Standard Lesson

Thoughtshots Can Bring Your Characters to Life!

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 30-minute sessions and one 60-minute session
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One of the ways authors add depth and realism to their characters is through the use of "thoughtshots." Students learn how to add detail to their stories by including thoughtshots such as flashbacks, flash-aheads, and internal dialogue. Students identify and discuss thoughtshots in The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant. Next, students work in pairs to identify thoughtshots in other stories. In the final session, the teacher models how to insert thoughtshots into a text, using An Angel for Solomon Singer (also by Rylant). Students then write their own thoughtshots for Solomon Singer and then write thoughtshots to add to their own works-in-progress.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Using authors as mentors, students can learn a variety of writing styles and elements of the writer's craft.

  • Picture books can be used to acquaint children with a sense of audience, new vocabulary, and various literary devices.

  • Reading aloud should be a daily activity in classrooms, not only for the enjoyment of hearing a good book, but also to enrich the writing program.

  • Picture books serve as excellent mentor texts for students because this genre closely matches their writing.


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).
  • 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.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 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

  • The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant (Harcourt, 1996)

  • An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant (Orchard, 1992)

  • Additional picture books (at least one per student) that have strong examples of thoughtshots

  • Writing notebooks and sticky notes

  • Computer with Internet access

  • Chart paper or whiteboard

  • A first draft of a work in progress with at least one human character (for each student)




1. Acquire the two Cynthia Rylant books used in the lesson: The Old Woman Who Named Things and An Angel for Solomon Singer. Read and discuss the books a day or two before beginning the lesson, so that students will be familiar with the stories. This will allow students to concentrate on the writer's craft (rather than the narrative) during the lesson, and will also allow you to revisit only the sections you wish to use in the lesson.

After reading each book aloud, be sure to give students a chance to discuss their reactions to the story. Encourage them to think more deeply about the story and the author's craft by asking questions such as

  • Why do you think Cynthia Rylant wrote this story?

  • What can we learn from the story?

  • How does the story relate to other stories you have read?

  • Do you notice similarities in the characters across the books?

  • Do you notice similarities in the style of writing across the books?

  • How did the author make the characters believable?
2. Prior to Session 2, gather a variety of picture books (at least one per student) that include strong examples of thoughtshots. (See Book Resource List for some suggestions.) Note: If you feel confident that your students can quickly and accurately identify thoughtshots after the first session, you can have them gather appropriate books from the school or classroom library at the beginning of Session 2.

3. If you are not familiar with the writing workshop approach to teaching writing, visit the website Teaching That Makes Sense. Visit the sections titled An Introduction to the Writing Process and Welcome to Writer's Workshop.

4. Print the handout Types of Thoughtshots and make a copy for each student.

5. Print and copy the remaining three handouts for students: New Thoughtshots, Thoughtshot Rubric, and Rubric Score Sheet. Staple the sheets together with the rubric on top.

6. Print a copy of Thoughtshots from The Old Woman Who Named Things and write each thoughtshot on a separate piece of chart paper or whiteboard.

7. Print a copy of New Thoughtshots for An Angel for Solomon Singer and write each thoughtshot on a separate piece of chart paper or a whiteboard.

8. Mark the pages in the texts for your reference during the lesson. (The Old Woman Who Named Things: pages 14, 21, and 24; and An Angel for Solomon Singer: pages 4, 8, and 20. Note: The pages are not numbered in these texts, so you will need to count pages, beginning with the first page of the actual story text.)

9. Assign partners for the lesson activities (discussion in Session 1, identifying thoughtshots in Session 2, and peer editing in Session 3), and tell students who their partners will be.

10. Have students choose an original work-in-progress (or create a new draft work) to be revised in Session 3.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Learn to recognize the writing techniques of thoughtshots (i.e., flashbacks, flash-aheads, and internal dialogue) used in texts

  • Apply one or more of these writing techniques in revising a piece of original writing

  • Practice self-assessment using a rubric to evaluate their original thoughtshots

Session 1: Identifying Thoughtshots

For this session students will need their writing notebooks.

1. Have students sit with their assigned partners. Distribute the handout Types of Thoughtshots. Tell students that in this session, they will learn three types of thoughtshots and identify these types of thoughtshots in a picture book by Cynthia Rylant.

2. Introduce the three types of thoughtshots (flashback, flash-ahead, and internal dialogue) referring to the whiteboard or chart paper examples you have prepared from The Old Woman Who Named Things. Explain that one way authors make their characters more interesting is to include thoughtshots in their stories.

3. Explain to students that in this session they will revisit the book The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant to study how the author used thoughtshots to give the main character more depth and make her more interesting to the reader. Briefly review events of the story with students.

4. Have students open their writing notebooks and write Thoughtshots at the top of the page, with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 underneath this heading.

5. Referring to the pages you have marked in the text, point out each type of thoughtshot. Start with Thoughtshot #1 on page 14 (It was a very pretty puppy, she thought. But it couldn't stay. If it stayed she would have to give it a name...) which is an example of internal dialogue or flash-ahead. Refer to the thoughtshot example on chart paper or whiteboard.

6. Direct students to briefly discuss Thoughtshot #1 with their partners and decide which type they think it is. They should write their answer next to #1 in their writing notebooks. As students finish, invite two or three students to share their answers and briefly explain their thinking.

7. Point out that sometimes there is more than one type of thoughtshot on a page, so more than one answer might be correct. For example, on page 14, the thoughtshot begins with It was a very nice puppy, she thought. This is an example of internal dialogue. But the next line of text, but it couldn't stay, is an example of flash-ahead.

8. Discuss how the thoughtshot made the character more believable and interesting.

9. Read Thoughtshot #2 (page 21), which is an example of internal dialogue. (The old woman sat and thought about the shy brown dog who had no collar with a name...) Have students repeat the steps above.

10. Read Thoughtshot #3 (p. 24), which is an example of flashback. (The old woman thought a moment. She thought of all the old, dear friends with names whom she had outlived...) Have students repeat the steps above.

11. Close the session by reminding students that one way that authors make their characters more interesting and believable is to include thoughtshots in their stories.

Session 2: Finding and Sharing Favorite Thoughtshots

If you have already gathered a collection of books with examples of thoughtshots, display the books in the classroom so students can select from them. If students themselves will be gathering the books (see Preparation, Step 2), you may wish to conduct this session in the school library.

1. Gather students together and explain that they will be working with their partners to search for thoughtshots in selected books.

2. Briefly review the three types of thoughtshots identified in the previous lesson: flash-ahead, flashback, and flash-forward.

3. Display the Thoughtshot Rubric on an overhead projector or whiteboard and discuss the criteria for a good thoughtshot.

4. Have each student select at least one book from the titles on display. Alternatively, if students are choosing their books from the school or classroom library, allow them 10 minutes to browse the picture book area and choose one or two titles that include examples of thoughtshots.

5. Have students work in pairs to read their chosen books and identify at least two thoughtshots (one in each book). More advanced readers might identify three to five thoughtshots. Circulate and make sure students are identifying thoughtshots correctly.

6. Instruct students to write their favorite thoughtshots on sticky notes, and use the notes to mark the pages of the book where the thoughtshots appear.

7. Have each pair of students select their favorite thoughtshot from the examples they have found and discuss the criteria from the rubric that make this example good or great.

8. Have several students share their favorite thoughtshots and explain why they chose them.

9. If possible, leave the collected books on display, with thoughtshots marked with sticky notes, so students can read more of their classmates' favorites at a later time.

Session 3: Writing and Evaluating New Thoughtshots

For this session students will need to have a first draft of an original work that contains at least one human character

1. Display the New Thoughtshots for An Angel for Solomon Singer on chart paper or whiteboard, and have students get out the original work-in-progress they will be revising.

2. Review and briefly discuss the three types of thoughtshots. Tell students that in this session, they will practice writing original thoughtshots and will evaluate the quality of their thoughtshots using a rubric.

3. Distribute copies of the three stapled handouts: Thoughtshot Rubric, Rubric Score Sheet, and New Thoughtshots. Explain how to evaluate for each category on the Rubric Score Sheet by putting a check in the appropriate box: Needs Work, Good, or Great.

4. Explain to students that in this session they will revisit the book An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant and practice writing thoughtshots for the main character. Briefly review the events of the story with students

5. Read the pages you have marked to show where you will add a new thoughtshot. Start by presenting Example #1 after reading page 4: Solomon Singer thought about how nice it would be to have his own home. He imagined sitting in a rocking chair with his cat snuggled up on his lap and his dog beside him. He thought of rocking all day in front of a warm fireplace.

6. As you show the new thoughtshot on chart paper or whiteboard, have students work in pairs to evaluate the thoughtshot using the Thoughtshot Rubric and page 1 of the Rubric Score Sheet. Invite several pairs to share their thinking.

7. Read page 8 and show Example #2: Solomon Singer remembered when he was a boy in Indiana. He felt the wheat brush his face as he ran through the fields toward his home. Have students evaluate this example on page 2 of the Rubric Score Sheet as in Step 6.

8. After reading page 20, show the picture of Solomon Singer's face and discuss how he has changed.

9. Have students turn to the New Thoughtshots handout and work with their partners to write a new thoughtshot for Solomon Singer in the first box. Then have the pairs of students evaluate their own new thoughtshots, using page 3 of the Rubric Score Sheet.

10. Have several pairs of students share their new thoughtshots.

11. Have students take out their own works-in-progress. Remind them that thoughtshots often appear where a character is trying to make a decision, or is reflecting back to another time. Direct students to read through their draft and put a star where they want to add a thoughtshot. Note: You may wish to give advanced writers the option of finding two or three places to add new thoughtshots. Alternatively, advanced writers could assist beginning writers as they reread their stories and help them select places to insert thoughtshots.

12. Direct students to write a new thoughtshot for their original character in the second box on their New Thoughtshots handout. Beginning writers may benefit from the starters: He thought about... or She thought about...

13. Have students evaluate their original thoughtshots using page 4 of the Rubric Score Sheet.

14. Collect the new thoughtshots, along with the students' works-in-progress. During their next writing workshop, students can revise their writing, incorporating their new thoughtshots.


Student Assessment / Reflections


  • In Session 1, walk around and listen to students' conversations as they work in pairs to identify the types of thoughtshots. Clear up any misconceptions regarding the definitions.

  • In Session 2, circulate and observe whether students are able to identify thoughtshots in their chosen books.

  • In Session 3, circulate and provide any necessary assistance as students work to produce new thoughtshots. Are students rereading their stories before adding new thoughtshots? Are students inserting thoughtshots in places where they are appropriate to the story? Do the thoughtshots add more information about the character?

  • At the end of Session 3, collect the completed New Thoughtshots handouts and assess students’ work using the criteria on the Thoughtshot Rubric.


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