule log burning in his fireplace, crackling in the heat.

Running through a cracker is the "snap" - a strip of very thin card, coated around the middle with a chemical compound. When the ends of the snap are pulled, it breaks in the middle. The friction this creates heats the chemical enough to cause a tiny explosion.

Alongside the snap is a cardboard tube, which gives the cracker its shape. A party hat, small gift and motto are enclosed within the tube. They are therefore protected when the snap explodes.

The tube and snap are covered in bright paper, twisted at each end to hold the contents in place.

When the ends are pulled and the snap snaps, the covering paper tears to release the contents of the tube.


This explains a process or tells you how something works. It answers the questions "how" and "why".

Discussion points In what order does the author describe the parts of a cracker? Why do you think she chose that particular order?

Why is it helpful to include diagrams with explanation text?

Language features What tense is explanation written in? The introductory paragraph is not really explanation text. How can you tell?

Make up questions about Christmas crackers, based on this text, starting with the words "how" and "why". How many different questions can you collect?

Here is another way in which the explanation could have been written: Tom Smith put a snap in each cracker. It was a strip of thin card coated around the middle with a chemical compound. When someone pulled the ends of the snap it broke in the middle...

How is it different from the original text?

Try rewriting the third and fourth paragraphs in the same way.

Which version is "personal" and which is "impersonal", and why? Which do you think is more appropriate for explanation text?

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