Close Reading to Compare Characters

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SWBAT use text clues to determine the character traits of the main characters.

Big Idea

Your students will gain practice using close reading strategies to identify character traits.


Common Core Connection:

Close reading has been around for many years, however, with Common Core it is getting more attention as to what it is and how it is used to enhance student learning, comprehension, and fluency.  By slowing down and reading with a purpose, student attention is focused on not just the story, but why they are reading.

Lesson Overview:

After spending two days practicing close reading strategies to determine new word meanings, in today’s lesson my students used those strategies to compare the character traits of the three main characters in Fireflies for Nathan.


  • Houghton Mifflin Reading Theme 8: Our Earth, Fireflies for Nathan, by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim

(If you do not use this curriculum try: Treasure Hunt, by Allen Ahlberg) 

  • Character Compare Activity Sheet (The Florida Center for Reading Research,


5 minutes

As my students settled on the rug I began today’s lesson by reviewing the words that they learned the day before.  For example: I called on students who raised their hand quietly to tell the class what the word meant when I asked, ‘Who can tell me what a goldfinch is’? Or, ‘What is Queen Anne’s Lace’

When we finished reviewing all the words from yesterday’s lesson, I asked my students what we did differently to learn those new words.  As my students called out, some of the responses included: read the book again, read part of the book, and look at the picture - all answers I was looking for.  I reminded my students that I did not tell them the word meanings because I wanted them to learn the words by themselves. 

Today I told them they would re-read and look at the pictures again to determine the characteristics of Nathan compared to his grandparents.

Guided Practice

15 minutes

At this point I had my students stand up and take a stretch and walk to their chairs.  Once they were settled told them I knew they knew who the main characters are in this story, but did they know what type of person Nathan was, or the type of people the grandparents were?  Several children called out ‘nice’.  Yes, I agreed, but I wanted them to go further than ‘nice’.  As I gave them their instructions, which were to partner read the story to their partner, they were to think about what words that the author used to describe either Nathan or his grandparents and what those words meant.  I re-stated that they were to think about how the characters felt, not what they were doing.  In this type of lesson it is important to help students focus on what the characters are feeling rather than what they are doing. Then as students begin to notice the character is feeling happy, for example, you can explain that one of his traits, or way we would describe the character to our friend is: 'He is a happy person'.

I then had my students’ partner share what they were going do to, and called on a student to re-state the directions to the class.  Once satisfied my students understood their directions I had them stand up and find a partner they wanted to read and work with.  Many times when we partner read my students stay in their seats and read with their table partner; however, because they were going to also work with their partner to finish the collaborative activity, I wanted them to work with someone they wanted to work with.  I also have established a strong enough culture in my class where students don't get left out and everyone is able to find someone they are excited to work with.  When they choose their own partner they sit at the desk closest to the partner when they regroup.

As soon as they were sitting with their reading partner I again reminded them to pay attention to the characters’ feelings.  While my students read, I listened in on each partner pair to make sure they were reading, helping each other, and on the same page.  As students began to finish I had them quietly go back through the story to find pages that described the character’s feelings or traits.

Collaborative Activity

20 minutes

When all my students were finished reading I directed their attention to the Character Compare Activity Sheet displayed on the Promethean board.  One the one side I wrote the word ‘Nathan’ and ‘Grandparents’ on the other.  I then told them one partner would find words that described Nathan and the other partner would find words to describe the Grandparents.  When they had three or four words under their character they were to share with their partner to complete the other side.  To do this the one partner would re-read parts of the text that told about Nathan and the other would read the parts that told about the Grandparents.  But, I told them, they could not use the word ‘nice’.  To help them further think about the meanings of words and use the words they know I modeled by reading this passage: Nathan asks: What was my daddy like when he was little?  When I finished reading I instructed my students to think about what it means when someone asks questions.  I had to repeat the passage and prompt my students a couple of time, before they could tell me the answer I was looking for: curious.  I was a little afraid that this was going to be too difficult for them; however, once they heard the word curious, they all seemed to understand.  They needed to think about how the author was describing the character, without saying how the character was feeling. 

Before I passed out their activity sheets I reminded them they were to only read about Nathan or the Grandparents, then share with their partners to complete both sides.  As they got started I made sure each group was working. (The video: Using the Text to Describe Characteristics, is an example of two students working together)  I then pulled my Green Reading group to work with me.  Although these students partner read to each other, they were the ones who were still fixated on ‘nice’ as a word to describe Nathan’s character and/or, still trying to describe what Nathan was doing rather than how he was feeling.  By requiring only two examples for each character and directly asking: what do you think it means, or have you ever (did what Nathan was doing in the story), these students were able to complete the assignment.  The student from the Green Reading group in the video, Describing Nathan, made a strong argument that being six years old is a trait because not all people are six at one time. 

When my students were finished working I called their attention to the Promethean board and used the magic cup to call on partner pairs to share with the class some of the characteristics that described Nathan and his grandparents.  The picture in this section, Student Work, shows the completed list.

Independent Practice

15 minutes

When we finished this activity we moved into our Independent Practice rotation block where my students rotate through different reading activities every 15 to 20 minutes.  One of these rotation activities is journal writing, where my students put into words what they just did in the collaborative group.  Today they wrote a comparison of Nathan and his grandparents based on the character traits they read about. 

Journal Writing is very telling where your students are at, or what they learned.  For example in the video 'Remembering to Add Page Numbers', the student added page numbers to cite evidence in his journal writing.  As noted in my reflection, including the page numbers was one element of the lesson I forgot.  Where as the student in the video 'Describing the Characters' Characteristics' remembered to start with a writing hook and to compare both Nathan and the grandparents, including adding something that they both liked. 

Ticket Out the Door

5 minutes

For a sticker my students need to tell me one characteristic both Nathan and his Grandparents shared.