I have been working with my students on analyzing characters...wondering...what kind of person is this character? We have been working on growing theories about a character and using this theory to predict future actions. What I have noticed over the past two weeks...my readers have precise words to describe their character but do not always pick the most specific piece of evidence to support their thinking in conversation. I find that they are always searching for support and often just pick the first piece of evidence that they find or say something general.
While I was talking to my readers, I would find that the students knew that the character was a particular kind of person but needed a bridge to the text. I decided to use the dictionary as that bridge. Each student told me a word that they thought of when I asked...what kind of person is this character? Then we looked up the definition in the dictionary. We talked about the definition and highlighted key words that we thought related to the story. Immediately, the readers were lead to looking for a "specific" part in the story that connected to the words we highlighted (In fact...they did it enthusiastically because the highlighted words lead them to a specific part!). After they found their evidence, we wrote our theory of why a character was acting a particular way. Using the definition and highlighting the key words in the definition supported the reader in finding a specific piece of evidence to support their theory. The dictionary was a quick way to scaffold thinking to move toward deeper understanding.
Here is some thinking from third graders while reading the classic tale of the Fox and the Gulls and from a fifth grader while reading, Riding the Flume: