Standard Lesson

Using Picture Books to Teach Characterization in Writing Workshop

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
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Students explore the concept of character development through focused experiences with picture books. The class searches the text and illustrations for cues to character development and uses a graphic organizer to complete a structured analysis of character in the picture books. Students then have the opportunity to build bridges from their own experiences as readers to those skills needed as writers by revising their stories to strengthen character development.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

This lesson uses picture books to demonstrate how writers develop strong, interesting characters. When they are exposed to multiple texts that illustrate effective writing, students naturally begin to think about how that the techniques can be applied to their own writing. By modeling the process of reading like writers, teachers demonstrate the kind of thinking that will help students improve their own literacy skills. As Katie Wood Ray states, "the inquiry structures in writing workshops do simply this-they slow down and make more deliberate the reading like writers that happens vicariously when any writer reads. Slowing down lets writers apprentice themselves very deliberately to other writers" (16).

Further Reading

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).
  • 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.
  • 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



  • Use this activity when you observe students who are interested in revising their writing but need specific guidance. Instead of multiple writing conferences on developing more complex characters, you can hold a focus-lesson with a group or all students invited to attend.

  • Before beginning this activity, students should write a piece of writing, which will be the object of their revisions.

  • Review Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Characters and collect texts that will be used for the lesson. This lesson uses the book Doña Flor by Pat Mora (Knopf, 2005) as an example, but you can use any book from the list.

  • Make copies or an overhead transparency of the Three Elements of Characterization handout.

  • Test the Story Map student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

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.

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 Doña 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 Doña 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 Doña 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 Doña 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 Doña 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 Doña 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, Doña 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 Doña Flor, ask students how the friends and neighbors in the pueblo, the children, the various animals mentioned, and the wind react to Doña 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.

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.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • 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.