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October 19, 2010 Get Inside a Character's Mind! By Danielle Mahoney

    Regardless of grade or independent reading level, your students will enjoy building comprehension as they work on figuring out what a character might be thinking. Join me as I take you through a mini-lesson and some independent reading, and offer advice on providing your students with feedback on their work. Get ready to download a new bookmark, as you find out how students learn to get inside a character's mind to become better readers. 



    The Mini-Lesson

    Building on the “Stop and Jot” strategies I described in my previous post, I visited a 3rd grade classroom to conduct a demonstration lesson on boosting reading comprehension by having readers get inside a character's mind. 

    Here is Mrs. Bayer's version of my chart. Notice that she added some of the suggested thinking prompts right alongside the strategy. I love the color coding! =)

    The newest strategy is featured at the bottom of the chart. 

      Character chart

    I started off my mini-lesson with the whole class. Because I was teaching a mix of children at different reading levels and a handful of former ELL students, I chose one of my favorite picture books, Those Shoes, written by Maribeth Boelts, to demonstrate how readers understand stories by stopping and jotting about the character’s thinking. Interested in trying this out in your own classroom? Just follow the steps below and give it a whirl!

    Have Students Watch You as You Read and Think Aloud . . . 

    Readers understand their stories by getting into the character's mind. 

    • Read a page. Touch the character. Make him talk. What would he say right now? Example: Ã¢Â€ÂœWow, everyone has those sneakers. They look so cool! I really, really want a pair!!”  Jeremy might say this because kids sometimes want things that all of the other kids have.



    • Read a page. Touch the character. What is he thinking? Why? Example: I think he’s thinking, “OOOhhhh!! Grandma! Come on! I don’t want a pair of boots! I want those shoes!!!” Jeremy might think this because he doesn’t care about what he NEEDS. He can only think about what he WANTS.
    • Touch a different character. What is she thinking? Why? Example: I think the grandmother would be thinking, “I feel so bad for Jeremy. I wish we had enough money to buy the shoes he wants,” because she only has enough money for a pair of boots.

    Take a risk in front of your kids and really get into this! The more expression you use, the more your students will feel comfortable taking risks in their own reading work.

    Have Your Students Give It a Try!


    Next, invite students to have a go at it as you provide support. They can turn and talk in partnerships to share their ideas about what the character might think and say. They can share their ideas with the whole group, as you point to different characters on the page. Have fun with it!


    Inspired by the great feedback teachers have given me on the way they've used my original Stop and Jot Bookmark, I created a new Character Thinking Bookmark to help guide students who may need additional support. You'll find that I included a copy for their book baggie at school, as well as a copy to use while reading at home. Try using the bookmark with your students, and let me know how it goes. Once you’ve given students a bookmark, send them off to their reading spots for some independent reading.

    Here is something to consider before you start your individual conferences: If you use a picture book during your mini-lesson, and you have some children reading chapter books that offer less picture support, you may want to pull a small group of higher level readers for a strategy lesson. Use a book closer to their level in order to show them how to track the character’s thinking when there isn't a picture of a character on the page to touch. 

    Independent Reading

    It is so important to allow your readers time to practice this strategy during independent reading. Be sure that they are reading a book on their independent reading level. (Need help leveling the books in your classroom library? Try using the Scholastic Book Wizard!)


    Stopping and Jotting

    Give your students time to stop and jot their ideas into their Reading Notebooks. This will provide you with evidence of their understanding of the strategy. It can also clue you in to how well they understand the book that they are reading. 


    Conduct a Conference and Coach a Few Students

    Listening and recording notes while you confer with students is key to looking towards next steps in your reading plans. Take some time to visit with readers and coach them through this work. These photos show how I listened to Cindy read for a bit. I coached her on the strategy and gave her the opportunity to practice it with me.

      Listen  Confer

    Provide Feedback

    Students need to know how they’re doing! Pop around the room towards the end of independent reading time to jot a quick note in each student’s Reading Notebook. Offer a positive message as well as advice on a strategy your students can work on next time. Click on the notebook pages to read some of the thinking the students recorded, along with my feedback.

      Bryan  Justin

    Thinking Melanie


    These students did a fantastic job of getting inside the minds of their characters. Some focused on the strategy taught that day while others used a combination of strategies from the chart. I enjoyed working with this group of 3rd graders and would love to hear about the experiences you have as you try out this lesson in your classroom. Have some fun getting into a character's mind!



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