Reading the Character’s Emotion

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SWBAT identify both words and word phrases in a literary text which suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.

Big Idea

Move beyond single words and examine word phrases which the author uses to transmit a characters' emotional state to the reader. Students learn that sometimes authors can convey sadness and never even use the word "sad!"


One of the main reasons that I thought that Tear-Water Tea was so absolutely perfect for this lesson was because it dealt with only the one simple and familiar emotion of sadness, while at the same time being able to show my student readers that even a single emotional feeling could be changed in intensity with just the right words and phrases to transmit how it was happening.  It was perfect!  The art of it was to get my students' attention focused on those specific words and word phrases that not only connected his thoughts to the amount of tears that he shed, but, more importantly, how the author was using those devices to alert the reader of the story that this character was becoming progressively sadder (i.e. ”He began to think of things that were sad, Chairs with broken legs, his eyes began to water”). 

Common Core Connection:

In this lesson, my students and I moved from examining simple feeling words, which we started with in yesterday's lesson, to slightly more complex word phrases, as we continued to explore how an author can use certain words to tell the reader of a literary text how the characters are feeling emotionally.  As in Lesson 1, this fits well with teaching my students some of the strategies to master RL.1.4: identify words and phrases in stories of poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses, and L.1.6: use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using frequently occurring conjunctions to signal simple relationships.

Lesson Overview:

I began challenging my students a little more than asking them to identify opposite emotions such as happy or sad (which we began learning in the previous lesson).  In today's lesson, my students were challenged to go a little beyond simple words and to begin identifying specific phrases from a text that were related to or which identified the emotional feelings of the character in the story.  I also felt the Collaborative Activity from the day before was both very effective and fun for the children, so I decided that I would continue that method of pairing up the children with their partner in order to make the learning of these slightly more complex words phrases a little more engaging and interactive.


  • Owl at Home, Arnold Lobel
  • Xeroxed copies of the short story Tear-Water Tea from the text Owl at Home, one per student (not included)
  • Read the Emotions Activity Sheet (teacher created)


5 minutes

With my little ones at their desks, I started today’s lesson by reminding them that the emotional  feelings of a character in a story were revealed to the reader when the author used special words or phrases to express their feelings.  I then gave my students a moment to think about the words that we had already discovered in the previous lesson and asked for a show of hands for students to share one of those words with the class.

After each word the students shared, I would them ask them to tell me what the opposite emotion or feeling was.  For example, one student shared the word happy, I asked the entire class to reply, “What is the opposite of happy?’  My students, almost in unison, responded, 'sad.'  I felt this exercise was important in order to both reinforce that basics we had learned in yesterday's lesson and to allow them to gradually begin building the bridge to the more complex word phrases in this lesson.  So far, so good. 

Guided Practice

15 minutes

After our successful review, I then further explained to my students how each author chooses his own special words in order to allow the reader of the story to understand how the characters inside it are feeling.  I emphasized that these words are very important indeed since they are the very things that make a story feel so real to the person who is doing the reading.  These words can even make the reader feel the same emotions that the character is feeling!  I further clarified this by telling them that a story without any emotional feeling words, might be very much like a song with no music or a beautiful garden of flowers that didn’t have any color.  After I said that, I got and immediate sense, from the faces of the children, that I had struck an ever important note of curiosity about all of this. The increased level of attention that I always experience from the children whenever they feel they are about to discover something completely new is always very exciting.

Tto prepare them for their upcoming reading of the short story Tear-Water Tea from the story Owl at Home, I then asked the class to finish the following sentences:

  • When an author writes in his book that a character is smiling, then we know that the character is probably feeling _________  (my students finished the sentence by saying happy). 
  • If the author writes into the story that a character suddenly has an urge to hide, they are probably feeling ____________  (my students finish the sentence by saying scared).  

I then asked my students how they knew the answers to these questions even though I did not actually say the words happy or scared.  The children then told me that they knew because people smile when they are happy and that sometime they hide when they are afraid.

When we finished this exercise, I then explained to my students that today that we would be reading a story about an amazing owl who just happened love drinking tea.  However, his tea was special and they would have to listen to find out what was so special about the tea.

I then passed out the student copies of the short story Tear-Water Tea from the text Owl at Home and instructed my students to follow along as I read.  I emphasized to the children that they should listen very closely for the words and word phrases which told them how Mr. Owl’s feelings were changing as the story progressed.  I then read the entire story to them, pausing only long enough to emphasize the words and word phrases that were responsible for both the cause and the effect of the changes in Mr. Owl’s emotional feelings. I also used tonal inflection to draw my student’s attention to the key emotional words and phrases as I read to them.  I am consistently amazed at how well that simple technique works in helping my students to remain focused. 

After I had completed the reading, I asked my students what was so special about the tea?  And if Mr. Owl needed to feel happy or sad whenever he wanted to make Tear-Water Tea?  The children responded almost unanimously, “It was made with tears” and “Sad”.  I then asked the children how did they know Mr. Owl was Sad even though the word Sad was not always used in parts of the text?  The most common response was because he was crying.  I then asked the students if some of the things that Mr. Owl had to think about in order to make him cry made him sadder than the other things did, and which made him cry even harder and harder.  Most of the students agreed that the left over Mashed Potatoes seemed to make him the saddest and also made him cry the most of all.  I then told the students that it would make me sad too if nobody ever sang songs again because all the words “have been forgotten” and for them to look at the list on the activity sheet when they were paired up and to think about the things that would also make them sad.


Collaborative Activity

20 minutes

When we completed the Guided Practice, I explained that in today's lesson each student and their partner would be working together to re-read the story and talk about how the word and word phrases used by the author showed how the emotional feelings of Mr. Owl changed.  I then displayed the Reading the Emotion Activity Sheet on the Promethean Board.  After reading the directions, I continued by telling my students that they should alternate rereading the copied stories (one row at a time) and then work as a team to try and get the correct answer that they would be writing in Column 3 of the activity sheet.  I then passed out the student copies of the Read the Emotions Activity Sheet

I felt very strongly that the team approach would make the activity more enjoyable, productive and much less intimidating for some of the children.  Teamwork activities always seem to produce the most amazing results when you are introducing something new, and it certainly helps minimize the intimidation effect of being on your own when you need help with something that you might only partially understand.  It has been my experience that the quicker learners often take on a leadership role to pull the slower learners up more quickly than I can by myself.

I subsequently gave my students time to think, share, and complete the activity sheet with their table partner.  While my students were working, I was Monitoring Student Work to make sure everyone was on task.  At the end of the 15 minutes I checked to see how far my students were progressing with their activity sheets. I knew it was time to move on when nearly all students answered Mr. Owl Cried More, as seen in this video.

Once everyone was finished, I used the magic cup (Demonstration: Magic Cup) to select 5 partner pairs to each read one of their answers.  As these students shared their answers I wrote them on the Displayed Activity Sheet on the Promethean board.  While I did this the rest of the class showed me they agreed or not by displaying a thumb up or down (Demonstration: Thumb Up, Thumb Down).  For the most part my students agreed with the given answers; however, some sense of sadness was more subjective than others.

After all the answers were reviewed, I told my students to take another look at the Promethium Board and to tell me what word was never used once and yet they all knew exactly how Mr. Owl was feeling.  The response was pretty much unanimous that it was the word 'sad.'  I finished the Collaborative period by telling the students how amazing it was that, even without using the word Sad one time, somehow the author had found a way to use just the right choice of words and word phrases to tell them how Mr. Owl was getting sadder and sadder all the time.

Independent Practice

15 minutes

During our Independent Practice time my students rotate every 15 to 20 minutes through ELA activities.  One of those activities is journal writing because journal writing helps students synthesize what they have learned. 

The prompt I put on the Promethean board:  What is one word you would use to describe the feeling of this story and why? 

I checked each student’s journal for completeness when they rotated to my differentiated reading group.  Nearly all of my students agreed that the one word to describe the feeling of this story was 'sad,' as seen in this video clip: Journal Check.

Ticket Out the Door

5 minutes

To earn a sticker my students had to name one of the things that Mr. Owl thought about when he made his Tear-Water Tea and then to say one word about how he was feeling after he thought about that thing.