Our focus during Reader's Workshop the past few weeks has been on making inferences about character's personalities. We are noticing and marking with sticky notes our character's actions, and writing about and discussing what those actions reveal to us about the character's personality.
For fifth grade readers, noticing their thinking while they read (metacognition), is a tough feat. Each day I am modeling my noticings about our character's actions during our daily read aloud of the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Which if you haven't read it yet, check it out!! Great new book that addresses the issue of acceptance (close to the heart of middle school aged kids).
After I model and the students discuss their thinking with partners, they head off to their just right books to practice independently. Right now we are using sticky notes to mark when a character does something that shows the reader a bit about that character's personality. The purpose is to mark this evidence so that later when we write a response in our reader's notebooks about our main character, we will have evidence to support the response. The stems we are using to mark these places are:
I think it must be ________________ to be (main character) because..........
(I had students write this response after they finished the first chapter of their independent reading book to help them empathize with the main character and begin to think about what it must be like to be that character.)
I'm noticing that (main character) (action)_____ on page _____and this shows that he/she is (character trait) because...........
(We wrote this response on day two. The students looked for a specific action - for example "I noticed that on page 32, John picked up his locker partner's papers that fell all over the ground. This shows me that John is kind and helpful because usually when someone I know picks up something I drop, they are doing it to be nice and they are helping me.)
I'm noticing that (supporting character) (action)_______ on page _____and this shows that he/she is (character trait) because............
(The purpose of this response on day three is to begin to compare character's actions. CCSS require fifth grade students to compare and contrast two characters in a text 5.RL.3.
I was surprised when (main character) ___(surprising action)_______ on page _____and this shows that he/she is (character trait) because .............
(Day four's response is to notice when the main character does something surprising and to use this noticing to continue to build inferences (theories) about the character's personality. For example, "I noticed that on page 56, after John found out that he failed his math test, he slammed his locker door in his locker partner's face. This showed me that even though John is usually kind and helpful, when he's frustrated, he can lose his temper and take it out on his friends.)
I'm noticing that ___(object)_________is very special to (main character) and this shows that he/she is (character trait) because.............
(On day five we moved beyond noticing our character's actions to noticing special objects that will help us infer more about their personality. For example, "I noticed on page 77 that John has a picture of his dad hanging on the door of his locker. His dad is away at war. Whenever he looks at the picture he thinks about what advice his dad would give him. Sometimes the picture helps him, but sometimes it frustrates him. This shows me that John is feeling lost in middle school without his dad around to give him advice."
Next week each student will write a one-page written response about "Who is _(main character)__________? Tell me about his/her personality, likes, dislikes, and problems. Use the evidence you've marked with sticky notes to support your response. Remember to cite the page numbers where you found the evidence."
I'm looking forward to reading the responses!!! I hope this close, critical reading and noticing/marking of evidence will prove to pay off when they craft their thinking into a written reading response. I'll keep you posted on how they turn out. Also, we will continue to think critically about our characters next week as well. Check back for our second set of question stems!
If you want to try out the same questions stems with your students. Click here for the FREEBIE!
Also, if you're interested in FREE lesson plans for teaching your readers to make character inferences click HERE. Our district is piloting/adopting the use of these lesson plans this year.