Inferences from Illustrations to Determine Emotion

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

Big Idea

Move beyond single word and word phrases and examine illustrations which the author uses to transmit a character's emotional state to the reader.


Common Core Connection:

The last two lessons were focused on helping the students to understand that the reader's awareness of the emotional state of the characters in a story is dependent upon the types of words and word phrases that the author uses to transmit that information.  In today's lesson, the students will continue their study of  the relationship between specific words and word phrases and the emotional state of the story's characters as well as begin to learn how to examine the author's illustrations more closely in order to find additional information and clues about how the characters are feeling. This lesson will also introduce the students to the basic concept of inference.  While the lesson is not designed to focus specifically on inference, I felt strongly that I would have missed a very timely opportunity to use that term since much of what we are discovering in this unit on emotion is a direct result of inference.  So far, we have talked about at least two pieces of evidence to base an inference on: words and word phrases.  Now as we move into this lesson, we add illustrations to the list, so talking a little bit about this new word inference seems to be a practical fit.

As the lessons in this unit on emotions have developed, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that in order to most effectively accomplish the goals of standards of RL.1.4 and L.1.6, my teaching method would require me to use a more incremental approach than I have used previously in order to gradually expand my students knowledge and observations of a characters’ emotional state, one stone at a time.  Moving from simple opposite emotion words to more complex phrases and, now, to illustrations and actually referencing inference seemed to be a good design for giving my students just the right amount of information and time to both learn and assimilate at a reasonable pace.  

Lesson Overview:

In today’s lesson my students used their investigative skills to determine what certain words, word phrases and illustrations used by the author were telling them about the emotional state of the character.  They also learned that the author uses a method called inference to transmit information about the story and its characters to the reader.


  • Small Pig, Arnold Lobel
  • Xeroxed copies of Small Pig, one per student, cover page through page 23 (not included)
  • Seeing the Emotion Activity Sheet (teacher created)


10 minutes

As my students settled at their desks, I began by reviewing what we had learned in the previous two lessons and prepared my students for this lesson by telling them that every author uses a slightly different style to tell a reader something about the characters and events inside the story.  However, I also told them, “All authors, in fact every single one of them has one very important thing in mind that is the same.”  I then used the magic cup (Demonstration: Magic Cup) to call on a few students to see if they could tell the class what that was.  Not surprising, the answers ranged.  Some said, “Sell their books,” and others said, “Help students.”  So I interjected that it was actually to 'try and keep the reader interested at all times!'

It almost seemed like a letdown to some of my students and I saw that as the perfect opportunity to tell them that if children's books had no pictures or illustrations for example, they would still be interesting, but maybe not nearly as interesting as one that contained pictures of what the author intended the characters in the book and the scenery to look like.  I said imagine your favorite story with all the pictures pulled out!  I received a lot of nods from that thought.  I then told my students that the same is true for emotion telling words and word phrases.  To further convince them, I displayed the following sentence on the Promethean Board for my students to see in order to make it clearer:

  • “The snowflakes were sparkling in the moonlight as they softly fell upon the faces of my students who were singing Christmas songs and skating across the large ice pond.” 

I then slowly read it to my students, when I finished reading I revealed these questions:

  • How does this sentence feel ?
  • What season is it?
  • Was it day or night? 
  • Was it hot or cold?  

After giving my students a moment to talk with their table partner about these questions, I used the magic cup to call on students to see if they could answer the questions.  As these students shared their answers, I asked them to tell the class what word in the sentence helped them to figure out their answers.

These students’ answers included:

  • Happy because of the singing.
  • Winter because of the snow and it was Christmas.
  • Night because of the moonlight.
  • Cold because of the ice and snowflakes.

I then asked the class to take another look at the sentence to see who could be the first to find any of the ‘answer’ words (happy, winter, night, cold) anywhere inside the sentence that I had written on the Promethean Board.  It took only a few seconds for them to realize that they could not find one of the ‘answer’ words.  It did not take long before they started asking where the answers were and if their answers were correct.  To calm them down I said, “Congratulations, you have just made an inference!”

I then told them that ‘When an author is able to tell you something about a character, an event, a place or even a time, for example, without using the exact words that match what he is telling you about, that is called inference’.  I explained a little further the inference is very much like a hint.  It usually gives the read just enough information to make him/her even more curious and use his/her mind and imagination to figure out the rest.  I continued by stating, "Sometimes you may even need to think of yourself inside the story in order to get an idea of how those things would look and feel to you."  I finished the introduction by telling my little ones today we would continue thinking about what the author is telling us by looking for clues from the pictures and illustrations of the story we would be reading today. With their attention at full I decided to go immediately in to the guided practice while these new idea was still newly fresh in their minds.

Guided Practice

15 minutes

I had my students stand and take a stretch break before asking them to take their places on the rug area.  I then showed them Small Pig and explained that in today’s lesson we were going to continue to look for examples of how an author uses certain words, word phrases, and illustrations to tell the reader how his or her characters are feeling.  I further explained that today we would only be reading the first 23 pages of Small Pig in today's lesson and finish reading the story tomorrow.   

I then read the first 23 pages of the story to my students, pointing out certain characteristics visible on the illustrations such as facial expressions, the scene's setting, and characters other than Mr. Pig as I proceeded.  While I read I stopped every third or fourth page and asked my students what they thought the pictures were telling about the emotions of the characters and how did it make the story feel.  For example, on the illustration following the Title Page, where Small Pig is sliding down the muddy water chute, I asked the students to tell me if the illustration appeared to make Small Pig looked happy, scared or sad.  I felt that it was very important to always provide them with a reasonable range of possible emotions to consider in order to further help develop their conceptual thinking skills, especially concerning the relationship between the environment (scene setting) and the character’s feelings.  I felt that this was also an excellent opportunity to start building the bridge to the next lesson, where we would be looking more specifically at the mood of the story and not just the character's within it.  

After we completed and discussed the reading up through page 23, I told my students that it was time for them to pair up with their partners and to prepare to begin their collaborative activity.

Collaborative Activity

20 minutes

After my students were seated with their partners I displayed the Seeing the Emotion Activity Sheet on the Promethean board and passed out their copies as well as the Xerox copy of pages 1 – 23 of Small Pig.  I explained that the purpose of this collaborative activity was for them to identify how the author of the story was able to tell them, the reader, how his characters were feeling.  I further instructed them alternate reading the questions and that they should work as a team to decide on the correct answer to determine the character's feelings or emotions.  I pointed out that they had a copy of the story, so they could look at the pictures and re-read more than what was given on the activity sheet if they needed to.

During activities like this it is important to meet with each group to check their understanding and progress.  By Checking Student Work, as they are working, you get a better insight to how they working and if they really understand the assignment.

At the end of about 15 minutes I called the class’s attention back to the displayed activity sheet on the Promethean.  I then used the magic cup to select partner pairs to share their answers with the class.  As these students read their answers, I wrote them on the Promethean board (Student Answers), and the rest of the class showed me they agreed with the given answers by showing a thumb up (Demonstration: Thumb Up, Thumb Down).

Independent Practice

15 minutes

From there we moved to our independent work where my students are in leveled reading groups and rotate through reading activities every 15 to 20 minutes.  One activity I always include at this time is journal writing.  I believe journal writing helps students remember and deepen key ideas from the lesson.

The prompt I put on the Promethean board: Explain what evidence you can look for in a story that can help you see how a character is feeling.

I checked their journals when each reading group rotated to my leveled reading group. The student in Look at the Picture of the Face focused on the the character's expression in the illustration.

Ticket Out the Door

5 minutes

To earn a sticker my students explained what the word inference meant.