Describe how characters cause change over the course of a text (Inclusive Big Idea #3)

What are students learning?

Reading Literature

Grade 3: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #3: Describe how characters cause change over the course of a text

Standard: Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events. RL.3.3

How could I teach this?

Think about how instructional strategies and activities can give students multiple ways to engage with learning. One way won’t work for all, so how can you remove and reduce barriers for all students?

  • Anchor Text: Use an anchor text such as Because of Winn-Dixie by Katie DiCamillo. As the students read, encourage them to record details from the story to describe the main character, Opal, and how she impacts the story. Learn more about accessing grade-level text in this TIP Sheet.
  • Character Maps:
    • Characters in stories are developed in four different ways:
      • description of their physical appearance
      • description of their actions
      • dialogue
      • inner monologue
    • Using a graphic organizer, students can use character maps to develop their thinking about how the character’s actions contributed to events in the story. Students could represent the character in different ways, such as drawing a picture of a character in the middle of a web, and having events from the story listed. Then, students can visibly see and make connections about how the character’s actions contributed to events. Students could use the whiteboard, or have your students create their own character maps in personal notebooks or by using digital tools. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • Grand Conversations: To delve deeper into various story characters and their actions, conduct a grand conversation with your class. Sitting in a circle, or sitting within a small group, pose questions and record the answers so students can access the main ideas from the discussion. Questions may include:
    • Who was the main character in the story?
    • What did the main character look like?
    • What did this character do throughout the story?
    • What kinds of things did the character say to other characters in the story?
  • Character Sorts: Make a sort that lists character names and character traits. After students have added ideas to the sort, match the character trait. Students could select different characters from the story, work in partners or independently, and record their thinking in different ways.
  • Character Timelines: Ask students to create a timeline of events that align with the characters by drawing a line down the middle of the paper. Then, students should plot out (through writing or drawing) different events that involved the character as it unfolded. For each drawing of the event, the student should note how the character changed (words, thoughts, feelings, actions) throughout the story.
  • Story Map: During or after reading or listening to different media, students can write or draw out the major events of the story. This could be a linear timeline with pictures and/or text, or integrate pictures and text into something resembling a comic strip. Digital tools or media can be used.
  • Story Organizer: Students can fill in a graphic organizer or plot diagram that captures the main events of the story. One popular example is the story hamburger where students are asked to pull in different events or elements just as they would build a hamburger (e.g., the bun will include the title and author, the first event would be the hamburger patty). Connect the character’s actions to the events. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.

Don’t stop here! Remember to reduce barriers for all students.

Make reducing barriers a process - take a few minutes to think about your process! Is there a barrier related to:

  • interest or engagement? Think about how to incorporate student’s lived experiences, culture, and interests… 
  • background knowledge? Think about how to highlight key ideas and define key vocabulary… 
  • showing what they know? Think about having options for how they use learning tools and technology to communicate…

For example, one possible barrier is the amount of information that the lesson requires a student to hold in mind.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • provide pictures or tactiles to represent the characters and match them to traits, motivations, or feelings
  • model using AAC, how character actions contribute to the sequence of events
  • provide visuals that show cause and effect of the character’s actions

Use these Inclusive Strategies to help reduce barriers.

Tell me more about this Inclusive Big Idea (I need a refresher)

Brush up on the content of this Inclusive Big Idea. It will help you and your colleagues to understand and teach this content better.

  • What Are “Story Elements”?
    • Story elements, sometimes called story grammar, are the parts of a story. These elements develop the story in a logical way to enable readers to easily follow the text. In this big idea, focus on character, setting, and main events. Model for students how to analyze relationships and use key details.
    • Some Story Elements:
      • characters- the individuals in the story
      • setting- the location and time period where the story takes place
      • plot- what happens in the story; has a clear beginning, middle, and end
      • problem/conflict- the incident that sets the story in motion
      • solution/resolution- how the character(s) solved/fixed the problem or conflict
  • What Is a “Plot Diagram”?
    • A plot diagram in literature is basically a map of the book or story. It includes a beginning, middle, and ending for simpler stories. More complex stories for advanced readers will include the introduction, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement (final outcome) as represented in Freytag’s Pyramid. The most common graphic organizer used to analyze the plot of a text looks like this:
Line diagram with a upward sloped diagonal line that connects to a falling vertical line. Along the rising line are Exposition/Beginning, Rising Action, and Climax. Then Falling Action and Resolution fall down.


Looking for more suggestions?  Target student common misconceptions, build on interdisciplinary links, and implement strategies and supports across multiple lessons or units.

Go beyond the specific standard! These examples can spark ideas to generalize related skills from the content to real-world experiences for all students.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Story Elements: Students often miss aspects of story elements when summarizing a text. In addition, some texts are considered “inconsiderate” texts and do not provide enough to allow students to fully understand all story elements, so they must fill in the gaps with prior experiences and personal preferences, leading to problems with comprehension. Students may lack the knowledge there can be multiple plots, settings, and characters affecting the story to varying degrees.
  • Setting: Setting can include real or fictional places, as well as time periods (e.g., historical fiction).
  • Reader Response: Some students may believe there is only one way to interpret a text. Students need to consider how their prior knowledge and perspective influence their understanding of a story.
  • Writing: Develop a narrative structure for an imaginative story using the same plot diagram graphic organizer to have a sequence of events that character’s can influence in different ways. This can engage students in “what if the character had…” discussions to see how the plot would change based on the character’s actions.

Everyday Connections

  • On the Playground: Invite students to reflect on a time their actions contributed to a sequence of events. It could be a hypothetical event in the cafeteria or playground, or other real-life event they come up with. Have them imagine “what if I had” and ask them to brainstorm what might have happened if they had taken a different action. They can see how their actions (or a friend’s actions) contribute to the events.

Explore other Inclusive Big Ideas to think about the content you are teaching. How can you connect what you are teaching now to what has been taught before or what will be taught in the future?

Other TIES resources:

Inclusive Big Ideas: Standards-based resources for inclusive classrooms | TIES Center

The Inclusive Big Ideas were adapted from resources created by the NCSC Project , a federal grant from the US Department of Education (PR/Award #: H373X100002), However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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