Hello, friends! This is Melissa from Teacher Treasure Hunter. Are you looking for new ways to help your students dig deeper into character studies? Do you want them to really understand the character traits and personalities of the characters? I’m going to share 3 ideas and hopefully you’ll discover something new to try with your class!
#1 – Write a play
One of THE BEST experiences I have had with my students was writing a play together as a class. It was a 1st grade class. I was looking for an idea for parent night (open house style) and thought of performing a play.
Here is how I guided and supported the students through this process.
1. Buy multiple copies of the book. Scholastic Reading Club had a good deal on the Boxcar Children book (I think they were $1) and I’ve always loved that book so I decided to use that for the play. I thought through the characters and settings first to make sure it could work.
2. Read it to the class. As I read, I would often stop and illustrate parts of the book on the whiteboard. This book really lends itself to that. When Gertrude Chandler Warner describes the boxcar, the stream (which they use for a fridge --- and a swimming hole), the stump to climb into the boxcar and so many other details you just get a good picture in your mind and want to illustrate the story!
3. Have the students read the book in small groups. During this time, I also had the students complete some character pages and choose words that describe each character. By this time, they were becoming familiar with the story and this was pretty easy for them.
4. Write the play. I called small groups up to the reading table and we would work on a section of the book at a time. I prepared a list ahead of time of the main events in the calendar. I would pretty much ask them what happened first? Then what? What was next? As they figured out the next part of the story (and had it accurate) I would give each of them a small square of paper and have them write part of it down. You write about them finding a cup. What did Benny say? You write that. You write about what Benny was looking for and what he found. You write about what happened when they went back to the boxcar. They would write a sentence or two and I was there to help them. They also helped each other a lot. I then took all those papers (piles of many, many little squares!) and typed it out so that it made sense. I kept their words the same as much as possible. As I typed, I decided if it was a part for the narrator or an individual part.
5. Gather Props - The students helped me make some props and they were very excited to bring things from home. One little girl said she had a pink cup and brought in a pink plastic cup that she had taped some paper onto so that it looked like it was cracked! I was so amazed by their creativity and their total enthusiasm!
6. Have the students make the background scenes. I had a list of the scenes we needed. Each student made 4 scenes using a variety of art materials (markers, colored pencil, torn paper collage,watercolors). I chose the ones that worked best for each scene and made sure to use one from each student. I also used this artwork to scan for the program and I put the extras up around the room. The night of the play, I put the background scenes under the document camera so that they were projected on the screen behind the actors.
7. Assign parts and practice. I divided the play up into scenes and had different actors play each scene. So, there were multiple people playing each part but they each had a different scene. We practiced until they had it memorized. I encouraged them to ad lib. If they don’t remember the actual words they still know the story and can tell it. I had a copy of the play the whole time so I could remind them of their parts.
8. If you are going to perform it for an audience, make programs and posters. The kids love seeing their names advertised and feel like stars!
9. Perform! I can’t even begin to tell you what a great job the kids did and how excited and proud they were. Some of them were huge hams and as soon as they got a laugh they cranked up the performance even more!
10. Collapse! J
The kids definitely know the story and the characters after writing a play like this. They are immersed in the book and it becomes very real to them.
The very best part of this experience, was a text message that I received that summer. A dad messaged me a picture of his daughter reading at the park:
A-MAZ-ING! Those are the type of notes that you hold onto forever and look at on the challenging days.
#2 – Create-a-Character
I’m getting ready to do this one with my 3rd graders. Just choose a selection of books that have strong characters (people characters for this one). Let them choose a book to read individually. Tell them they will be creating a character. As they read, they should be looking for clues about the character. What do they look like? What do they act like? What are their favorite things? They will decorate the character to look like the character in the book. They will find 3 things (objects or pictures) that remind them of their character. They present it to the class and explain why the objects reminded them of the character.
#3 – Social Media
My 3rd graders are obsessed with social media – especially hashtags. I just say “hashtag” and instantly they are all listening and asking questions. I found this out when I told a teacher about a recent Instagram post that I had written and the hashtags I used (#savethanksgiving #justcallmeSarahHale). The kids heard and wanted to hear all about it. Did you say hashtag? What did you write? Etc. etc. Well, when you get their interest like that it’s best to make the most of it!
I decided to create a history series around hashtags - #HashtagHistory of course! I just published the 1st one – Paul Revere, #midnightride. I can’t wait to use it with my students!
This would work great with a variety of stories. The students can think of the hashtags that the character might use. Have them write a short description of something that happens in the story and write it in 1st person. They can write it like they are going to post it on social media (don’t worry about minimum word counts for this one) and then choose a few good hashtags. This really gets them thinking about the characters feelings and interests.
Another fun one to do is a pretend facebook page. I’ve actually done this with animals before. What would they write about? What they are eating, close calls and narrow escapes, additions to the family, habitat conditions, etc. Who would they unfriend? Their predators of course! This would be a fun one to do with a book character.
I hope that you have discovered some ways to help your students learn more about characters as they are reading. I have some reading units in my TPT store as well as the new #HashtagHistory PaulRevere study. Everything is on sale through the end of the day. Don’t forget to use the code SMILE for an additional 10% off the already reduced prices.
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Happy December! See you next month!