Hi friends! This blog is for teachers and families- all for the sheer joy of literacy. When we are enthusiastic about reading and writing our students and our own kids become excited to read and write. I hope that we all can be models for those in our care- how did you show your passion for reading, writing, learning, language, or words today?? It's in those small, daily moments that we teach kids to love literacy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Teaching Tipsters: Character Bag Reading Comprehension Activity

Wow, I've been away a while! We're starting school Tuesday, and our staff has been busy with professional development (and retreating together up in Sonoma!). So without further ado...

As I mentioned a couple times before, I worked with a couple of my low readers this summer. It was all very low key, with the main goal being boosting their motivation to read. I made sure to include a lot of hands-on projects in our sessions to make reading come alive for them.

The first project that they did was creating a Character Bag. I first learned about this comprehension activity when I was in grad school. I used it several times with my middle school students, and they really enjoyed it (I really enjoyed seeing all the final products too!). Most importantly, it helped them to better comprehend the book in general, along with their character's role in the book.
My students made their
bag after reading this book

When to use the Character Bag comprehension activity: I tend to have students do this project at the end of reading a narrative book, but you could begin the project during the reading. I would use this activity from 2nd+, however 2nd and 3rd graders would need it modeled extensively before being able to do this project independently. You also know what your kids can handle, so use your discretion. This project is fairly small scale and can also substitute as a book report.

How does this activity support students learning?
This activity builds students comprehension of a text. As they create the bag they will synthesize what the know about a given character.

How to have students make a Character Bag: Provide the students with a small paper bag. Assign the students a character for the bag, or have the students choose a character from the book to work with.

On the outside of the bag: Have the students cover the outside of the bag with quotes, symbols, or artwork that best represent the character (glitter always makes it more fun!). Students will need guidance or direct instruction on how to choose meaningful quotes. If your students are not familiar with symbols and symbolism, you'll have to do some teaching around this as well. See images below:

On the inside of the bag: This is where the student will place objects they find or make objects to best represent the character. Have the students think about these questions: What  is meaningful to this character? What objects play an important role in the story and why? What objects could represent the main ideas, themes, or problems that this character encounters in the story? 
Inside of my students' Arthur bag we have: a yellow flower for friendship, and plate of heart cookies, an apology letter, a snowball, a glove and a mitten, and pencils. 
Troubleshooting and Extensions:
This project did not mesh perfectly with the Arthur book. It is a lower level book, so it doesn't have the best quotations or a lot of opportunity to explore symbolism. But I feel that my students did well with the material that they had. And if they did it again, I know they would be more successful. In the future, I would make sure the students had a book that had rich text that could represent the characters well. For these type of projects, having a model helps students to cast a vision for their own project better. I would do a model with the students a whole group next time, and then ask them to do their own bag independently or with a partner after they helped to create the sample. I also like the idea of having the students create the bag without revealing the character's name, and in the end others have to guess the character.  

After students create their bag it's essential that they present the outside and the inside, explaining and rationalizing the relevance of the symbols, quotes, and objects.

More about the source:
Comprehension is the final goal of reading, but because it involves several cognitive processes, it remains the most difficult facet of reading development to teach. Based on the recommendations of the National Reading Panel Report, 60 Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension in Grades K-8 provides teachers with a ready-to-use toolkit of tried-and-true learning strategies designed to actively engage students in cognitive processes, including predicting, visualizing, making inferences, monitoring, synthesizing, and summarizing. Developed as specific instructional procedures with clearly delineated steps for implementation, these entertaining activities are effective in all types of classrooms. 

Literary expert Kathleen Feeney Jonson has created an exciting resource to help educators teach the most difficult piece of the reading process: comprehension. Offering a rare combination of fun and function, these strategies are sure to get students to listen, laugh, and most important, to learn.

For a complete table of contents of the activities in this book go hereOr to preview most of the comprehension activities in this book go here.

Similar Lesson Concepts:
Mystery Character in a Bag from Education World

Be Well Read On!

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