Be the Character

One thing I do during an interactive read aloud is have kids “be the character”.  I stop at a point in the text where the character is feeling an emotion or anticipating an upcoming event. I ask the kids to “pull out their masks” (I model pulling out an imaginary mask from my sock.) and put on their mask to be the character. I look to see them show what the character is feeling on their faces. Then I invite children who want to “be the character” to say what they are thinking or feeling (as the character). After we’ve shared briefly, I tell them to put their masks away (they put them back in their sock as a signal to come back to focus on the book) and we continue reading the book.

I’ve always thought this was a great way for me to teach inferring, engage children with the characters and events in the book, to predict and to show how readers read beyond the text. After reading Peter Johnston’s, Opening Minds (Chapter 6), I now see that having children imagine that they are experiencing another’s feelings or emotions is much bigger than all of that. It is also a key component in building social imagination.

Much of what happens in texts, personal interactions, academics and the “real world” happens inside our heads. Teaching children to imagine what is going on “behind the scenes”, in essence, is a highly important task. And how can we neglect this? As Johnston says, “social imagination is the foundation of civil society.” Children (and adults) need to be able to understand what others are feeling, to read people’s faces and expressions,  to imagine different perspectives, to make sense of abstract ideas, and to reason through this. While social imagination may not show up in a list of state standards, it’s a critical piece of education that we cannot leave out.

I’m looking forward to exploring this more in the upcoming school year. I see possibility in using this as we role-play problems that may arise in the classroom, as we read a variety of texts and as we interact with each other in the classroom. Kindergarten isn’t too early to start teaching children to look at multiple perspectives, to imagine alternate possibilities and to develop empathy. If we start there and continue building on throughout the school years imagine what kind of future we might have.

How do you build social imagination & social reasoning in your classroom?

4 Comments

  1. Katie,

    I will have to borrow/steal your mask idea. I love it and think my first grade crew will, too.

    To answer your question, I use books to discuss social situations, we have crew meetings and pairs or small groups of students will have “problem solving” sessions (at first with a teacher and later on their own). I think that what I need to work on now is the language that I use in these situations. I need to point out what is happening and show students that they can have these same types of conversations on their own all the time.

  2. Pingback: Deeper into Characters | Catching Readers Before They Fall

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