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Teaching Tip: Character-driven stories keep children motivated

You have probably noticed that your students enjoy reading stories about characters that they are familiar with. For this month's tip, we will explore important reasons to use character-driven stories with your students.

Reading is Like Driving

Learning to read is complex. There are so many things to pay attention to. Think back to when you were learning to drive. You needed to attend to so many things: where to put your foot on the gas and brake pedal, where to look in the mirror, what each button or switch controlled. You might remember that it was much easier to balance all of these things that were demanding your attention when you were driving down a street that was familiar to you. This same idea can be applied to learning to read. With reading, you must pay attention to the letters and the words, and where the words are on the page. The names of the characters and their relationships to each other provide students with the familiarity they need to place their attention on the other elements of reading.

Building Comprehension

Using familiar characters also helps build comprehension skills. The short, easy books that help launch students into reading rarely provide opportunities for complex character and plot development. In order to develop strong comprehension skills, beginning readers need to learn to predict outcomes, make connections, and understand characters and their motivations. Reading books about the same characters builds multiple opportunities for doing all of this.After several books about Bella and Rosie, for instance, the reader can anticipate that Bella will be the brave adventurer and Rosie will be more cautious. In a new situation, as the problem develops, the student can predict how differently Bella and Rosie will react. When I start to work on books about new characters, I first plan what the characters will be like before I write even one story about them.

I have begun working on a series of books about my newest dogs, Jack and Daisy. Of course, they will talk to each other and have adventures that are pure fiction. But as I write even the simplest books about them, I am trying to bring to life their distinct, true-to-life personalities. I hope students will come to anticipate Daisy's bravery--despite being only three pounds and no bigger than a guinea pig--and Jack's struggles to keep up with his more agile, fast-learning sister. 

Happy Reading!

Michèle Dufresne

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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