Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday's Minilesson Magic: Character Change Analysis

So, in my last post about how I set up my reader response, I mentioned that I would talk more about my lessons for "Coaching a Reading Life." I'm going to table that post for next week, given the computer-failure-disaster I have the pleasure of dealing with this weekend. 

Anyway, on to Monday's Minlesson Magic: Have you ever stopped to ask your students how the main character in their book changed by the end of the story? You might be surprised when they tell you “He/She didn’t really change.” Once I realized students were not closely analyzing their books for character change, or even realizing that they should be, I began teaching a mini unit on character change.
Albert by Jo Donna Napoli is my favorite mentor book for a unit on character change. Albert is a precious story about an introvert who looks out his city window each day and sees something that scares him from leaving his apartment. One day when he sticks his hand out his window to check the weather, a cardinal starts building a nest in his hands, and soon he is holding a nest of eggs. While annoyed at first, Albert begins to see that the things outside that once scared him are not so scary. For example, he sees a man and woman arguing—something that would normally make him choose to close the window and stay inside. However, since he is stuck at the window, he also gets to see that later the man and woman make up, walking away happy. Albert learns that the world has good in it and finally has the courage to explore outside. While we wouldn't call Albert an extrovert at the end of the story, he is braver and more adventurous.
If you are interested in getting students into book clubs, I usually launch "character change" minilessons at the same time I launch Jerry Spinelli book clubs. The characters in Jerry Spinelli’s books (Stargirl, Crash, Eggs, Wringer, Loser, Fourth Grade Rats, etc) change so much throughout the text, I want to make sure students are really prepared to analyze how they have changed when they finish reading the books. You can even plan to hold these books clubs later in the year and spiral back to character change lessons you have taught earlier in the year.

In order to be able to think about how the character changes, students need to be able to describe the character at the beginning, middle, and end of the book. (Sometimes this even means being able to describe the character before the book begins if the main events that change the character happen from the beginning). Often, students do not have a developed vocabulary for character-related adjectives to be able to describe the character meaningfully and deeply. For this reason, I created Character Trait Definition cards.

Another strategy that I have used before to help students access vocabulary for describing characters is to have a list of words ready that describe the characters in the book I plan to read and the antonyms of those words. I put those words on a 1/2 sheet of paper and have students research the definition, synonyms, and antonyms and then draw a picture to match. (This takes enough time that I do it the day before I plan to do the full minilesson and read aloud).

We use the following chart to analyze character change:



RL2.3 Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.

RL3.3 Describe characters in a story (traits, motivations, feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events. 


How do you teach students to analyze characters? What other minilesson ideas would you like for me to think about for Monday's Minilesson Magic? I would love to do some work for you and get my brain spinning! Please leave a comment :)

Happy Reading!

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