Standard Lesson

Inferring How and Why Characters Change

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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"There is not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters." —Anthony Burgess

Because so many stories contain lessons that the main character learns and grows from, it is important for students to not only recognize these transformations but also understand how the story's events affected the characters. This lesson uses a think-aloud procedure to model how to infer character traits and recognize a character's growth across a text. Students also consider the underlying reasons of why the character changed, supporting their ideas and inferences with evidence from the text.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Understanding characters-their desires, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs-may lie at the very heart of literary meaning making (Emery, 1996).

  • When teachers and students take time to read and discuss characters, children understand and craft increasingly rich characters of their own.

  • Roser and Martinez explain that characters not only help readers move into and through a text, but they also affect what those readers come away with as well.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Short stories, such as the following:

"A Bad Road for Cats" and "Stray" by Cynthia Rylant from Every Living Thing (Aladdin, 1988)

"Maybe a Fight" and "Mr. Entwhistle" by Jean Little from Hey World, Here I Am! (HarperTrophy, 1990)

"Mama Sewing" by Eloise Greenfield from Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir (HarperCollins, 1993)

Stevie by John Steptoe (HarperTrophy, 1986)

  • Chart paper, overhead, and markers/overhead pens

  • Overhead transparencies of stories for modeling (optional)



This lesson is based on the assumption that students have done some prior work on inferring character traits.

1. Choose a short story for the class read-aloud and photocopy the text onto overhead transparencies.

2. Gather the materials listed in the Resources section. If you do not have access to a computer for each student, you may wish to print blank copies of the character map portion of the interactive Story Map in advance.

3. Students will work with independent reading texts during this lesson. Since many students may be reading longer texts independently, you can adapt the lesson by having those students think about their characters across a few chapters. Alternately, you could have all students read short stories and picture books during this lesson.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Infer character traits

  • Support inferences with evidence from the text

  • Infer how a character changes across a text

  • Explain why that character may have changed

Session 1. Who is This Character, Anyway?

1. Begin by gathering students together for a minilesson. Introduce the idea that good readers get to know and understand the characters in their books. This understanding helps readers comprehend the text and enjoy the books they are reading. You can talk about books you have read aloud or even movies that students are familiar with to model this concept.

2. Begin to read aloud a short story with a strong main character who changes during the course of the story. "A Bad Road for Cats" by Cynthia Rylant is used as a model throughout the lesson, but you may use any short story you wish.

In "A Bad Road for Cats," the reader is introduced to a poor, harsh woman named Magda who is searching for her lost cat. As Magda goes through the process of searching and eventually finding her cat, she begins to show kindness and compassion for the young boy who found and cared for the cat.

3. Ask students to think about the main character, Magda, as you read. What does she look like? How does she act? How do other characters in the story react to her? These questions can be listed on a chart for students to refer to, or you can show them the categories on the character map portion of the interactive Story Map.

4. Stop reading when you feel that students have enough information to answer the questions and come up with a predominant character trait for the main character. If you are using "A Bad Road for Cats," a good place to stop is after Magda reads the "4 Sal. CAT" sign.

5. Model for students how you are thinking about the character and responding to the questions. For example, you might model how you visualized the character in the story. You can also model how you infer character traits from your responses to the questions. It is helpful to have the story on an overhead so that you can explicitly model how to use information from the story to infer character traits.

6. As a class, decide on a predominant character trait for the main character. Write this on chart paper.

7. At this point, send students back to their independent reading texts and ask them to think about the characters in their own books in the same way as you have been thinking about Magda. Have students complete a character map for the main character in their independent texts, either online on the Story Map or on paper if you have printed the map in advance.

8. During independent reading, you can confer with several students or small groups of students about their characters. During this time, you might meet with a small group of readers and have them apply these strategies to another short story at their instructional level (see list of possible stories in Materials and Technology).

9. Gather at the end of the independent reading time (after about 30 to 40 minutes) so students can share what they have discovered about the characters in their books and what strategies they used to come to these conclusions. Have two or three students share the character traits they discovered and the evidence from the text to support these inferences. You can also have partners share their findings with each other so that more students can share and you can listen in and assess their understanding of the concept.

Session 2. How This Character Has Changed!

1. Finish reading the story you started in Session 1, and ask students to once again think about the questions on the chart paper or interactive character map, just like they did for the first part of the story. At the end of the story, ask students to reconsider the same questions and complete a new chart or character map on the same character (Magda, for example).

2. Ask students what they notice when they place these two character maps side by side. Model for students your thoughts about Magda and how she has changed since they first met her in Session 1. Show students how you are inferring (i.e., taking evidence from the text and combining it with your own experiences and knowledge) to understand how the character changed. Demonstrate how to complete the How and Why Characters Change graphic organizer. Leave the "Why the Character Changed" section blank for now.

3. Have students discuss their own observations about Magda at the end of the story and how they think she has changed. You might want to have students discuss these observations with partners or in small groups.

4. Provide each student with the How and Why Characters Change graphic organizer. Ask students to continue reading their independent reading books and think about how their main characters have changed.

Have students complete the "At the Beginning" section of the organizer when they have enough information to do so; the "At the End" section should be completed when they near the end of the story. You might also have students again complete the interactive character map for their characters at the end of the story, compare the two character maps, and then complete the How and Why Characters Change organizer. During this time, you can confer with individual students or work with students in small groups.

Note: If students are reading longer texts, you can have them think about how the character changes across several chapters.

5. At the end of the reading time, have students gather and share (possibly with partners) what they have noticed about character change in their own books.

Session 3. Why Did The Character Change?

1. Return to the partially completed How and Why Characters Change graphic organizer and review Magda's traits at the beginning of the story, the end of the story, and how she changed throughout. Ask students to think about why Magda might have changed the way she did. What would cause this sort of transformation? Ask students to brainstorm several possibilities and support their ideas with evidence from the story or their own experiences. Reinforce the fact that, as readers, they are inferring why the character has changed. Ask students to decide on the most likely reason for Magda's change and add that to the chart.

2. Have students return to their independent reading books. Ask them to review their own How and Why Characters Change sheet and start thinking about why their characters might have changed throughout the story. Confer with students as they read to determine their understanding of the characters in their stories, focusing on their ability to infer how and why the characters changed. When students finish reading their stories, ask them to complete the "Why the Character Changed" section. This assignment may go beyond one session.

3. Once again, you may want to gather a small group of students to read a short story at their instructional level and focus on how and why the characters in the story changed.

4. At the end of the session, gather students and ask them to share their thoughts on why their characters might have changed in the stories they are reading. Ask students to reflect on how thinking about characters in this way helps them to better understand and enjoy the stories they are reading.


  • Students can study other characters in their books, in addition to the main character and complete the graphic organizers.

  • Students can use the Character Trading Cards tool to create trading cards for characters they are studying. They might exchange these with each other to learn about each other's characters or use them as writing prompts. For example, they can take one character and write about how he or she changed across a story and why.

  • Students can study how characters change across a series of texts. Possible series include the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary, the "Fudge" books by Judy Blume, the Dimwood Forest series by Avi, or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

  • Students can use similar charts and graphic organizers to develop dynamic characters for their own narrative stories.

  • Students can think about how and why they have changed in certain circumstances and connect this to the reading they are doing in class.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Provide students with a short story in which a character changes. Ask them to read the story independently (you will have to make sure it is a text that all students can read) and respond to the following questions, citing evidence from the text to support their responses.

    • Describe what the main character was like at the beginning of the story.

    • Describe what the main character was like at the end of the story.

    • How did the main character change?

    • Why do you think he or she changed in that way?

    • How has understanding character change helped you to become a better reader?

  • Assess graphic organizers and character maps using the How and Why Characters Change Rubric.

  • Review observations and conference notes taken during these sessions.