Saturday, March 26, 2011

Learning about characters

This will be one of many posts dedicated to my FAVORITE children's author, Mo Willems.  I think he's a literary genius.  It's the best feeling in the world when you watch children silently read, and they can't help themselves, they need to act out the Pigeon's antics in their seat or whisper, "Aggle, plaggle!" like Trixie.   I have witnessed boys transform from disinterested to avid readers because of Mo Willems' books.  While I read a plethora of books to my students and expose them to as many wonderful authors as possible, I know that I can depend on his literature to hold a captive audience for my mini lesson.

Courtesy of

So Columbia Teacher's College has a couple of units of study on characters throughout the school year in first grade.  When developing mini lessons, I want to use a familiar text so we don't spend time reading the book or comprehending it, but we practice the strategy.  This is where Mo Willems enters the picture:  throughout the year, whenever I have five minutes to spare, I read one of his books for a fun read aloud.  You wouldn't believe how quickly the class settles down when I announce, "I just bought the latest Elephant and Piggie book!"  Even better, sometimes during the read aloud I give one of my friends a stuffed character to hold:

Courtesy of

Oops...I digress!  When it's time to teach these mini lessons, they children are quite familiar with the story lines and eager to try the strategies during the active engagement part of the mini lesson.  Some mini lessons that I might cover during the unit of study: 
  • Good readers notice the outside part of the character.
  • Good readers notice what the characters says.
  • Good readers notice what the character does. 
  • Good readers notice how the character feels.
  • Good readers notice how the character changes from the beginning to the end of a book.
  • Good readers make connections to their characters. 
Usually I'll model the strategy with one Mo Willems book (Kevin Henkes is also pretty awesome and well-loved in our class), and then we'll practice with another.  When my little angels have to turn and talk, they ALL have something to say!  Of course we keep track of our character strategies on our anchor chart:

Growing Readers by Kathy Collins has some awesome ways to celebrate the end of unit of study, including coming in dressed as your favorite character, and presenting to the class.  I haven't had the chance to plan for this kind of celebration, but it's on my to-do list for the future.

Pigeon Presents is a great teacher and student resource for teacher units, activities, games, and coloring pages. Happy Birthday Author has an awesome post dedicated to Mo Willems, with a comprehensive list of references at the end.

Let me know which author is your secret weapon...


  1. Mo Willems is my favorite kids author, too. I took my boys (my real-life own personal children!)to hear him read Knuffle Bunny Free on the first stop of his tour last fall. Wow. I felt like a groupie! My 2nd graders could sit and read Elephant and Piggie books to each other all day long with one being Elephant and the other being Piggie. :)

  2. I love him! I didn't know he has a blog. That pigeon is so funny. Thanks for sharing.


  3. I was also a groupie at the Mo Willems concert tour...I meant book tour! I don't know who gets more excited about his books, me or the children!

  4. My boys love him! I'll have to go check out his blog. Thanks for sharing.


  5. I am going to have to check him out. This is my second year not teaching reading, but I don't wan to be out of the loop. Thanks for sharing.