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Making Inferences About Characters (Grade 3-5)
This Educational Plan focuses on teaching students to think more deeply about characters. Students will explore characters not only on a physical level, but will progress to infer about the character's traits and actions. This unit has been created in the Reading Workshop model, however it can be adapted to work in any English Language Arts classroom. It is also based on MA Common Core Standards for fourth graders, but can be modified to be used in classrooms for third to fifth grade. You can find more information about Reading Workshop at the bottom of this wiki.
1. Where to Begin:
Essential Learning Concepts:
Understand how to identify character appearance using the text.
Understand how to infer character traits using the text.
Understand how to support inferences with evidence.
Common Core State Standards (Grade 4):
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
Students will describe 3 aspects of a character’s physical appearance, using details from the text.
Students will infer 3 character traits about one character in a story using details in the text.
Students will organize their inferences using graphic organizers.
Students will apply 3 pieces of evidence from the text to support their inferences and refer to the evidence in writing.
Students will explain their inferences in writing (why/how they came up with their inferences).
Students will critique their inferences by looking back at their work in their Reader's Notebook and writing a self-reflection.
Teacher Connections to Curriculum:
Teachers are familiar with the Reading Workshop model in which Inferring is a unit of study. Within this unit are lessons on inferring character traits. The teachers are familiar with teaching this unit using a variety of books, graphic organizers and end products.
Teacher Connections to Students:
Teachers will know students’ reading levels through formal DRA assessment, students’ interests through informal student surveys, and students’ readiness for making inferences through a pre-assessment. Through the use of informal observations, the teacher may realize some students are not yet ready to infer about characters at an abstract level and will need to start at a literal level.
Specific traits: responsible, ambitious, courageous, mischievous
2. What is Differentiated:
Content will be differentiated throughout the unit as students will read books of their choice at their independent reading level to make inferences about characters.
The content will also be differentiated as students can read picture books or chapter books to make inferences about characters. The teacher will have a bin of pre-selected texts that are appropriate for making inferences that students can choose from.
Content will also be differentiated as some students may focus more on determining character appearances using evidence, while others may focus more on inferring about character traits using evidence and some may even be challenged to explain their inferences. Student readiness will play an important role in the differentiation of content.
The content will be differentiated as the teacher will use picture books such as “Stand Tall, Mary Lou Melon,” “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother,” and “No, David!” as well as excerpts from chapter books such as “The BFG” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” to introduce inferring during whole group mini lessons.
The process will be differentiated as different graphic organizers will be used depending on student readiness. These organizers will include T-charts, Venn Diagrams, and Four Box graphic organizer. All the graphic organizers allow for flexibility in choosing what to write and how much to write. For example, some students may use a T-chart to provide one inference about a character trait with one piece of evidence; others may use the T-chart to provide multiple inferences with multiple pieces of evidence. The T-chart graphic organizer can also be used to challenge students by having them provide an explanation for their inference as well. Students have a choice in what they use and teachers can direct them to certain organizers based on their readiness and understanding.
The process will also be differentiated as it will follow the Reading Workshop model. To begin the lesson on inferring character traits within this unit, students will all participate in a whole group mini lesson. During this mini lesson the teacher will demonstrate and model the focus strategy or skill. A read aloud will be used and students will watch the teacher think aloud as he or she infers about a character trait.
Students will then try this strategy or skill on their own with their independent reading books. Those students who need assistance with inferring character traits will work in a small group with the teacher for guided practice while still using their own books.
Students who need additional assistance after this small group work will then work one on one with the teacher practicing this strategy or skill. The teacher may provide teacher-selected texts and organizers to assist the student.
Students who demonstrate an understanding of inferring character traits will work independently on this strategy, recording their responses in their Reader’s Notebook and graphic organizers. They will confer with the teacher to show they understand the strategy or skill.
Products will be differentiated throughout the unit as students can choose their graphic organizers and formats to respond when inferring about character traits. As part of the culminating activity of this unit students will use a product menu to choose the best product to demonstrate their learning. Their choices could include:
Visualize and draw a character using evidence from your text (students can choose to draw the literal appearance or include abstract traits about the character).
Create a paper doll of a character using evidence from the text.
Infer character traits using evidence from the text in a graphic organizer (T charts, Venn Diagrams, Four Box graphic organizer)
Create a poem about the character (I poem or free verse)
Construct a letter to the character in your text
Respond to an open response question about character traits, providing evidence and explanations.
Create a quilt of different character traits with evidence from the text.
Act out an excerpt from your text demonstrating inferences about characters.
Create a tableau of a scene from your text demonstrating inferences about characters.
Stick Post-it notes throughout your text with your character inferences at certain parts.
3. What are Student Needs:
Students will receive a formative pre-assessment that will be help the teacher understand his or her students’ readiness. The pre-assessment will consist of the students individually reading Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and then answering questions (written or verbally as needed).
Using the knowledge of students’ reading surveys and the knowledge of which mentor texts may be best suited for teaching inferring and character traits, the teacher will pick mentor texts that would best work in his or her classroom during the Model Lesson. During Independent Reading Time, small groups may meet and the texts can be teacher selected or student selected texts may be used. Student selected texts will be used during independent practice.
Using the pre-assessment, DRA’s and informal observations, the teacher will create flexible groupings to meet with during Independent Reading Time. The teacher will meet with students and address their needs. Some students may be ready to infer theme and be challenged, where other groups may need reteaching and repeated practice on inferring about characters. Students who are struggling moving from literal to abstract interpretation of character, may even be met with one on one. Instruction will also be differentiated by learning style, readiness and interests to help each child succeed.
4. How will Students Learn:
Throughout the unit, the Reading Workshop model will be employed. Students will meet for a short focus lesson at the beginning of each lesson as a whole a class. During this time, the teacher will often read aloud a mentor text and model how to think deeper about characters and how to complete each of the different components (graphic organizers, other activities). After the mini-lesson, the students will either work independently on the strategy or skill taught, in partners or small groups for guided practice, or with a teacher one on one or in small groups for further practice or to learn more challenging concepts. At this time students will be reading self-selected texts (picture or chapter books) and will be responding to their reading in some fashion (post-it notes, graphic organizers, drawings, verbally, open response questions, poetry, etc.). At the end of each lesson, the class will reconvene to discuss and reflect on that day’s lesson and activities.
This unit has many opportunities for differentiation. The teacher will guide students from the literal level of describing a character’s appearance to having students infer about character traits. Students will also grow as they’ll start by responding through the use of graphic organizers to writing out responses and even responding in more creative ways to align with students’ learning styles.
To start the unit, the teacher should act out emotions (upset by stomping feet, crossing arms, etc., happy by smiling, cheering, etc.) and ask students to guess how the teacher is feeling. Once the students have identified the feeling, the teacher should prompt the students to explain how they know. This will lead the teacher to start a discussion on inferring, explaining how the students used their own schema and evidence of body language to infer how the teacher was probably feeling.
Once the students have a good foundation on how inferences are made, the teacher can read “No, David!” by David Shannon. This humorous book is a great way to further explore inferences and how they can deepen a reader’s view on a character. As the students laugh at David’s antics, the teacher can prompt the students to discuss David’s character. With little text from the author, the students have to infer why David acts the way he does.
Example of Lesson: Review of Character Traits
After students have started learning about what character traits are and how to infer them, students will have to show their thinking through different activities. This will help the teacher better understand where his or her students stand in the unit. The teacher can better gage which students may need reteaching and which students are ready to be challenged.
To start the mini-lesson, the teacher can read “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother” by Patricia Polacco. As the teacher reads aloud, the class can discuss character traits of either Patricia or her brother. The teacher should use the “Four Box” graphic organizer on a flip chart, projector or SmartBoard. The class can list all of the character traits that describe the particular character. The teacher will then model to the students how to pick the best three traits and support each trait with evidence from the text.
During Independent Reading Time, students will go off to read a self-selected book. This can be a picture book or a chapter book. The students will need to read their independent reading books and respond through one of three choices that the teacher would have described and modeled. As the students are working, the teacher will use observations from the mini-lesson and data collected from the unit to pull small groups as needed. The students can choose
1. Four Box graphic organizer
Four Box .pdf
2. Visualize Character with traits (or literal appearance for students who are not ready to infer traits)
3. I Poem (this deeper thinking activity is offered to all students, but is a challenge)
After Independent Reading Time, the class will gather for a closing. At this time the class will reflect on how the Reading Workshop went that day. Students can share what they created, or started to create, what they learned and what they would need more help with. Any activities that haven’t been completed, can be finished in the next lesson.
5. How is Learning Demonstrated:
Students will demonstrate that they have learned how to infer character traits several ways. All students will take a post assessment similar to the pre assessment that was used to start the unit. Students will read “Stand Tall, Mary Lou Melon” once again and will complete the same sheet. This post assessment will show how students’ thinking and understanding has changed and how their inferences about characters have developed. Comparing the pre and post assessments will demonstrate student learning.
Learning will also be demonstrated through student-teacher conferences, which is part of the Reading Workshop model. The teacher will check in with every student during their independent reading time and confer with them about their inferences. During this time he or she will take conference notes about what students understand or what they are struggling with. These conference notes will be used to demonstrate student learning as well.
Student products throughout the unit will also be used to demonstrate student learning. The students will have chosen their products based on readiness and the teacher will look at their graphic organizers, written responses, drawings etc. to assess their learning. Ultimately, if students have made an appropriate inference and provided appropriate evidence, using any of the product formats, then learning can be considered.
As part of the culminating activity of this unit students will choose their product from a menu and the teacher will require 3 character traits with evidence as part of any product. The teacher will use a rubric to assess their learning:
Made 1 appropriate inference or an unreasonable inference about character trait. Has little to no evidence from text to support.
Made at least 2 inferences about character traits with weak evidence from the text. Little support/
Made 3 appropriate inferences about character traits with evidence from the text to support.
Made 4 or more appropriate inferences about character traits with strong evidence from the text to support to support higher level thinking.
Graphic Organizers to use throughout the unit:
List of possible mentor texts:
Mentor Texts for Inferring about Characters.pdf
Short texts to use for teaching character appearance:
series of unfortunate events.pdf
Example of RTI group activity around inferring:
RTI sheet 1.pdf
RTI sheet 2.pdf
Website with resources (including lists of character traits):
Resources and Lessons for Fiction Reading
Resources for Reading Workshop
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