Characters Drive This Summer Reading Activity

Author-consultant Sarah Tantillo writes frequently for MiddleWeb about ELA instruction and assessment. Here she takes a look at summer reading preparation. It’s not too soon!

SarahT-headshot-130By Sarah Tantillo

If you want your students to engage in summer reading and are developing their assignment this spring, you have time to plan something meaningful and manageable for them.

Whether you’re assigning particular books or giving students a range of choices (or some combination of the two), you undoubtedly want students to demonstrate that they have completed the reading in a way that doesn’t torture them or you.

In far too many schools, I’ve seen assignments that are boring for students and time-consuming for teachers to grade. You don’t want to come back in the fall and start out frustrated and annoyed with your new students, right?

Instead of plot summaries (which invite plagiarism) or numerous journal entries (which, in bulk, can undermine the fun of reading) or any number of other options that result in superficial responses (or no responses at all), consider this Character Analysis approach, which is actually useful for follow-up work in the fall.

Download Sarah’s
complete summer reading assignment for students


You will ask students to do four things:

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover► Read the book.

► Complete TWO character analysis organizers, one for the protagonist (main character) and one for the antagonist (character in opposition to the main character). In my example (download here) I’ve filled out the organizer using the Dr. Seuss character The Grinch as the example.

For each character they analyze, students will write a well-developed paragraph (8-10 sentences) in response to this question: “How does the writer use this character to convey a message or lesson?”  and give evidence to support their argument.

They will also be asked to take notes on several teacher-devised questions as they read so that they can be prepared for a TIMED WRITING activity when they return to school.


The character analysis questions are answered by the student in four topic boxes (see my model), labeled this way:

  • Family background/Upbringing
  • How s/he is treated vs. how s/he wants to be treated
  • Work
  • Philosophies/Values

They will also answer two summative questions about each character.

In my download, you’ll see my grading suggestions and a question for the back-to-school timed assignment. If you have questions about this activity after you’ve looked over the download, share them in the Comments section here.

Recipes-ActionSarah Tantillo writes frequently for MiddleWeb about literacy and the Common Core. She is the author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action and The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction. 

Sarah consults with schools on literacy instruction, curriculum development, data-driven instruction, and school culture-building. Sarah has taught secondary English and Humanities in both suburban and urban public schools, including the high-performing North Star Academy Charter School of Newark. Visit her website to find many more ideas and reproducibles.


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