Standard Lesson

Planning Story Characters Using Interactive Trading Cards

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two or three 50- to 60-minute sessions
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The boundaries of literacy are expanding to include many different popular culture texts. Finding classroom applications for these texts can motivate students as they develop important literacy strategies and skills. This lesson uses trading cards to support students' literacy development in planning for writing. Using an interactive trading cards tool, students first explore the way that the questions on it apply to a character in a familiar story. Students then use the tool to plan a character's development. An extension for this lesson is to have students use these cards to write their own stories.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • A New Literacies Study (NLS) perspective views literacy as moving beyond merely reading and writing printed words and traditional texts. This perspective includes popular culture "texts" including video games and trading cards as literacy tools.

  • An emerging body of research has documented that an integration of popular culture texts into teaching offers students an alternative way to demonstrate their literacy knowledge and skills and to engage in meaningful literary practices.

  • The use of popular culture texts may provide a source of increased motivation for many students and may provide literacy learning opportunities that are especially effective with reluctant or struggling readers.


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.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 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

  • Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 1996) or Brave Irene by William Steig (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1986)

  • Computers or tablet devices with Internet access

  • LCD projector (optional)

  • Projector and transparencies (optional)

  • Samples of popular trading cards

  • Story where a character has a problem that is resolved




1. Make sure your students understand the concept of story structure (e.g., character, setting, and plot) and how characters tend to develop in narrative text. You may want to teach Inferring How and Why Characters Change, Using Picture Books to Teach Plot Development and Character Resolution, or Charting Characters for a More Complete Understanding of the Story before beginning this lesson.

2. This lesson also assumes that students understand how to structure and write a narrative story. The focus of the lesson is on refining students' abilities to plan for characters in a story; for that reason, you may want your students to be working on a narrative or to have brainstormed ideas for a story in their writing journals.

3. Choose a book to use as an example. You want a book with a character who has a problem that is resolved by the end of the story. This lesson uses Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 1996) as an example; Brave Irene by William Steig (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1986) would also work. Read the text you have selected, identifying places where the character is described, where the conflict/problem is introduced, where the character deals with the conflict, and where the conflict is resolved or the goal is reached. For older students, you may want to use a novel you have read aloud as a class or short stories with more complex characters.

4. Visit and familiarize yourself with the Trading Card Creator online tool or the Trading Cards mobile app. You will be using the character from the book you have selected to model its use with students. There are several ways you can approach this: by using an LCD projector and a computer with Internet access or by creating a transparency of the Character Trading Cards Planning Sheet. You may want to create a sample card with the answers filled in for your own reference.

5. Students will also use the online Trading Card Creator tool or Trading Cards app to create their own trading cards; if you do not have classroom computers or tablet devices with Internet access, you will want to reserve a session in your school's technology lab (see Session 2). If using the online tool, bookmark it on the computers. If using the mobile app, download it to each device.

6. Photocopy the Character Trading Cards Planning Sheet for each student.

7. Assemble examples of popular trading cards. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Harry Potter, and sports cards are all examples you might choose. You can purchase these or ask your students to bring some in to share.

8. You may choose to create a sample trading card with some deliberate weaknesses (i.e., vague description) to share with students as an example of how to complete a peer review (see Session 3, Step 1).

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Review how characters tend to develop in stories by recalling their own favorite characters

  • Practice popular culture literacy by creating character outlines on trading cards

  • Demonstrate comprehension of character development by working together to complete a character outline

  • Apply what they have learned by creating their own character outline for a character in a story they are writing

  • Practice offering constructive feedback by reviewing each other's character outlines

  • Participate in the writing process by revising their character trading cards based on feedback from peers

Session 1

Introducing the Strategy

1. Gather students in a circle and introduce the topic of character development in stories with the goal of assessing what they already know. Ask them to think of a favorite story character and describe how that character developed (changed) in the story; you might ask students to discuss this with a partner. After students talk for a few minutes, ask:
  • How did your characters change from the beginning of the story to the end?

  • What kinds of things happened that caused your characters to change?

  • Why are these changes important to the story?

  • Why do authors create characters that change?
Summarize the conversation by stating that in most stories characters have a goal. A problem or conflict with this goal develops and the character spends the story working through the conflict to resolve it and meet the goal.

2. Show students the trading cards you have collected or invite students who brought in cards to share them (see Preparation, Step 5).

3. Discuss the purpose of trading cards. Ask students to study the trading cards and notice what kind of information is included. Ask them why they think trading cards were developed and how they use their trading cards. Review that trading cards provide the reader with some basic information about a person or character, include a picture, and can easily be traded.

4. Let students know that writers collect this same kind of basic information about characters before they write about them. They think about what their characters look like, where they live, what their personality is like, and what might happen to them. Explain to students that they will be creating their own trading cards in order to plan for a character they will include in the stories they are working on.

Modeling the Strategy

5. Show students the online Trading Card Creator tool or Trading Cards mobile app with a projector; show students the transparency you have created (see Preparation, Step 4). Using the text you have chosen (see Preparation, Step 3), model how the author might have developed the main character by asking the questions that are on the card. Read the text aloud and stop along the way to model your thinking and let students observe and discuss the author's description of the character, the conflict/problem, and the resolution. Fill in together the Trading Card Creator or Trading Cards app, or write on the blank transparency of the card you have created.

6. If you are using Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, you might stop at the bottom of page 3 and say, "I'm noticing that the author is describing Lilly here. Before writing this book, Kevin Henkes probably asked himself questions about the character's home, physical description, personality, and special traits." Show students how you would answer the questions under Section 1 as if you were Kevin Henkes planning to write about Lilly.
7. Model the completion of the rest of the card in a similar way. When you come to Section 3, you might ask students to identify the problem in the story. Students may say, "Mr. Slinger is angry at Lilly," or "Lilly is in trouble and is mad at Mr. Slinger." You can include this information on the trading card under the section labeled Problem.

8. Finish reading the text and ask students how Kevin Henkes might have planned the resolution by asking himself questions about the goal and outcome. Children may suggest that, "Mr. Slinger was nice to Lilly so she forgave him," or "Lilly and Mr. Slinger work things out and Lilly decides she still wants to be a teacher." Write these responses under the section labeled Outcome.

9. Review how asking questions like the ones on the trading card can help authors plan their characters before writing. Show students how to save or share a draft of their work; you can print the trading card to show students this step and to have a sample for them to follow.

Note: If you haven't yet had students brainstorm story ideas in their journals or begin working on narratives, you will want to do so before Session 2. Students should think not only about their characters but also about the plot and setting of their stories.

Session 2

Guided Practice

1. Explain to students that they used the trading cards to study how authors (like Kevin Henkes) describe and develop characters (like Lilly) in their stories. They will now do the same work to plan their own characters.

2. Model for students, using your own idea for a narrative story, how you would use the trading card to plan a character. It will be enough to show students how you look at your story idea and think about your main character by asking a few of the questions on the trading card as an example.

3. Ask students to think about the story they are working on or to look at their list of story ideas and choose one. They should then focus on the main character in that story. You may want to have students work in pairs for a few moments to talk through their story ideas and their character ideas. It is often helpful to talk through ideas before writing them, especially for struggling writers.

4. Have students use the Trading Card Creator tool or Trading Cards mobile app to plan a character by asking questions just like Kevin Henkes might have. If computer time is limited, have students fill out the Character Trading Cards Planning Sheet in preparation for the online activity.
5. Confer with students as they work through the questions. Depending on your students' writing abilities, you can push for more detail and sophistication in the characters they are developing.

6. Encourage students to scan and upload a hand-drawn picture of their character on the card.

7. Gather students and share some strong examples of students' work to provide models. Explain that in the next session students will work together to revise their character cards based on peer feedback.

Session 3


1. Using a trading card you have created (see Preparation, Step 7) or a student's trading card, model how you would work with a peer to ask them questions and revise the trading card. List several questions on a chart and ask these questions of one of the students. For example, you might ask:
  • Can you visualize my character from my description? Describe how you see my character. (This will help the writer see if the description is clear for the reader.)

  • Describe how you see the conflict in the story based on my trading card.

  • Does the resolution make sense based on what you know about my character and the conflict he/she/it is facing?

  • Do you have any suggestions to make my character clearer, more interesting, or stronger?
Model for students how to make notes on the trading card based on the feedback you receive.

2. Have students meet with partners and share their cards. They should work through the questions with each other, making notes on their trading cards based on the feedback. Observe and confer with students to determine how they are doing and if they need your support.

Note: You can have students revise their cards using saved drafts from the online tool or work-in-progress on the tablet, but this is not critical. Students can work with the notes they have made on the cards to write their stories. The purpose of using the trading cards is to plan characters — ideally, many changes will occur as they draft their stories.

3. Gather students to discuss this activity. Questions for discussion include:
  • How did completing the trading cards help them think about the characters they were developing?

  • Do they feel better prepared to write their story? Why or why not?
Remind students that they can use the strategy of asking themselves questions to plan story characters whenever they are preparing to write a narrative story.


  • Students can use the trading card format to develop additional characters. They might also use the Story Map tool to help plan their stories.

  • Students can draft narrative stories using the character card or cards they have created. You will want to model for students how writers take these character plans and use them to draft their stories.

  • Students can create cards, trade them, and try to draw a picture of another student's character. Then have them meet with their partners to discuss whether or not the description of the character provided enough information for the partner to visualize the character accurately.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Observe students during the whole-class phase of this lesson to assess their knowledge of character development. Listen for their responses and ideas for the character trading card.

  • Confer with students as they are creating their own trading cards. Observe their ability to respond to the questions in ways that will help them develop their characters.

  • You may want to develop a checklist with the criteria you expect on the trading cards. This checklist will vary depending on the age, experience, and ability of your writers. Students can use the checklist to self-assess. Possible criteria include:
  • The character is effectively planned.

  • There is a clear description of the character (physical appearance and personality).

  • There is a clear description of the setting.

  • The conflict is related to the character's goals.

  • The conflict is resolved effectively.
  • Collect students' trading cards and review them for completeness and the quality of the responses. You may want to use the checklist suggested above to assess this work.

  • Once your students have written stories, you will want to assess whether or not this planning tool helped your students to create strong, consistent characters.

Rashida Foluke
K-12 Teacher
I like the interactive trading cards, but regret that students cannot e-mail or save information so they can continue if they do not complete it. It's overall a good idea, but could use some methods of saving.
Rashida Foluke
K-12 Teacher
I like the interactive trading cards, but regret that students cannot e-mail or save information so they can continue if they do not complete it. It's overall a good idea, but could use some methods of saving.
Rashida Foluke
K-12 Teacher
I like the interactive trading cards, but regret that students cannot e-mail or save information so they can continue if they do not complete it. It's overall a good idea, but could use some methods of saving.

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