Sunday, May 22, 2011

Character Study

As the year begins to wind down, and your first graders finally seem to look and act like second graders (I know you have been waiting for the day all year), they are now capable of learning more complex ideas and information surrounding fictional characters. 

Some of the following concepts can be addressed during an end of the year character study: 

1. A character is a person or animal that is in the story. A main character is the person or animal that the story is mostly about. 
2. Character traits: external vs. internal (inside and outside)
3. Character feelings; text-to-self connections
4. Character actions, and how characters change from the beginning to the end of a text
One age appropriate way to frame a character study for  first graders is to explain to them they will get to know characters so well, that the characters will be like their best friends. I have used the following texts to help students grasp the above mentioned concepts over a four week unit: 

Frog and Toad (series), by Arnold Lobel
Henry and Mudge (series), by Cynthia Rylant 
Adelita, by Tomie DePaola 

For teaching character feelings, I have found reusing Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes to be quite helpful. 

Below I have included some suggestions for guiding your character study, while also introducing series characters that can be studied through multiple texts. 

Frog and Toad All Year, by Arnold Lobel

Summary: Arnold Lobel's classic best friend pair brave the weather and share adventures in this simple yet incredibly realistic series book. Toad: a grumpy, introverted, and lazy character  is constantly persuaded into enjoying the finer things in life, like a good swim in the pond, sledding, and enjoying a scoop of ice cream with his best friend Frog. Frog, who always sees the bright side, never gives up on Toad and understands him well. The two characters are forever faithful to each other throughout the books, and their personalities deepen and grow as one continues with the chapters.
Purpose: To introduce two characters that we can become experts on throughout two to three books. To enable students to study character feelings and character actions.
Teaching Points: 
1. Readers will practice strategies for determining who the main characters in a text are (which character is on almost every page? Which character is in most of the pictures? Which character is most involved with the problem and solutions? Which character do you understand feelings for the most?)   
2.   Readers will identify character traits and will explain the definition of a character trait and its two types: internal and external (inside and outside). 
3. Readers will make text-to-self connections to help understand a character's feelings. Good readers think carefully about a character's feelings because it helps them to understand the story even better.
Turn and Talk/Accountable Talk Questions: 
  1. How do you think Toad must feel right now? What might make him want to stay inside rather than go out?
  2. How would you describe Frog as a friend and as a person? Use describing words and explain what in the story made you use those words.
  3. Can you make any text to self connections? Have you ever wanted to just be alone? Why? Did this mean that you were angry at people? 
  4. Why do you think Frog keeps trying to get Toad to go outside and do fun things? What would you do if Toad were your  best friend?
Extension Activities: Students write a letter to Toad by Frog, or vs. versa, about why they like being friends. Students include feelings and actions that the characters have written about into their letters. OR, students Write journal entries as Frog and Toad, explaining what happened during the day, and what their feelings are.

Henry and Mudge: The First Book
, by Cynthia Rylant

Summary: Henry and Mudge provides an excellent character study read aloud that is at the same reading level that benchmark readers should be at by the end of the school year. Henry, a lonely boy with no brothers, no sisters, and no friends in his neighborhood dreams of having a dog. One day, his parents say "yes!" Students get to know Mudge from puppyhood, and join these inseparable friends through multiple adventures and everyday experiences.
Purpose: To get to know two characters very well, and to see how characters grow and change from one series book to another.
Teaching Points: Readers will explain and identify how character's feelings changed from the beginning to the end, using textual evidence to support their reasoning. 
Turn and Talk/Accountable Talk Questions:
1. Why does Henry want a dog so badly? Can anyone connect with Henry's feelings in this chapter?  
2. Why might it be so important for Henry to find the perfect dog? Do you predict that Mudge will be perfect? 
3. How have Henry's feelings changed from the beginning to the end of this chapter? What does Mudge have to do with Henry's feelings changing?
Extension Activities: Create Henry and Mudge paper dolls that show feelings and character traits.

Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story, by Tomi DiPaola,

Summary: Adelita's mother dies during birth, leaving her with a kind and loving father, Francisco. After remarrying an "icy" stepmother with two cruel step sisters, Fransisco suddenly dies. Adelita quickly becomes the kitchen maid and is relocated to the attic with old clothes. Fortunately, with the help of her nanny Esperanza (hope), Adelita charms the young prince Javier and in the end they marry.
Purpose: Teaching character actions, and how characters change from the beginning to the end of a story.
Teaching Points: 
1. Readers will identify which actions teach us important information about Adelita. 
2. Readers will explain how Adelita's feelings and character change from the beginning to the end of the story.
Turn and Talk/Accountable Talk Questions:
1. What do you predict will happen next, based on the pictures? Why?
2. How does this story compare to the Cinderella story that you have heard before? How is it similar and different? 
3. How do you infer that Adelita is feeling right now? What clues from the text did you use to draw that inference? 
4. Why do you think that the story ended happily ever after for Adelita? What about her made good things happen? 
5. If this story continued, what do you think would happen to Dona Micaela de la Fortuna, Dulce, and Valentina? Why?
Extension Activities: Students write their own Cinderella story, creating their own versions that connect with their own lives. OR, readers create their own ending to the story, extending past Javier and Adelita's wedding.