Writers’ Workshop Mini Lesson – Introducing Characters

Student writers often have trouble getting started.  While they may have some interesting opening lines, it’s much harder to introduce their protagonist in an engaging way. In this inquiry based writers’ workshop mini lesson, students study the way professional writers handle this problem.


To being with, you will need some young adult novels, a hook (I use the video above of my writers’ workshop powerpoint), and Google form or a piece of paper.  When choosing novels, look for ones with great openings that are appropriate for your grades. I teach middle school and my seventh and eighth graders have a variety of reading levels. Here are some of the novels I like to use for this activity.

  • Any novel in the Bluford High Series (aka. “Bluford Series) – These low-reading level, high-interest novels are not the most literary.  But that makes them  perhaps the easiest to emulate since they get the protagonist into the scene with minimal exposition.  (Want these books cheaper? You can buy from the publisher here).
  •  The Chocolate War  – The grit of the protagonist being punished by football field establishes both the characterization and the tone of the novel.
  • Maniac Magee– Short and sweet characterization of the protagonist. After reading the first page, there is no doubt about who is the protagonist.

During the Mini Lesson

I begin this writers’ workshop mini lesson by having  my students watch the video.  You’ll see that in it, I ask the students to respond by completing a google form. You can just as easily have students respond on paper.  Google forms are easy to make.  If you’d like a copy of mine, click here, but…[warning] make a copy from the file menu so your copy will be owned by you. Otherwise, your students’ responses will populate in my google spreadsheet – not yours!

Once you have collected student responses, you have multiple options:

  • Have a classroom discussion, examining the opening scenes of the novels
  • If your students responded on paper, you can do a gallery walk. Have students take notes about techniques they’d like to try.
  • If your students responded via the google form, the spreadsheet generated by the form will capture all student responses.  And, voila, you have an instant list of options that students can use to begin their own work. If you clean them up a bit, you can make a quick handout for students to paste into their notebooks for future reference.

How do you teach students to introduce a character in your writing workshop?  What writing tips do you have do share? Please join the conversation by posting a comment below.


  • Julieanne

    Reply Reply August 23, 2014

    Great lesson Melissa and the tech integration is perfect! So great to meet you and see your work here. Can’t wait to try adobevoice.

    • Melissa

      Reply Reply August 31, 2014

      Thanks so much for the comment. It was great to meet you, too. Looking forward to hearing about your use of Adobe Voice.

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