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How-To: Teach Literacy Instruction and Teacher Collaboration
Third Grade Reading Workshop: Character Study
Sarah Picard


  • To understand that good readers read to develop a theory about a character.
  • To read and collect evidence that supports or challenges a theory about a character.
  • To make inferences about the evidence from the text to say more about a character.
  • To follow a character through change (make predictions about future actions).


Horrible Harry series, Frog and Toad series, Mr. Putter series


Running records, conference notes, graphic organizers and post-its with responses on them


Day 1: Good readers talk for a long time about books they’ve read. One way you can talk for a long time about a book is to talk about a character. I do this in my reading and soon I will expect you to do it too.

Day 2 and 3: Good readers make theories about characters so they can talk for a long time about a character. They read and stop to think about words that describe a character. Those describing words are called traits ("Horrible Harry is the kind of kid who..." or "Mr. Putter is..."). They write the trait on a post-it and put the post-it on the page that shows the evidence of the trait. (Teacher's Note: this may take more than two days for your readers to do independently. Often times, children need several days of this before they can move on to charting their thoughts.)

Day 4 and 5: Good readers use graphic organizers like webs to help them prepare for their long conversation (or long writing) about a character. They transfer the character traits written on the post-it notes into the boxes on the graphic organizer and then write evidence from the text on the lines below the box.

Day 6: Good readers use their graphic organizers to write about characters. (Teacher's Note: This could transfer in to teaching about good paragraph writing, with topic sentences and supporting detail sentences, but focus should remain on the purpose to help you prepare for a conversation about the character.) Good readers write a big idea sentence about a character, and then write a sentence about each trait with the supporting evidence in a sentence that follows each trait.


Day 7: Growing a bigger theory out of your little one. By now you have read and written some things that describe the character. But good readers think deeper than just describing a character. Good readers often think about the reasons why a character is acting a certain way. ("I wonder why Harry acts so horribly?" or "I wonder why Mr. Putter has such a soft heart?") These are the kinds of questions good readers think about as they read. Today, as I read aloud think about a theory, or a reason why, this character (Mr. Putter, for example) has such a soft heart (or is so thoughtful). Grow some of your theories on a simple web.

Day 8: Yesterday we collected some reasons why we think Mr. Putter has such a soft heart or why he is so thoughtful. We were thinking that he likes to be happy. And makes him happy? Making other people happy by doing kind things for them. You can make good theories about a character by paying close attention to the relationships that character has with other people or animals. Today, we are going to do something good readers do when they have made a theory about a character. We are going to collect evidence for our theory by paying close attention to the relationships a character has with other people or animals. We are going to read another book with Mr. Putter and collect evidence that supports our theory that doing kind things for other people makes him happy. We will pay close attention to the relationships. When we get to a page that has evidence of that we are going to mark it with a post-it note.

Day 9: Yesterday we looked for evidence to support out theory about Mr. Putter by looking at the relationships he has with others. Today we are going to read, paying close attention to the words he says to other people or animals in the text. Once again, when we find a place in the test that supports our theory (Mr. Putter likes to be happy and making other people happy by doing kind things makes him happy), we will mark it with a post-it note.

Day 10: We are still looking for evidence that supports our theory about Mr. Putter and why he has such a soft heart. Good readers pay attention to the words a character says, but they also pay attention to how a character says the words and the words a character doesn't say. Today we are going to read, collecting evidence and marking with a post-it note the words that describe how Mr. Putter speaks and the words he does not say. (Teacher's Note: This may have to be a separate day. Address passages where the character could have said more but held back. When did s/he hold back?)

Day 11: Good readers also find evidence to support their theories when they read, thinking about how a character moves or gestures. How does the way s/he moves or doesn't move support your theory?

Day 12: Good readers find evidence about important objects or clothing to support their theories. How does evidence about clothing and/or objects support your theory? Does it matter?

Day 13: Good readers write plenty about this extended theory: Why a character is the way s/he is. Take all of these post-its and use the previous graphic organizer to write the reasons why the character acts in this way. (Mr. Putter has a soft heart because making other people happy is what makes him happy. Include examples from the text of words he has said and not said, gestures, clothing and objects, if applicable)


Day 14: Good readers pay attention to how a character grows and changes throughout the story. Major events happen in a story, and in those moments we can tell a lot about characters by how they act in that moment. Reread the character trait web from the beginning of the book. Has the character changed at all? Was there a major moment in the story that caused the character to change and act differently. Good readers read, looking for these moments that cause the character to change. Sometimes they happen and sometimes they do not. Read today with this in mind. Look for places in the text where the character is acting differently or similarly to the traits you have noticed earlier (refer to the webs). You may want to stop and jot down how the character is acting in some of these situations in your notebook. (Teacher's Note: Not everyone has to be stopping and jotting today. Think of it as setting the expectation that you will be looking for these parts in their books and when they occur they are going to take note of them and say something about them.)

Day 15: Good readers also take note at major events about how a character doesn't react. Stop and jot in your notebooks when a major event happens and the character doesn't react in a way you expected.

Day 16, 17 and 18: Good readers compare a character across time or across texts. They think, "Is this character acting similarly to the way s/he acted earlier in this text or in a different text in the series?" Use a before and after chart (like a t-chart or Venn diagram) to compare how the character acted before and after a major event. Write down evidence from the text that describes the words the character said or didn't say, gestures, movement, objects and other strategies taught earlier to back up your thinking about the comparison.

Day 19: Good readers think about what they can expect from a character in the future. They make predictions (in the form of stop and jots in their notebooks) about what they can expect from the character in this book, in another book in a series, of about the life the character will live after the book.

Day 20: Good readers write about characters in their independent reading books. Introduce dialogue journals. After you finish reading an independent reading book, you will need to write a letter to me about the book. In the letter you will need to write the title of the book and the author and then you may choose one of the following options:

  • write about the character traits and show how a web guided your writing
  • write about your theory about the character and include your post-its
  • write about how your character changed and include the t-chart that helped you organize your thoughts.


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