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Lesson Plan

Using Picture Books to Teach Characterization in Writing Workshop

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Using Picture Books to Teach Characterization in Writing Workshop

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Sharon Roth

Sharon Roth

Urbana, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • identify elements of character development within multiple texts.

  • recognize picture books as model texts that exemplify multiple literary elements.

  • apply the elements of characterization to revisions of their own writing.

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Session One

  1. In focus-lesson or minilesson format, invite students to join you for a lesson on how they might revise a piece of their writing.

  2. Read a text from the Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Characters list, such as Doņa Flor by Pat Mora, aloud to the class.

  3. After reading the picture book together, pass out copies of the Three Elements of Characterization handout or display a copy of the information using an overhead projector.  Then, share the the What is Character? handout with students.

  4. If desired, have students copy or tape the character development information in their writer's notebooks.

  5. Review the information on the Three Elements of Characterization handout, and ask students to identify examples in the picture book that illustrate the development of main character, or protagonist, in the story. For the example book, the protagonist is the character Doņa Flor.

  6. Draw a three-column chart on the board, and label each column with one of the elements on the Three Elements of Characterization handout.

  7. For the first column, ask students to describe what the character looks like. In the case of Doņa Flor, students will probably mention almost immediately that the character is a giant woman.

  8. Encourage students to use words and examples from the text. As they provide details, note them on the chart on the board.

  9. If students need additional structure, use questions such as these:

    • How can you tell Doņa Flor is a giant?

    • What other ways can you describe her appearance?

    • What can you tell about her appearance from the book's illustrations?
  10. As students provide examples, refer to the words in the book, and reread the word or phrases so that they see and hear them within the context of the story. For instance, readers can tell Doņa Flor is tall because she can reach down to the mountain tops, gives children rides to school when they are late, and makes huge tortillas.

  11. Once students have gathered adequate details for the first question, move on to the second element, how the character acts. For Doņa Flor, point to the subtitle of the book, A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. Ask students what the author means by the last part of the subtitle, that she has a "Great Big Heart."

  12. Have students identify specific details from the text that support their observations, and record their responses on the chart. For instance, Doņa Flor helps the children who are late for school, she is concerned about the puma that is scaring her neighbors and friends, and creates a riverbed to distract her friends from their worries.

  13. Finally, move to the third column and ask students to describe how the other characters in the book relate to the main character. For the book Doņa Flor, ask students how the friends and neighbors in the pueblo, the children, the various animals mentioned, and the wind react to Doņa Flor.

  14. Note their observations on the chart, and use the book to find reinforcing quotations and illustrations.

  15. Once students have completed the chart, review the information and ask students if they want to add or change any of the details.

  16. Ask students to identify the techniques that the book's author used to develop the characteristics, using discussion questions such as the following:

    • What words and phrases does the author use to help you learn about the main character?

    • What plot events in the picture book help you learn about the main character?

    • How do the illustrations help you learn about the main character?
  17. Invite students to make observations and draw conclusions about how authors make the characters they write about vivid and believable. Take notes on their observations on the board. Save these notes for students to refer to when they are revising their own writing independently.

  18. Before the next session, gather five to six additional Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Characters for students to explore in small groups.

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Session Two

  1. Arrange the class in groups of two or three students each, depending on the number of texts available.

  2. Pass out a picture book from the Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Characters list to each group.

  3. Ask group members to read the book together and find examples of characterization.

  4. Remind students to refer to the Three Elements of Characterization handout for support as they work.

  5. Once groups have completed their preliminary exploration, demonstrate how to use the Story Map student interactive. Ensure that students understand how to find the "Character Map" in the interactive.

  6. Ask groups to complete the "Character Map" in the Story Map student interactive to record their findings about the character(s) in the book they analyzed. If computers are not available, pass out copies of the Three Elements of Characterization handout and ask students to complete the graphic organizer in the middle of the page.

  7. While student groups work, circulate through the class providing encouragement and feedback.

  8. Once students seem confident in identifying the three elements of character development, ask them to select a piece of their own writing that they think would benefit from more work on character development. Students can work on their revisions for homework, during additional sessions, or during independent writing time.

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  • Analyze the details included on the “Character Map” from the Story Map student interactive (or the graphic organizer from the Three Elements of Characterization handout) to determine how well students understand the three elements of characterization. If a group needs additional support, explore an additional picture book with group members to provide more experience with identifying character development techniques.

  • Once students have had an opportunity to revise and enhance their character development, have them complete the Characterization Self-Assessment to identify the effectiveness of the changes in their revisions and suggest topics for additional focus lessons.

  • Compare original and revised versions of students’ work will demonstrate how much they were able to apply the elements of characterization to their own writing.

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