Dear Mrs. Laurue

3 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT analyze illustrations to add to their understanding of the character, setting, and events.

Big Idea

Engage students with a hilarious story about a mischievous dog, and analyze the illustrations to develop a better understanding of the character, setting, and events.


10 minutes

Common Core Connection

The standard RL1.7 is designed to help students analyze the details in a story in order to help them understand the character, setting, and events more deeply.  Analyzing is a higher order thinking skill that helps students develop a better understanding of the story.  To get at the skill, students need to go beyond, for example, describing the characters on the surface and towards understanding the meaning of their emotions as they respond to important events.  

By analyzing illustrations and details in a story students are developing skills that prepare them for college and a career.  Analyzing is a higher order thinking skill that prepares students for analyzing more complex text, which is required in college and the world of work. Primary teachers are laying the foundation that increases in difficulty level, but is necessary to be successful in their future career or educational choices.

This lesson allows the teacher to facilitate a learning experience where students can explore a highly complex text and analyze the craft of the illustrator.  The illustrations in the text provide a great opportunity for the students to add to the complexity of the character.  The illustrator specifically uses black and white to add to the dramatic effect of Laurue's situations.

Lesson Overview

I love how this lesson image connects to the story because the dog looks like he wants some sympathy, so I use this in my hook to get my students creating meaning from and image. The students in this lesson analyze the illustrations and how they support or add to the details in the text.  The humor in the story really brings joy to learning. The text I use in the guided practice is Dear Mrs. Laurue: Letters from Obedience School, and in the partner work we use Laurue for Mayor by Mark Teague.

The lesson begins on the lounge where students become engaged in learning.  About every twenty minutes I move the students because I have found that is about the maximum attention span of most first graders. Then we move to the desks for the guided practice. After the guided practice I like to transition my students to the center tables, and the last transition is back to the lounge for the student reflection, and closing.  During each transition I like to ask my students to chant the lesson goal because it keeps the energy up, refocuses the class on the goal, and controls behavior as the students transition.

I find that Common Core allows me to use collaboration (Collaborative Partners) among my students, so I have them groups in heterogeneous ability groups of two. This engages students in a higher order thinking activity as they work together to explain their ideas, and make connections between the illustrations and the text in the lesson.

Introductory Activity

The first thing I like to do is activate my students thinking by asking them to talk to their partner about what the dog's expressions tell us about how he feels.  The image is projected on the Promethean board and the students practice their speaking and listening skills as they discuss the image.  As they are discussing I am listening to assess their prior knowledge and determine how much extra explanation and support I will need to give my students.  I hope they notice the dog is sad or wants some sympathy. When their conversations come to a close I restate some of their ideas and add my own interpretation.  

Then I share that today we will read a story that has some great illustrations that will help us understand the emotions the dog is feeling, the setting, and the events that take place.  So, to make sure the students understand the goal I say, "I can draw meaning from the illustrations."

Guided Practice

20 minutes

In this part of the lesson, we work as a whole group to analyze select illustrations as I read the story aloud. Reading to the class provides a great opportunity to model oral reading fluency, expose students to rich vocabulary, and engage the students in the joy of reading. But, for this specific lesson we are analyzing how the illustrations add to a deeper meaning in the story.

So, the first thing to remember is that the black and white is the dog's perspective and the color is what really happens. This is all so new to first graders that I am always trying to remind myself of things I know they have little experience with. So, I have to teach the class about this and how they can add to their understanding of the character, setting, and events using the illustrations. But, the main focus here is on how the illustrator uses color to show the depth or give meaning to Ike's (the dog) feelings.

Now, the students have transitioned to the desks, and I explain that we look at each picture and use it to describe the dog. I label the chart (Illustrations Mrs. LaRue) in the top left section, and the students discuss the description.  After they discuss I ask one or two students to share their ideas, and we have a discussion about the description.  I add what the class agrees upon to the chart.  Of course, I have to add my two cents not just because I always do that, but it confirms what I really want the students to learn from this illustration. I am modeling, but going on their input.

Then the class will look at the picture of Laurue at the table. The students discuss what this page lets us know about the dog.  I listen and then add their ideas to the chart (here is a picture of the Board when we finished). I am sure to mention the color difference and lead a discussion that points out the difference between the color and the black and white images.

Next, we look at the page where Laurue has left the cats out in the snow. I point out how the illustrator has used the black and white to show how badly Laurue acts.  Then the color is what he is actually doing.  The black and white may also represent the past or his naughty behavior. 

At this point, the students look at the image of the dog in the jail.  They discuss the way the illustration adds to the character, setting, and events. Then I add what I need to or ask more questions until they arrive at a quality description, and add it to the board.  It's important to remember this is very hard for most first graders because they are so literal.  Helping them with questions is a nice way to scaffold instruction. Some of my questions include:

  • Where is he?
  • Is he really in "dog jail"?
  • What does this image tell you about Laurue's feelings? 
  • How does the image show he developing as a character? 
  • What do the events show you about Ike's character?

Next, I show my favorite image of the dogs walking in pairs in the jail suits.  This is a great picture that shows how the dog feels. So, the class begins to discuss what we learn from this picture, and I add it to the chart.

Last, I read the story to my class and we confirm our interpretations from the text as we read.  One way I organize my read alouds is by using sticky notes. I usually put my notes on them, so I remember my questions - especially, if there are several pages to analyze I use sticky notes.  But, I only have four in this lesson, which is intentional because it means I can manage the discussion around whether we are correct or not without my notes today.

Partner Work

20 minutes

Now, I normally use new images after I have used a set in the guided practice, but I decided to use the same images. So, the students actually add more details about what they are seeing on their own graphic organizer.  I really seems to help students when I do this, because it is like I have given them some ideas from our whole group discussion, and they can build upon what the class decided in the guided practice.

The students are now at the center tables and working to add a detailed description about these images:

The use of black and white opposed to color on the page really shows Laurue's feelings.  The use of color adds depth to Laurue as a character, and it makes his situations seem even worse than they really are.  The student use a paper that has been folded down the middle and into four other sections as their graphic organizer.  The last section is for extra space.

I walk around and ask questions regarding the character's emotions, like: How does Ike respond to his unhappiness? How would you describe his personality? (He is active. He wants to take action and change his situation.) Why do you think Ike wants to be Mayor? (What does this say about his character? (He wants to change things.) What does hiding his tools from the police tell you about Ike? ( He does not want to get caught being "bad." He is sneaky, and does know right from wrong.)

Student Reflection

5 minutes

Now my students transition to the lounge and share their work and practice their speaking and listening skills.  In order to make the students successful and keep me from pulling my hair out, I have found that going over my expectations is extremely beneficial. I just remind the students to sit criss cross apple sauce pockets on the floor hands in their laps talking no more.  Look at the speaker, and think about how you might improve their work. This is a higher order thinking activity that I did have to model a lot, but now my students can analyze each other's work.  Please speak loud, with expression, and enunciate your words.

Then about three volunteers share their work and the other students begin a conversation after each child presents.  The classroom environment is built on continuous improvement and teamwork, and this helps my students learn to appreciate their peers ideas.


5 minutes

As the lesson winds down I need to know what the students have learned so I can plan future lessons.  In order to assess their knowledge I ask them to tell their peanut butter jelly partner one thing they learned and one thing they want to learn about illustrations. I am sure to keep the word "illustration" in my statement or they may tell me some really random things.

This is the time when I share that we will continue to learn about describing illustrations. Finally, the students restate the lesson goal, I can describe the characters, setting, and events.