Characters Change - Read to Find Out How!

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SWBAT describe a character in a story as he/she responds to major events and challenges and analyze how they develop and interact from the beginning to the end of the text.

Big Idea

Characters develop with the story - Let's read to find out how they change!


  • The Fire Cat by Esther Averill (one copy for each student or read as a group)
  • cat template
  • 'Literature Story Element' headers
  • whiteboard or large paper with chart similar to the worksheet (see reflection below)
  • 'Characters Change' worksheet (see resources below)
  • large 11x13 paper to mount the worksheet and cat cut out (optional)
  • Lesson vocabulary words from the Reading/Writing word wall: literature, characters, setting, problem, solution, events/action, infer


I chose this book because it was on the Common Core State Standards 'Exemplar List' of recommended titles. The text is in the higher end of the 2nd grade, but it has really nice illustrations and is a chapter book. In the story, the cat undergoes significant character changes so it was easy to use for this lesson. 

I taught a lesson previous to this lesson called "Characters Change - Let's Look at a Picture", in which I introduced/reviewed story elements and we discussed how characters changed in pictures. In this lesson, I go beyond the familiar to a new character and story. The students have to use the story elements to determine how this unique cat changes over the course the story in response to events and actions.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words.


Engage the students and introduce the lesson


In the introduction above, I mentioned the 'literature story elements'. These elements occur in every piece of literature and I want my students to be able to identify these in this story as well. When they can describe the structure of the story, including describing how the beginning introduces the action and the end concludes the action (RL.2.5), they are analyzing the structure of the text and evaluating how the different parts relate to the whole story. They are using 'close reading' skills to comprehend an a complex example of literature.

Teachers' Turn

15 minutes

Review the concepts quickly

  • "Let's take a moment to look over the text features in literature."  Put the story headers on the board as you mention them.  
    • characters - people and animals in the story
    • setting - where and when the story happens
    • events/action - what happens in the story
    • problem - what happens to the characters in the story
    • solution - how the characters are changed in the story.
  • "Today we are talking about a character.  Why do you think he's called a fire cat? Have you heard of a fire cat before?"  Thinking out loud.... 
  • "Its always helpful to me when I look at the cover and think about the title.  I like to infer what might happen in the story before because it helps me understand the story better."
  • "Characters change in the story because they are faced with a problem-they respond to challenges. You can compare and contrast the character before and after the problem. That means that we look at how she/he is different and how she/he is the same from the beginning to the end of the story."


Introduce the chart & model

  • "There are different ways to describe characters that helps us contrast them from the beginning to the end of the story. These are called character traits. (refer to chart in resources) Here are some ideas of different traits that characters might have... tell me what these words mean to you"... refer to the chart you have and take ideas
    • description - what the character looks like - big, short, thin, clothing, hair
    • feelings - how does the character feel in the beginning - scared, happy, alone....
    • thoughts - what is he/she thinking - they want a friend, they are not brave
    • challenges - what is hard for the character to do, what does the character need to do
  • "Let's take a look at The Fire Cat and compare and contrast how the cat changed in the story." Show the chart paper.  "I'm comparing the character in the beginning to the character at the end of the story.”
  • Read Chapter One only of The Fire Cat.  Fill out the chart.
    • "I'll think how the cat's description changed. She was dirty and lived in a barrel at the beginning of the chapter. At the end, she was clean and living in a firehouse."
    • "Now I'll think about how the cat's feelings changed. At the beginning, she was sad and scared. At the end of the chapter, she was hopeful." 


Guided Practice

    • "What about her thoughts from the beginning to end of the chapter. Take ideas and guide them to think about how the cat only thought about chasing other cats and later went to the firehouse.
    • What are her challenges? What is hard for her that will be easy at end? - Take ideas....
  • Thinking out loud how characters change as the story changes ... "Wow this character really changed! In the beginning she was very different, but then there was a problem.  When characters encounter a problem, they have to change in the middle of the story.  By the end of the story when there was a solution and her character traits were different!"  (RL.2.5)
  • Here's what my completed whiteboard looked like when we were done with our discussion.
  • "Now I'll illustrate the character to show that he changed.  When I illustrate, it shows that I understand the difference in the traits from the beginning to the end of the story. Fold this paper in 1/2 and cut on the black lines and then unfold it.  Wow - two characters!  The character at the beginning is on the left and the character at the end is on the right. Let's draw our character at the beginning - how did she look? what about the character at the end?"


Thinking out loud is an essential way of modeling the close reading that the Common Core standards encourage. There is also a shift in the use of vocabulary in context to help students develop a rich content knowledge.

The Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Explain the task

  • "Now let's look at Chapter 2 of The Fire Cat and see how the character continues to develop."
  • "Remember to think about the changes in the characters thoughts, feelings, how she looks and how she responds to challenges."
  • "I'll give you a worksheet to describe the character at the beginning, thinking about those character traits that will change at the end of the text.”


Read and evaluate

  • "Pass out the 'Characters Change' worksheet."
  • Read Chapter 2 and pause to emphasize as you go so the students have a chance to pick up on the changes.  Follow up with students who need prompting. 
  • “Now that I’m done reading, take a few moments to fill out your worksheet.  Raise your hand when you’re done and we’ll check them over.”
  • This is a completed worksheet.


Students are examining how characters in a story respond to challenges and events. As they they describe these challenges, they analyze how and why the characters develop and interact (RL.2.3). When students delve deeper into the text to looks at these story development, they are active participants where the teacher facilitates the process of learning.

Apply What You've Learned

10 minutes

Explain the task  

  • "I will give you a few minutes to illustrate the before/after of your character. I am passing out the cat template and I'll show you how to fold it.  Then you'll cut on the lines, but don't cut on the side." (reference the side of the fold.  I would would do this as a class and have extra copies)
  • “Now that you have 2 characters, you can illustrate the character traits. On the top you should draw a description of the character at the beginning of the chapter.  Think about what the character looked like. Then on the bottom, draw the character that changed over the course of the story.  Use your crayons.  You'll have 10 minutes to do this and then we'll take turns sharing."


Monitor as students work

Students who are able verify their answers with examples from the text are using skills encouraged by the Core Standards' shift toward using text evidence.

  • "Great job coloring! I can really see how your characters changed.”
  • Optional- "Now glue them on the big paper like this." Here's an example of a student project.
  • “Who would like to share their character?  I want to know how you think the character faced their challenges and became a better character?"
  • You have done a GREAT job identifying the traits of the character in the story and how they changed.  That is a skill that 2nd graders need to use in their Active Reading and to get ready for 3rd grade!"  My kids love to hear how they're getting ready for the next grade! 


Ideas for Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson can be scaffolded up and down, depending on the level of your students.

My special education students were able to participate in the whole group discussion, but the independent reading was not something they could do.  I had to read the story to my students anyway because I didn't have enough copies of the book.  The students just needed some prompting with ideas, which could be addressed by writing clues on their slates on the desks.

For students with stronger academic skills, they could really be challenged with this lesson!  There is opportunity for higher level vocabulary ('independent' or 'ferocious'), more inferences that really explain their ideas.  By challenging these students to go deeper and make more inferences with higher level vocabulary, you are truly individualizing.