Learning Plans & Activities
Examining Writing in an Award Winning Novel

In this lesson, students examine descriptive text and character connections in an award winning or nominated middle grade novel to analyze aspects of writing and how it impacts the reader's understanding of a main character.


English language arts




Classroom teacher

Literacy teacher

Literacy coach


Students will analyze and discuss a piece of writing from a middle grade novel through multiple lenses.

Students will identify decisions the author made when writing a moment in the story and explore how those decisions impacted the reader's understanding of the character.


Reynolds, Jason. Ghost. Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2016.

Another title may be chosen that is a state award nominee or winner, national award nominee or winner, or title that is read by many or all students.

Sticky notes


Two 30-45 minute sessions


AASL National School Library Standards

I.B.1. Learners engage with new knowledge by following a process that includes using evidence to investigate questions.

V.A.1. Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by reading widely and deeply in multiple formats and write and create for a variety of purposes.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.3: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).

Instructional Procedure

Begin the first session by asking how we learn about characters in our favorite stories. Students' replies may be simple or complex, overviews or specific to one character. Reply that the class will be examining the introduction of the main character from Ghost to examine how Jason Reynolds introduced the reader to Castle Cranshaw.

Using multiple copies of the book (gathered from public libraries or other libraries in the district) give as many copies out to students as are available. Ideally, students will have their own copy, but reading in pairs of twos and threes is also a possibility.

Read aloud chapter one from the book. If the library has access to the audiobook, this may also be played. Before reading, ask students to read along, but also look for text in the story that tells us information about the main character, Ghost, no matter how small.

After reading, hand out sticky notes and ask students to revisit the text to document what they now know about Ghost. Ask them to not quote directly from the text, but to use their own words. Encourage students to work in pairs or small groups on this. As students finish, they may begin to put their sticky notes on a wall or board, grouping notes that repeat.

After notes have been organized, revisit them as a class and ask what words the author used to tell them, the readers, this information about the main character. Ask students to quote from the text directly. As students share, create a web organizer centered on the main character and what students feel they know about him.

Finish with a short discussion, asking students how the author decided to introduce this character to the reader. How do we, the readers, feel about the character? Could he have decided to share less or more or share information in a different way? How would that have changed how we feel about Ghost at the end of chapter one?

In the second session, repeat the activity, including reading the chapter aloud. This time, ask students to focus their attention on the relationships that are shared in the chapter between Ghost and other characters. As students listen, ask them to focus on every time Ghost mentions or interacts with another character as he narrates the story.

After reading the chapter, ask students to document three items on their sticky note. At the top of the note, write the name of the character that is connecting with Ghost. In the middle of the note, quote the story to show the connection between Ghost and the other character. At the bottom of the note, write an emotion that accompanies that connection.

Ask students to work in groups to divide up the work. If students are only focusing on Ghost's father and Mr. Charles, point out to students that there are smaller connections, such as a connection between Ghost and the people he watches in the gym.

Organize sticky notes by individual character. Visit with each character as a class asking the question, "What do the interactions with this character tell us about our main character?" As students share, create a web organizer centered on the main character and what students feel they know about him.

Revisit the web from the first session. Ask students to compare the findings from the two sessions. Complete exit slip listed in Assessment section of the lesson.


A book may be used that is part of a One Book, One School initiative or class read aloud that ensures all students have familiarity with the book.

Students who have access to an eBook version of a title may have the added ability to highlight and create notes directly in the digital text.

The focus may be on any element of writing. Instead of character development, other areas of focus could be on writer's point of view, creating suspense, showing and not telling, imagery, setting, or any other element of writing that corresponds with writing students will be focused on in class.

Students with more experience in this type of story analysis may explore multiple writing elements in the same session and compare findings to show interaction between elements to create more depth in the story.


After second session, students will complete an exit slip that asks: How does an author tell a reader about a character, both in his or her descriptions of the character's actions and in that character's interactions with other characters?

Additional Resources

Jason Reynolds reads from Ghost at the 2016 National Book Award Finalists Reading (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6l9-OBEaWs)

About the Author

Tom Bober is a school librarian, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the book Elementary Educator's Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He is a Digital Public Library of America Community Rep, a member of the Teachers Advisory Board for the National Portrait Gallery, and a co-chair of the Education Advisory Committee of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Tom writes about student learning on AASL's Knowledge Quest blog and publications such as School Library Connection and American Libraries and has given workshops and spoken across the country. His foundation is built on over twenty years in public education, with six years as an elementary classroom teacher, seven years as a building and district instructional technology specialist, and over eight years in school libraries. Find him at https://tombober.com/ and on Twitter @CaptainLibrary.

MLA Citation Bober, Tom. "Examining Writing in an Award Winning Novel." School Library Connection, March 2010, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2193905?childId=2193908&topicCenterId=1955265&tab=1.

View all citation styles

Entry ID: 2193908

Back to Top