Analyzing Characters with Close Reading

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Students will be able to analyze a character's traits and motives by close reading a passage.

Big Idea

Characters and their traits come alive through close reading.

Close Reading: An Overview

5 minutes

I gave a brief overview of the close reading process.  I made sure that they knew that it was close reading, not Cloze reading, since that's been a common misunderstanding even with adults. Close reading is when you delve into a difficult, rigorous text in order to make meaning.  Cloze reading is when you've got a passage, key words have been taken out, and students have to fill in the blanks.  

I copied the passage on one side of a paper and the close reading process on the other.  My school created a poster to serve as a reference, so that's the process that I gave the students.  At some point, we'll have them hanging up as real posters in the classroom.

 I asked a student to read aloud the description of each read and pointed out that they would need to annotate and write after each read.  I made sure that they understood that the second time we read it, I'd be reading it aloud and they needed to listen to how the words sounded, and what I did when I got to a comma or period.

Annotation Symbols

I then went over what annotation means.  Annotation is just marking up the text.  You can underline, circle, or highlight.  You can write notes in the margins.  You can use symbols to show when you have a question.

 This is, of course, not a complete list of symbols that can be used.  We wanted to keep it simple.  As time goes on, we'll also encourage students to create their own system of annotations because that's when it's most powerful.  I did explicitly teach them what the delta (triangle) means.  The question mark is used when they have a question.  The delta can be used to show that they have absolutely no idea what something means.  The difference helps me differentiate between students who are struggling with comprehension and which students have questions.

The First Read

10 minutes

I asked students to take out three different colors of pens and pencils and to write 'first read' with whatever color they were using for their first read.

I directed students to read the passage to themselves, independently.   We had read the story  before, so students were familiar with the story. This was the passage that gave them the most trouble and had some of the best examples of characterization, which is why I chose it.

I gave them about five minutes to read and annotate the passage before giving them their first quickwrite prompt.  They certainly struggled with this and didn't annotate much.  It was similar to the first read when we read "The House" when they didn't have a purpose. They had a purpose, but they weren't so sure about how 'right' they were, even though I'd reassured them that there wasn't really a 'right' thing to annotate.

Once the five minutes were up, I asked students to look through what they'd annotated and write a response about what they'd learned about the character's traits from the passage. I asked them to write about two traits for each character, so four traits total.

They wrote their quickwrites on notebook paper. I asked them to write at least a third of page.  Most students easily wrote that much, but one student only managed to get half of a sentence.   Students then read their quickwrites to each other. If someone had written something that they thought was important, they could add that to their paper and cite who had given them that idea.

The Second Read

10 minutes

I asked students to take out a second  color pen or pencil and to write 'second read' with whatever color they were using for their second read.

I reminded students that I would be reading aloud this time.  As I read aloud, they needed to pay attention to how the passage sounded.  How did I pronounce words?  How did I read sentences with commas?  What did I do when I got to the end of a sentence? And of course, what details helped them answer the prompt--what motivates the characters.

After I finished reading, I gave students about five minutes to answer the second quickwrite prompt.  Every student, even the student who wrote a sentence fragment for the first read, was able to write a third of a page. After the five minutes were up, I asked students to read their passages to each other again.




The Third Read

15 minutes

I asked students to take out the third color pen or pencil and to write 'third read' with whatever color they were using for this third read.

I reminded them that we would be reading the passage again, and this time, I would model my own annotations.  I would not only identify what I annotated, but explain my thoughts as well.

I included annotations of the following:

  •  Paragraph 1: The characters are referred to as woman and boy and they are referred to that way for most of the passage.
  • Paragraph 1 and 2: The woman asks if the boy is ashamed of himself, and the boy says he is.  But does he mean it?  Is he sincere? 
  • Paragraph 3 and 4: The boy says he didn't "aim" to.  It probably doesn't have anything to do with aiming at a target, so I think it means that he didn't mean to steal the purse.  However, I think he's lying about that.  You don't just accidentally steal a purse.  The woman also thinks that, because she says, "You a lie." 'You a lie' probably doesn't mean that the boy is an actual lie.  She probably means that the boy is lying. 
  • In Paragraph 2, 8, 12, 16, and 18, the boy says 'm'am'.  It's either "yes'm" or 'no'm', but he is referring to her as 'm'am.'  In paragraph 10, though, he calls her a lady.  He is being respectful by calling her m'am, but I wonder if he means it or if it's just habit.  I also wonder if the woman is insulted by being called 'lady.'
  • In the last paragraph, teh woman calls the boy sir.  She's totally giving him respect, even though he's tried to steal her purse, he's lied to her, and called her 'lady'.  She gives him respect before she even tells him her name, "Mrs. Louella Bates Washington Jones."

I did comment on other things, but those were the highlights.

After I modeled reading and annotating, students completed their third quickwrite.  The prompt was to write about how their annotations were different than mine and how all those annotations helped them understand Mrs. Jones and Roger.