Top Teaching > Beth Newingham > My February Top Ten List: Resources and Lessons for Fiction Reading

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My February Top Ten List: Resources and Lessons for Fiction Reading

IMG_0061 While nonfiction, poetry, and author studies are very important components of my curriculum, my 3rd graders still get totally excited about fiction texts. However, as students mature as readers, it is important to move beyond reading fiction just for fun and really encourage them to think more deeply about their fiction texts. Focusing on character development, building comprehension through reading partnerships and book clubs, and weaving in technology can make your fiction genre study very powerful for your students.

READ ON to see highlights of my fiction genre study and to look at reading partnerships and mystery detective clubs. You will find lots of printables, links to useful Web sites, lesson plans, and photos.


1. Flat Characters vs. Round Characters

When students read picture books in kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade, the books tend to have very few characters with distinct personalities. However, as students begin reading chapter books, the number of characters increases and the characters become more complex. Before we begin studying these characters on a deeper level, I encourage my students to categorize their characters as “flat” or “round.”  Flat characters have no real impact on the plot, and the author does not develop their personalities. On the other hand, round characters are well-developed, can be identified by specific character traits, and often change in some way during the story. Download PDFs of the flat characters and round characters posters below.

Flat Characters Round Characters

Round flat T-Chart As an independent reading task, my students organize the characters in their chapter book into these two categories. (Some students may find that certain characters fall in the middle, so they write those characters’ names on the line between round and flat.) Once they identify their round characters, we move on to the next lesson in this post.

Download the round & flat characters T-chart.



2. Inferring Character Traits From Actions and Dialogue in the Story

Character Traits Too often, students can identify character traits for the characters in their stories (e.g., mean, rude, cheerful), but they do not use examples from the text support their ideas. I teach my students to “show, not tell” in their writing, and I explain that good authors do the same thing in the books in our classroom library. Since good authors do not just list specific traits for the characters in the books they write, it is up to the reader to infer the character traits based on things the characters do (actions) and say (dialogue).  

Using my character traits handout, students find specific actions or dialogue in their books and use sticky notes to mark the “evidence.” You can also have students complete the recording sheets "Inferring Character Traits—Action" and "Inferring Character Traits—Dialogue"  so that you actually see your students’ thinking and can assess their ability to infer character traits using evidence from the text. (While I do not love worksheets, I find that a written exercise holds my students more accountable than just attaching sticky notes to pages in their book. And since I can’t always confer with every child during the days we are practicing this skill, looking over the recording sheets after workshop helps me determine which students may need additional instruction.)  

Inferring Character Traits-action1 Inferring Character Traits-dialogue

Download my fiction resources" SMART Notebook file, which includes an "Inferring Character Traits" lesson using examples from Patricia Polacco's book Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare.


3. Studying Different Types of Conflict in Fiction Texts

P1080422 In her lesson "Using Picture Books to Teach Plot Development and Conflict Resolution," Lisa Storm Fink encourages students not to just state the conflict in the stories they read but to identify the specific type of conflict (character vs. self, character vs. character, character vs. nature, character vs. society). This forces my students to look more closely at the problem/conflict in the stories they are reading and to compare and contrast the conflicts in different stories.

In Lisa’s lesson, she provides a list of good picture books to use when studying the different types of conflict and a PowerPoint presentation that goes along with her lesson. You will also find a recording sheet similar to the conflict chart I recreated below. As students read books independently during Reading Workshop, they add the titles of the books they read to their own chart in the appropriate conflict column.  

Types of Conflict Chart

I use the posters below to introduce the types of conflict. You can also download PDF files of each poster: "Character vs. Character," "Character vs. Self," "Character vs. Society," and "Character vs. Nature."

Character vs. character Character vs. Nature Character vs. Society Character vs. Self

Once my students are familiar with each of the four types of conflict, I assign reading partners a specific picture book to read together. They receive a copy of the book cover and must place it on the correct conflict poster as seen in the photo below.


I also created a SMART Notebook file that allows students to do the same activity without paper and glue. This is a great assessment piece for this lesson.

Conflict chart1 

Download my fiction resources SMART Notebook file, which includes the lesson you see in the photo above.

4. Using an “Interactive” Story Mountain to Track Plot Development

Story Mountain Since my students take part in a fiction writing unit soon after we finish our fiction reading unit, it is really important that they understand the idea of plot development. I like using a story mountain because students are able to see that in a good fiction text, the author does not just describe a problem and immediately have the characters solve it. The story mountain shows students the important (and predictable) parts of a complete story including the rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. Download story mountain.

To make my story mountain lesson interactive, I made a poster version of the story mountain and move a sticky note along the mountain as I read a picture book aloud to my class. Students are able to see how the plot progresses as I read the story, and we can really pinpoint and discuss the climax. The climax makes much more sense to students with the mountaintop metaphor. After teaching the lesson to the class, students are given an individual copy of the story mountain and use a small sticky note to track the plot development in the story they are reading during independent reading time.

IMG_2215 IMG_0168 [Desktop Resolution]

With the addition of a SMART Board in my classroom, I was able to make this lesson much more interactive. As I read aloud the book Julius, the Baby of the World, a student helps move a clip art drawing of Lilly, the main character, up and down the story mountain.

Again, my fiction resources SMART Notebook file includes the story mountain you see in the photo above.

5. Finding Common Themes in Fiction Texts

Common Themes in Books Most children’s authors write not only for the purpose of entertaining their readers, but also to teach readers important lessons. Finding the theme (or lesson) in a fictional story encourages students to really focus on the heart of the story. Thinking about how a character changed in the story or how a character’s actions in the story affected others helps my students determine the theme.

IMG_0050 Common themes are introduced as I read aloud carefully selected books to the class. (Visit Nancy Keane's Web site to find recommended books with common themes.) At the end of every book I read aloud, we discuss the theme as a class. If we think the book fits into one of the common themes, I print out a color copy of the book cover and add it to a specific theme poster in our classroom (see pictures below). I have found Google Images to be the best place to get quick copies of the front covers of the books. To make the best use of space in my classroom, I use the cupboards in the back of my classroom to display the theme posters. 

You can give the "Common Themes in Books" handout to your students to help them identify themes they will likely find in many of their fiction texts. However, it’s important that your students know that these are NOT the only themes that exist. As the year progresses, we add new themes to our list and make additional posters when necessary. You can download PDF files of the theme posters you see below:"Honesty," "Perseverance," "Cooperation," "Acceptance," "Compassion," "Courage," "Friendship," "Kindness," and "Responsibility."

Acceptance Compassion Courage Friendship Honesty Kindness Perseverance Responsibility Cooperation

For those of you interested in my other theme posters, including “Overcoming Challenges,” “Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things,” “Believe in Yourself,” Accepting Other’s Differences,” “Be Happy With What You Have,” etc., see my classroom Web site. 


6. Reading Partnerships

IMG_2855 Students love to talk about what they are reading, especially when it comes to fiction. In our classroom, students take part in a reading partnership unit where they choose a double-copy chapter book to read with another student in the class. The students meet throughout their reading of the book to ask each other “thick” questions and discuss the plot. This is one of my favorite units of the school year, as students take the reins and really use all of the strategies and skills they have learned to share a unique and valuable reading experience with a fellow classmate. 

Double copy You can visit the Reading Partnerships section of my classroom Web site to see exactly what this unit looks like in my classroom, download printables for your students to use in their reading partnerships, and watch a video clip of an actual reading partnership discussion. You can also check out the unit "Reading Partnerships" that I created for the Scholastic Web site in 2007.

7. Mystery Detective Clubs

P1050992I love using mysteries in my classroom for so many reasons. First of all, as a 3rd grade teacher, there are many options: lots of the beginner chapter book series that are “just right” for my students are mystery series, including A-Z Mysteries, Jigsaw Jones, Boxcar Children, Third-Grade Detectives, Calendar Club Mysteries, Nancy Drew Notebooks, etc. Mysteries also promote the use of so many important reading strategies including inferring, asking questions, making predictions, etc.

To make this unit most exciting for my students, they become real detectives working together in detective clubs to solve a mystery in a book club setting. Students read their own copy of a chapter book mystery and keep track of important clues and suspects, but they meet multiple times throughout their reading to discuss the book with fellow reading detectives.  

P1060116 Check out the Reading Detectives section of my classroom Web site for more information. You can see exactly what this unit looks like in my classroom and download tons of printables to use for your own mystery genre study. You can also check out the unit "Exploring the Mystery Genre" that I created for the Scholastic Web site in 2007.


8. Class Book Awards

IMG_1215 [Desktop Resolution] I wrote a post about this last year, but it’s so fun that it’s worth mentioning again. While my students are able to nominate any genre of books when it comes to our Class Book Awards, fiction texts tend to populate the ballot. Perhaps that is because of the memorable characters, the valuable lessons learned, the silly plots, or the suspenseful drama. Whatever the reason, fiction texts seem to bring students together, as they often find a common interest in particular books of this genre. As you read my post, "Class Book Awards: Bring the Red Carpet to Your Classroom," you will find out how my students determine book award categories, nominate books from the classroom library, and take part in a special book award ceremony that includes an exciting red carpet event!


9. Weaving Technology Into Your Reading Curriculum

If you read my "Movie-Making in the Classroom" post from last year, you know that I enjoy making movies with my students. One year my students created a movie called “Lost in a Book.” We wrote and then filmed a fictional tale in which students actually went inside the books they were reading. Visit my classroom Web site to go behind the scenes of that movie to see how it was produced. You can also watch the final movie in Windows Media Player.

Amazon Movie

Megan_power My awesome Top Teaching colleague Megan Power recently wrote a blog post "Reading Book Projects With Flip Video, Digital Cameras, Web 2.0, and More." Her awesome project ideas help students practice comprehension skills, vocabulary, reading response, word work, and fluency through the use of very cool technology.  What’s most impressive is that she is doing it with her kindergarten students!  


10. Scholastic Author Interviews

Authortube Bring real authors into your classroom. That sounds expensive, right? Not when you use Scholastic’s Authortube! What better way to get your students excited about fiction texts than to show them real interviews with some well-known authors. Check out Scholastic’s Author Video Index to see which authors you will invite to your next Reading (or Writing) Workshop mini-lesson!



Reader Request 

Suzanne (comment #12) asked for resources for teaching students about a story's setting.  Below are some things that I use with my own students.

Elements of Setting1 Elements of Setting-blank
Download Elements of Setting   Download Elements of Setting-blank

 Check back next month for my Nonfiction Resources Top Ten List!


  • #1 Katie

    Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    whoops!!! haha... sorry Beth, I couldn't find my previous comment, so I posted another one! :)

  • #2 Katie

    Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    HI Beth,
    I am moving to third grade next year, and I am thrilled. One aspect that I want to cover at the beginning of the year is genre identification/study. This seems to be something that the studetns are struggling with k-5 in my building. I saw your unit on Mystery (which was amazing) and was wondering if you had any other ideas for other areas of fiction/nonfiction? Any ideas that you have would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!

  • #3 Katie

    Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Hi Beth,
    I am currently in a college class for my masters, and I was hoping that you had some ideas of lessons that you used for different genres? I saw your unit idea for Mystery, which was amazing, and was wondering if you would be willing to share some of your ideas that you used for other types of fiction and nonfiction. This is my first year in third grade, and I know that genre study and identification is something that the students in my school are struggling with. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!

  • #4 Christina

    Monday, June 13, 2011 at 08:27 PM

    Hello Beth, I love your website and your blogs. Next year I am going to implement reader's workshop and I'm very excited about it. One question, will you ever consider writing a book on reader's workshop? I hope you do because that would be a great resource for teachers.


  • #5 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 09:55 PM

    Karen (comment #28),

    You asked if it was possible to convert SMART Notebook files to Promethian Board files. Here is link to the directions for that task:

    Thanks for posting your thoughtful comments on my blog! I'm glad you like it!


  • #6 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 09:51 PM

    New Teacher (comment #27),

    You asked if I had any resources for literature circles. I do not do literature circles in my classroom, but I do reading partnerships. You can learn more about reading partnerships in #6 of this post. I hope this helps!


  • #7 Karen

    Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 01:32 PM

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you for sharing your creative lessons and classroom resources. I feel like I won the lottery when I found the resources on your blog posts and classroom website.
    My district has Promethian boards. I would love to somehow download the Smartboard files you reference in this post to use with my Promethian board. Is that possible, or should I just stop dreaming and face reality?! :)
    Thanks again. You are an amazing inspiration in many ways!

  • #8 New Teacher

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    Hi Beth,

    I am a first year teacher. Your website and blog have been a true Godsend for me this year - THANK YOU. I read it on a daily basis! I am interested in introducing literacy circles in my second grade class. Do you have any great ideas on how I might begin this? And what roles the students should play in the group? I've read several blogs, but they just aren't appropriate for second/third graders. Thank you for your help!

  • #9 Beth Newingham

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 03:04 PM

    Sara (comment #16),

    For some reason I cannot find the file of the posters for the different types of endings. I will keep looking so that I can post a visual for you. I have them in my classroom printed out, but cannot find the actual file.

    For now, here are descriptions of 3 types of endings:

    1. Repeat the Lead: This type of ending echoes the lead

    Lead: If you give a mouse a cookie...
    Ending: Chance are if he asks for a glass of milk, he's going to want a cookie to go with it.

    2. Emotional Ending: This type of ending can be happy, sad, mysterious, funny, or surprising.

    Example: I cannot remember a time in my life that I was as terrified as this experience at the zoo. I hope the tiger never scares me like that again!

    3. Hope or Wish: In this type of ending, the writer shares a hope or wish that has something to do with the story.

    Example: I wish that every Christmas could be a great as this one!

    I hope this helps for now!


  • #10 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    Angie (comments #19-21),

    Thank you so much for posting your crative "Plot Graph" idea. I absoutely love it! What a great way to get your students to think more deeply about the plot in the stories you read as a class and in the books they read independently. I bet this could also be helpful for students to use when they are writing their own ficton stories.

    Thanks again for sharing!


  • #11 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    Jennifer (comment #18),

    Thanks for your comments! I'm glad my resources were useful!


  • #12 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 10:22 PM

    Monica (comment #17),

    Thanks for sharing your blog with me!! I loved reading your posts and checking out your great resources on you teacher resource page. I also liked seeing that you are mom of 2 who has been teaching for 10 years. We have quite a bit in common. I can tell you are so passionate about your teaching! You certainly put a lot of time and effort into your work, and I know from experience that it's not easy once you start a family.

    I also noticed you do SMART Board presentations. Do you post any of the SMART Board lessons that you create on your website?

    Thanks for posting your comments on my blog! I am now following your blog:)


  • #13 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 10:02 PM

    Sara (comment #16),

    You asked if I also teach some lessons on endings. I have a handout saved on my school computer that I will try to add to my post tomorrow.


  • #14 Angie

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 02:11 PM

    Oh boy! Please forgive the typos in the post. Too little time.

  • #15 Angie

  • #16 Angie

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Hi Beth,

    Thank you for your willingness to share your ideas. A number of teacher that I work with love your ideas and are putting them to use.

    We have one to share with you. In this months post you talked about Story Mountain as a way to teach plot. In addition we use a Plot Graph help kids see the rising and falling action. This is also a great way practice summarizing what's happened in a chapter.

    First, we set up a basic graph with an x axis labeled chapters and the y axis labeled excitement. Students, usually in pairs, take one of the chapters that we've read so far, summarized the main events, and write them on a sentence strip. This sentence strip is taped to the x axis. Then the class does a quick vote (1-10) on the level of excitement in the chapter. I usually quickly average this for them. We mark this with a point on the graph and as we add chapters we connect the points to make a line graph.

    We've used this for Frindle and Snow Treasure and compared the different plot lines, but have been able to label the background, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution on both. This has also lead to a great discussion on how some authors lead with the excitement to hook you and then go back to explain how it's all come to be.

    I'm trying to attach a picture through google docs. It's so much easier to see.

    Thanks again for sharing. Hope you enjoy ours!


  • #17 jennifer daughtry

    Sunday, March 06, 2011 at 03:14 PM

    great resources. thanks

  • #18 Monica Schroeder

    Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Beth...I love your blog. You have inspired me in so many ways. One way is... I have just started my first blog at
    I am doing a give away would love it if you would follow me. I also have launched a teacher resource webiste at
    There is also a link to my blog and a write up about me on
    Thank you in advance for your support:)

  • #19 Sara

    Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 10:58 PM


    You had shared some examples of great leads in narrative writing. They made it very easy for my students to understand good ways to start a story. Do you know of any resources or have any examples for teaching kids about writing closings/endings to their stories.


  • #20 Beth Newingham

    Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    Karen (comment #13),

    Thanks for your comments! I feel honored that my ideas help to inspire your teaching!


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