Characters Change! - Looking at Pictures

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SWBAT describe characters in a story as they respond to major events and challenges and analyze how they develop and interact from the beginning to the end of the text.

Big Idea

Characters develop in a familiar story - let's show how they change!



  • 'Characters Change' powerpoint -see resources in 'Teacher's Turn (It might be worth printing out the pictures.  My kids wanted to see the pictures when they illustrated and it was hard to go back and forth between the slides)
  • character template 
  • 'Characters Change' worksheet
  • 'Story Elements' headers (cut apart)
  • 11x13 paper to mount worksheet and character (optional)
  • set up your whiteboard/chart to look like the worksheet (for modeling)-see reflection for changes in headings for that chart
  • Lesson vocabulary words from the Reading/Writing word wall: beginning, middle, end, characters, setting, problem, solution, action or events

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words.


Bring students to a common starting point

  • "Today we are going to talk more about characters.  We know that characters are introduced in the beginning of the story. In the middle of the story, they have a problem.  By the end of the story, there is usually a solution and many times, the character has changed. The characters change over the course of the story."
  • "Let's look at some characters that change over the course of a text (or during the text)."  (Show 'Characters Change' powerpoint pictures and identify characters)
  • "We'll be looking at physical changes that we can see, but also how the characters change in feelings, thoughts, and challenges that they face." 

My perspective is that it’s engaging to introduce this idea using familiar movie/cartoon characters because the kids should start from the known and bridge to the unknown. I chose characters from these movies/books because they really change over the course of a story, in feelings, appearance, and other ways. I want to teach this first lesson with pictures only and get the kids used to thinking about character traits and how they are evidence in the illustration. In the next lesson, Characters Change - Read to Find Out How, I'll use the same activity but we'll look at short stories, instead of just pictures.

The Teacher Takes A Turn

20 minutes

Explain the lesson ideas

  • "We have talked about the elements of a story.  Let's review really quickly what they are."  (Put the 'story element' headers on the board as you mention them.) 
    • characters - people and animals in the story
    • setting - where and when the story happens
    • events/action - what happens in the story
    • problem - what happens to the characters in the story
    • solution - how the characters are changed in the story.


I introduced these literature elements in several previous lessons. If your students need more opportunity to practice identify story elements, here links to those early 'literature text features' lessons: Who's In the Book and What Are They Doing?,  When, Where, and What's the Problem, and Who Done it - Let's Play Clue and Ask Questions?


  • "Today we are talking about characters.  Let's think about how the characters on the powerpoint were different at the end of the story than at the beginning. 
    • How did they change?" Take ideas.   
    • "In the beginning, characters have traits. They change in the story when they are faced with a problem in the middle of the story.  By the end of the story there is a solution and the character traits are different." 
    • "You can compare and contrast the character before and after the problem. That means that we look at how she/he is different and how she is the same."
  • "Character traits help us contrast the description of characters from the beginning to the end of the story. Here are some ideas of different traits that characters might have... tell me what these words mean to you" (slide 7) take ideas
    • description - what the character looks like  - big, short, thin, clothing, hair
    • feelings - how does the character feel in the beginning - scared, happy, alone....
    • thoughts - what is he/she thinking - they want a friend, they are not brave
    • challenges - what is hard for the character to do, what does the character need to do


Model the skill

  • "Let's take a look at Cinderella (slide 8) and compare and contrast how she changed in the story." 
  • Refer to the chart on the whiteboard.
    • "I'll think about how her description changed ... here eyes are blue in both pictures - I won't write that.  Yes, her clothes looked boring and later she looked like a princess. her hair was down at the beginning and she had no gloves or makeup. At the end, she had beautiful clothes, long gloves, and mascara and eye shadow."
    • "Her feelings changed too. She liked animals, but that trait did not change. She was tired and frustrated at the beginning, but happy, felt wonderful and nice to her sisters at the end."


Guided Practice

  • "Help me with the other parts of her description."
    • "What are her thoughts?" (my kids' ideas... at the beginning she feels she can't do it all and wants to go to the dance. By the end, she broke her slipper, forgot the time, lost her shoe and wanted to marry the prince)
    • "What are her challenges? What is hard for her that will be easy at end? - her problem (my kids' ideas... there's a mean cat and sisters, no dress or coach for the dance at the beginning, and at the end, she has to be home by 12:00, her shoe fell off and broke)
  • "This character really changed! In the beginning, she was very different, but then there was a problem and she changed in the middle of the story.  By the end of the story when there was a solution and her character traits were different!" 
  • Here's what my chart looked like at the end of the session.


Explain the craft

  • "Now I'll illustrate the character to show that she changed.  If I can illustrate the character, it shows that I understand the difference in the traits from the beginning to the end of the story.”
  • “Fold this paper in 1/2 and cut on the black lines and then unfold it.   On the left is the character at the beginning and the character at the end is on the right. In the beginning, how did she look, how was her hair, makeup?  What about the end?"  (I would suggest using crayons so the kids have a face color) 
  • Here's an example of my Cinderella characters.

Students' Turn

20 minutes

Explain the task

  • "Now it's your turn to describe a character at the beginning and end of a text."
  • "Think about those character traits that will change at the end of the text because of the problem or challenges the character faced that changed them."
  • "When you're done, you'll have a chance to illustrate your characters."
  • "Pick a character from the powerpoint or you can select a character that you want, but you must ask me first. Fill out the worksheet first and let me know when you're done."


As students examine the changes in the character over the course of the text (RL.2.3) and how the story structure affects these changes (RL.2.5), they are learning how to interact with text, a new focus with the Common Core Standards.  'Close readers' are those that examine character traits and changes as they read. This is not an innate skill - we need to model and give students practice with this character analysis. When students are able to use this analysis independently, they are deepening their comprehension, understanding how the author sets up the story and looking at character changes to better see how the story elements interact.


Monitor students' work

  • Follow up with students who need prompting. 
  • You may want to accept ideas about other characters, although not all characters work with this activity.  One of my students suggested the 'Gingerbread Man' but I told her that she could not describe much about a cookie that was eaten at the end of the story. :)
  • This is what 2 worksheets looked like: student worksheet 1 and student worksheet 2.

Apply What You've Learned!

10 minutes

Explain the activity

  • "I will give you a few minutes to illustrate the before/after of your character. I am passing out the paper and I'll show you how to fold it.  Then you'll cut on the lines, but don't cut on the side"  (reference the side of the fold.  I would do this as a class and have extra copies)
  • Now that you have 2 characters, you can illustrate the character traits.  On the left you should draw the character at the beginning of the story. Then on the right, draw the character that changed over the course of the story. "
  • "You'll have 10 minutes to do this and then we'll take turns sharing."


Discuss the ideas

  • (Optional) Now glue them on the big paper like this.”  Here are 2 examples: student worksheet and characters 1 and student worksheet and characters 2.
  • “Who would like to share their character?  I want to know who it is and how they changed from the beginning to the end of the story.  Do you think they faced their challenges and became a better character?"
  • Take turns, continuing to use the words "over the course of the text", "character traits"... all the words that we've emphasized.
  • "You have done a GREAT job identifying the traits of the characters in the story.  You've been able to identify how they changed from the beginning to the end of the story, related to the problem and solution. These characters faced challenges and developed or changed."
  • "Our next step is to take what we've done today to the next level.  We'll be reading a story about a new character and doing the same activity - identifying the traits and how that character changes over the course of the text based on what we read, instead of what we've see in a movie.  I think you're ready for the challenge!!"


Ideas for Scaffolding and Special Education - This lesson can be scaffolded up and down, depending on the level of your students.

With one of my special education students, we had to take time to review the story that he chose, because he was not able to clearly verbalize all of the events.  Once we talked about what happened in the story, he did well with ideas.  Several students needed some prompting with ideas, which could be addressed by writing clues on their slates on the desks.

For students with stronger academic skills, they could really be challenged with this lesson!  There is opportunity for higher level vocabulary (excited vs happy, crabby vs mad), more inferences that really explain their ideas (not just 'she wanted to dance' but 'she wished she could have more treasure).  By challenging these students to go deeper and make more inferences with higher level vocabulary, you are truly individualizing.