Deeper into Characters

51UydLm9V-L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-45,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I love the idea of Readers’ Statements. Katie shared how she uses them in her kinder class here. I also noticed in rereading Kathy Collins’s wonderful book Growing Readers that she uses lots of them to focus her lessons.  With a reader’s statement you are saying to kids, “Look, kids, this is what we are working on today (or this week).  This is something that will help you as a reader.” When formulating what you want your reader’s statement to say, a teacher has to think about what it is that a reader really does and how you can best show that to your students.

41fOZSUvOzL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Recently I did a lesson in a first grade class with the text Edward the Emu, by Sheena Knowles.  I was introducing the teachers (who were observing the lesson) to readers’ statements.  After introducing myself to the kids and teaching them how to do a turn-and talk, I asked them to turn to a partner and talk about some things they do as readers that help them understand the books they were reading.  I let them share out their answers and complimented them on their great answers. Then I told them that today we’re going to learn one more thing that readers do to help themselves and I wrote the following sentence on a chart.

Readers think about the characters.

Emu lesson slide 1  I started with this basic sentence so that I could ask them, “Who are the characters in books?”  As they told me that characters could be people or animals, I drew stick figures for people and very basic animal sketches. (My drawings on my chart were a lot simpler than this power point slide:)

Emu lesson slide 2  Then I wrote on the chart: Readers think about how characters feel and what the characters are thinking. I wanted them to name lots of feeling words, so I flashed up the covers of some beginning leveled texts, similar to the type they were reading on their own. “How do you think the character in this book was feeling?” As they answered, “scared, happy, sad, upset, surprised, nervous,” I drew various feeling faces. Then I drew a head with a thinking bubble by the words, “what the characters are thinking.”

Next I read aloud Edward the Emu with the best expression ever!  The kids were hooked on the story.  (It’s important to read the book straight through, keeping the meaning of the book whole.) Then I reread my reader’s statement and returned to two different pages of the book to model what I meant.

“Look at this page, boys and girls.  Doesn’t Edward look bored?  If I made a speaker bubble right here (I draw one with my finger above his head), I think Edward is saying, “Man, I’m so bored.  I don’t like just sitting around in my emu cage.  I wish I could be some other animal…some animal that has more fun… maybe like a seal.”

I continue by retelling part of the story as I turn the pages, “Remember how he decided to sneak out when the zookeeper went home?  He tried being a seal for a day, but then he heard someone say that lions were better than seals.”  I show one or two pictures of Edward pretending to be a lion and continue with my modeling of what he might be saying.  The students catch on quickly, so I give them a turn.

I show them the illustration of the lion with Edward standing on its head and ask them to tell a partner what the lion might be thinking or saying to himself.  After doing a turn-and-talk, they share out:

“Get off my head!  You’re squishing me!”

“Hey, emu, what are you doing?  I don’t like you standing on my head.”

“I think he’s thinking, ‘I thought you liked being a lion. How come you’re leaving?’”

“Man, that hurts!”

The students try a few more pages and then head off to try their new thinking strategy with books of their own. Katie and I have used this idea in many grade levels.  (See Katie’s post as she tried it with kindergarteners.) And Mary Lee Hahn tried it while reading aloud The One and Only Ivan to her 4th graders.

410YjMufwcL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Also, in chapter 3 of Stephanie Parsons’s book, First Grade Readers:  Units of Study to Help Children See Themselves as Meaning Makers, she does several similar lessons during a unit called, “Bringing Books to Life.” A part of this unit focuses on “incorporating dramatic play into children’s work, encouraging them to act out parts of the books, pretend to be characters, or imagine dialogue for characters they see in their books.”  Check it out!


  1. I love the idea of readers’ statements. I think sometimes we as teachers forget to tell our kids exactly what we are trying to teach them. I had forgotten about the book Growing Readers. I will have to pull that back out and reread it myself. I love the story of Edward the Emu. What a great lesson! Thank you!!

  2. What a powerful way to bring the thinking about reading back to the kids. Love it. I’ve just been thinking about the strategies that we use to work with readers and how we are not always as explicit as we need to be about what we want the children to get out of what we are teaching. This definitely does the job. Thanks.

  3. This lesson demonstrates intentional teaching…great job and thanks for sharing. I could feel the student engagement as I read your post. I love how you share what explicit teaching looks like. Too often teachers miss the incremental steps they need to take as they scaffold student learning…and sadly that is because curriculum demands are so complacted they don’t feel they have the luxury of time.

  4. Hi Pat ~ I used your lesson with a few classes in the library this week. We used the book Clever Jack Takes the Cake. I was really pleased with the discussions we had and the great feeling words the kids generated.

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