Understanding Characters Through Shades of Meaning

 Teach shades of meaning to help students better understand characters.

When reading with students, I often ask them to describe how the character is feeling in the story.  I typically get the same one-word responses: good, happy, sad, mad, etc... Of course, I prompt further to help them dig deeper into the text, but it can be frustrating when students don't have the necessary vocabulary to describe precisely how the character is feeling.  This can also hinder their ability to fully understand the character's actions or how they contribute to the events in the story.

Students need to understand that different intensities of feelings influence what a character says and does, or how a character reacts.  For example, a character who is uneasy about something will act differently than someone who is frantic, thus setting in motion different events.  When analyzing characters, students have to learn to 'read' the character to determine how they are feeling in order to understand their actions or the events that unfold.  

Shades of meaning play a huge role in students understanding of the text. Having the ability to discern between someone who is enraged versus someone who is upset is key.  Students need to pay attention to details in the text to consider the character's situation.  This can be a difficult concept to teach when students lack the vocabulary or understanding of the degrees of feelings a character can experience.  

Teaching Shades of Meaning

To take on this challenge, I developed a few activities to help my students learn essential feeling vocabulary.  Rather than providing my students with a set of related feeling words in isolation, I created various sentences in which the feeling words were used.  I directed my students' focus on reading the sentences for the purpose of analyzing the situations first. Students highlighted or underlined the situations in each sentence. Then they conferred with a partner about which levels of intensity the feelings were being experienced in each sentence as they compared and ordered them from low to high degrees based on these situations.

Once students had some experience with the vocabulary used in this activity, I posted chart paper around the room with a feeling word on each poster. Students were then divided into small groups. Each group was assigned a poster to chart situations in which they thought someone might experience that feeling.  Once the given time was up, they rotated to the next feeling poster to see what the group(s) before them had written and then added to that list.  After the groups had carouseled around the room to each poster, the groups revisited the first poster they were assigned, reviewed what the other groups had added, discussed whether they agreed or disagreed with each of the situations on the list (using checkmarks and x's), and then shared out their poster with the class.  This activity really engaged them in some great conversations and sometimes debates.

Another activity that really helped solidify their understanding of feeling vocabulary and their different intensities was a word association sort. Students were partnered up and given sets of words with a feeling card. Their task was to read each word and decided if the word was associated with the intensity level of that feeling.  This was a simple activity that took little prep time.  I used a word card template to write a feeling on one card and various words that would or would not describe someone who is experiencing this feeling.  Students had to consider each word and discuss why it was or was not associated with the feeling.  This really gave students practice with clues they might see in a text that might help them infer how a character is feeling and to what degree.
Shades of Meaning
Implementing these simple activities have assisted my students' success, not only with shades of meaning, but how it applies to a better understanding of the characters and plot of the stories they read.

If you have any activities or strategies to share regarding teaching shades of meaning or feeling vocabulary, please share in the comment area below. I've added a sampler of a word association sort for you to download and use in your own classroom. It includes two sets of sorts (panicked and uneasy). You can use the sort with or without the emoji icons.  There is also a blank template for you to create your own sort.  Just click here for this download.  Hope your kiddos find it engaging as well. For more activities to teach shades of meaning with feelings, visit my Intensities of Feelings resource or click on the resource cover at the beginning of this article.   Happy teaching!


Favorite Freebies

I’ve been humming this tune as I put my classroom back together after a restful (but HOT!) summer.  I know it’s a song we hear in December, but I can’t help but love the resources I have found on TeachersPayTeachers.  When I search this site, I find myself being inspired by the many incredible gems offered by such creative teacher-authors.  And to top it all off, many of these finds are free!  Here are just a few of my favorite freebies that helped decorate, organize, and assist with the functionality of my classroom.

Bulletin Board Helpers…

Genre Posters
I refer to different genre throughout the year as I introduce new stories.  Michelle McElhinny created this wonderful freebie, Genre Posters, which includes a wide variety of mini-posters that describe each type of genre.  This display only includes the genre I teach in 3rd grade.  However, there are more posters in this generous freebie than what is seen in this picture.  You can check out this resource and download by clicking the link above!

 Free CAFE Header
I’m loving my CAFÉ and VOICES bulletin boards.  Casey of Bright Ideas in Third Grade made my day when I came across her Daily 5 Letters Combo Pack, Color Block CAFE Headers, Writing VOICES Letters Combo Pack, & Writing VOICES headers.  The colors she uses in these resources go well with my chalkboard décor and can brighten up any room.  Her headers include general “I can…” statements to remind students the importance of each component in CAFÉ and VOICES.  Note: The cute Hot Mugs graphics were designed by Sarah Pecorino Illustrations.  They were so fitting for this board, I couldn't resist buying this clip art.

 Free CAFE Strategy Cards

To top it off, Down Under Teacher has made my life a lot easier with these CAFÉ Strategy Cards for comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanded vocabulary.  I printed, laminated, and sorted the strategies so that I will have easy access to them throughout the year as I introduce these strategies.  As you can see, they are clipped together, placed into their pockets, and are ready to go.


Getting Organized…

 Free Supply Labels
I love the idea of clearing off my desk and putting supplies where they’re easily accessible.  Jana Guerra We Heart 1st has this fabulous freebie for getting teachers organized.  What’s more, these Chalk and Arrows labels are editable!  These pockets hang above my desk, leaving more surface space for other important things.  These can be easily used to organize student supplies as well.

Classroom Management…

 Free Pencil Management System
As teachers, we all have our own classroom nightmares.  For most of us, the management of student pencils is one of them: the student without one, but had one a minute ago or the whirring of the pencil sharpener during the most inopportune times.  The Wise Owl has answered teachers’ prayers with her Winning the Pencil War resource!  This incentive system is a win-win for both teachers and students.  Teachers don’t have to hear the pencil sharpener during the instructional day, and students are motivated to keep track of their pencils. 

 Free "Caught Being Good" Behavior Tickets
We all know having a great positive behavior system in place before school starts, is crucial.  We want to give students specific praise for the good habits we are trying to instill in them.  Christy Howe has designed a resource, I Was Caught Being… Good!, that includes 12 different certificates for positive behaviors.  In this resource, she shares the way she implements this reward system in her classroom, from creating a “Character Counts” bulletin board to sharing with family and friends.  These awards are editable as well, which means you can choose the specific behaviors whether they are academic, personal, or social and create awards to fit your students’ needs.

Back to School…

 Free Back-to-School Parent SurveyMeet and greet at the beginning of the year is a great time for parents to get to know you as a teacher.  It’s just as important for us to get to know our students and families.  I have gleaned a lot of information from using my Back to School Parent Survey.  It’s a great questionnaire to put on students’ desks when parents come to Back to School Night.  This survey allows parents to share a little bit about their child and give some insight to things of which you may need to be aware, without pulling you aside for a deeper conversation in a room full people.  This has been a lifesaver because it allows me the freedom to spend equal time meeting and greeting all families, parents feel they have an opportunity to express what they want me to know, and the information is on the completed surveys so I can refer to them at any time.   

 Free "All About Me" Pennant Banner
On the morning of the first day of school, kids stroll in at different times.  Some are very early and some might have found their way in after the bell.  I always like to have something on students’ desks that require little direction from me and that will keep them busy as parents come in and introduce themselves (if they’ve missed the meet and greet).  This All About Me Pennant Banner by KimMiller is a perfect activity to get students settled that first morning.  It is also a perfect ice-breaker for students when they pair and share once they are done.

There are so many great freebies on TpT that can make this your best year ever!  What’s one of your great finds?  Please share links to any awesome gems in the comment area below that have beautified, organized, or helped you manage your classroom better.  We all love a great resource!  You can also find other great resources on social media using the hashtag #bestyearever.  
Clip art for heading by Sarah Pecorino Illustrations and Digital Designs & Art.

Data Driven Instruction, Purpose Driven Learning

Student goal setting, tracking and managment
As teachers, student data is the center of many of our conversations, but how much time does it get within our conversations with our students?  We rely on data and our observations to guide our instruction and move our students in the right direction, but our efforts can be futile if we don’t have those one-to-one discussions with our students about their attitudes and perceptions about reading and what they can do specifically to help themselves grow as readers.  Our data driven instruction needs to translate into purpose driven learning for our students.  Therefore, we need to facilitate those individual conferences where the focus is on sharing with students what they are doing well and what needs their attention.  

No matter what data we use or observational notes we take, we can always break it down into a student language they can understand.   When I conference with my third graders, the first thing we talk about is how assessments are a way of showing what they know.  I want my students to understand they are not their test scores, and that I gather information about them as readers in many different ways.  I think it is crucial students have the mindset that while tests are important, it’s what they do every day that is just as important.  This leads to looking at strategies they can use to help them become better readers.

Student Data Binder Resources

I’ve created a reading goal chart to guide individual conferences with my students.  It includes accuracy, fluency, and comprehension strategies, as well as good reading habits.  Using my teacher notes and data (STAR Reading, Accelerated Reading Student Records, Discovery PAS, common assessments, etc.), I am able to point out students’ strengths and areas of needed focus.  Through these conversations, students identify tangible strategies they can practice on a daily basis.  More importantly, we talk about why and how these strategies help them become stronger readers.  To download your free copy, click here.   

There are so many things we want our students to be able to do, but narrowing it down to a few strategies (as goals) makes it manageable for them, and they can begin to see the purpose in each.  Students can work toward successfully using these strategies until it’s time to revisit their progress and set new goals. 

This goal setting chart is an example of a student who is a fluent reader.  As you can see, I’ve starred some strategies I’ve observed as her strengths.  During our conference, I explained to her why I think they are her strengths by giving her some examples I had observed about her in my notes.  It’s important that she understands what these strengths look like and how they help her because my hopes are that she will recognize and continue to use these strategies while working on other goals. 

Afterwards, I pointed out some things that might help her grow as a reader and gave her some examples from her data and my notes as to why I think that.  As you can see, she circled “Pick ‘good fit’ books” because after we reviewed the list of books she had read, she realized she frequently chose chapter books that were ‘easier’ for her.  When I asked her why she did this, her answer was one I hear many times, she was worried she would forget what she read from chapter to chapter in the ‘longer’ books.  I can glean a lot of information from my students by simply asking “Why do you think that?”  It helps me understand their attitudes and perceptions, and I can often dispel some misconceptions they might have about themselves or reading in general.

Click here to download this reading reflection.
Student Data Binder for Reading and Math
We talked about how stepping it up and venturing from Magic Tree House books to other types of chapter books of interest might help her comprehension and stamina.  As you can see, she already thought about trying Judy Moody books and wrote it down to remind herself.  During our conversation, she made a connection between how recounting the text can help her with trying more challenging chapter books.  Her plan was to recount each chapter before moving on to the next to help her remember what she read.  We also had a conversation about managing her pacing through chapter books like this.

As I said before, this conference was with a more fluent reader.  Many of my conferences at the beginning of the year sound much different if accuracy is a great need.  A student might have two ‘accuracy’ strategies circled and maybe one ‘comprehension’ strategy because these are their immediate needs at the time.  The beauty of using this chart is that it is ongoing and can be revisited time and again, it’s in student language they can understand, and they can keep them in their data binders for reference and for reflection as they continue to move forward. 

As the year progresses, it’s important to intentionally revisit, with each student, their individual progress and next steps to continue their growth.  Students should always be able to express what strategies they are practicing and why they help them as readers, so they value the purpose of using those strategies and understand the role they play in strengthening them as readers. 
Student Data Tracking Binder

Student Data Tracking Binder

There are many other great tools in my data binder resource that range from monitoring assessment progress/growth, keeping track of fluency, as well as motivating students with the use of superhero trading cards that represent their collection of achievements and progress. Click on the resource cover above for more details.  Happy Teaching!

Teaching Point of View

teaching point of view & perspective using mentor text
When we think about point of view, we immediately think of 1st person or 3rd person.  But this is only the beginning of the journey for our students.  Standard RL.6 can be a difficult standard to teach.  In second grade, students are expected to use different voices for the different characters in a text.  At a glance, this doesn’t seem very difficult, but when we take a closer look, it involves a lot more. 

This standard requires students to analyze the character before determining how their voice should be read.  What is the character like (traits)?  What is the character feeling?  How would the character say something in response to an event or another character’s actions or words?  How should one character’s voice be different than that of another's?  That’s a lot to consider for a second grader, and a lot to consider as a third grade teacher when bridging standards from one grade level to another. 

Since understanding point of view is dependent on students’ analysis of the character’s traits, feelings, motives, and responses to other characters or the events that take place, naturally it would make sense to incorporate Literature Standard .3 when teaching point of view.  This is where we have opportunities not only to bridge grade level expectations, but to weave together other standards in our approach.  With the right text and guidance, we can make use of every opportunity to engage students in bridging their understanding of these standards as they go deeper with the text.  The following are a couple of approaches I have found conducive to successfully doing this, including how to select the perfect read aloud that lends itself to teaching POV.

Using Narrative Poems 

Using a narrative poem like Shel Silverstein’s Crocodile’s Toothache is a perfect example.  It has a topic with which most students can relate: going to the dentist or having a toothache.  It has a speaker that tells the story, and it has a lot of dialogue and action between two very animated characters: the evil dentist who has no consideration for the crocodile’s feelings and the crocodile who is in agony and at the mercy of the evil dentist. 

strategies, tips, resources for teaching point of view and perspective
This is my copy of the poem as I modeled for students how to highlight the characters' dialogue in different colors.  I also modeled how to change voices from one character to the other with respect to the characters' traits, feelings, and attitudes.  We also looked at using punctuation, repetition of words, and onomatopoeia to express the speaker's voice in telling this narrative.

It’s humorous. It’s of high interest to students.  It’s easy to analyze the characters' traits, feelings, and motives by what they say or do.  More importantly, students can take it to the next level by making connections with the crocodile's situation and making inferences about the characters’ points of view regarding the value of teeth (the dentist plucks away at them as if they don't matter, while the crocodile cherishes them for obvious crocodile reasons).  With this understanding, students can also determine their own point of view based on their own experiences and feelings about their teeth or visits to the dentist.

I can’t express how much I value the use of narrative poetry to organically weave together these learning targets so seamlessly.  
  • Students can begin by using character maps to analyze characters to determine their traits and feelings.
  • They can use these inferences about their traits and feelings to interpret the voices and expressions they will use while reading the characters’ dialogue.
  • They can also interpret the speaker’s voice/expression by paying close attention to repetitive words, onomatopoeia or punctuation. 
  • Students can consider the characters’ traits, feelings, motives and responses to a situation to help them determine the characters’ point of view or perspective about the situation.
  • They can make text-to-self connections with the crocodile and his predicament to determine their own point of view. 
Try it out in your classroom.  Click here for my free resource that goes with this poem. 
activities for teaching point of view and perspective, free download, poems

The Relatable Read Aloud

Another approach I use to introduce point of view to my third graders is the relatable read aloud.  When we offer our students stories that are fun, of high interest, or are about a topic with which they can easily relate, students get it.  In third grade, students not only have to determine a character’s or narrator’s point of view, they have to ask themselves whether they agree or disagree with either of these perspectives.  This means they have to evaluate the point of view of the character or narrator based on their own experiences, beliefs, values, feelings, or attitudes about the topic or situation presented in the story.  This brings RL.6 to a higher level of thinking, especially since we expect students to justify why

Teaching Point of View & PerspectiveWhen students can naturally connect with a text because they can easily relate to the topic or story situation, or they can make connections with the character's experience in the story, it makes this expectation much more tangible for them.  If we begin with these types of texts, students are better equipped to express their perspective and why they agree or disagree with the character's or narrator's point of view based on their own experiences, beliefs, values, feeling, or attitudes.

For a copy of these freebie activities to use in your classroom, click here.  These samples are part of my POV resource that is jam-packed with over thirty rigorous and engaging activities intentionally designed to teach point of view using five fun mentor texts specifically selected to explore this topic.

Teaching Point of View & Perspective

Some read aloud recommendations that are ideal for introducing point of view and assisting students' success with these expectations are:
The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt
I Wanna Iguana, by Karen Kaufman Orloff
Hey, Little Ant, by Phillip & Hannah Hoose
The Ant Bully, by Jouhn Nickel
Three Hens and a Peacock, by Lester L. Laminack 

Below are a few things to consider when seeking out other story titles that could work just as well.

Teaching Point of View & Perspective
For engaging, no-prep activities to teach point of view and perspective, please visit my store for this resources.  
Over 35 Fun POV Activities!