Tips for Teaching Personification

As teachers, we know that sometimes the hardest part of a teaching a unit is the launch. We also know that as teachers we wish that we had more time to devote to the launching of a unit, however, the reality is that often times a launch might consist of one or two minilessons. These are lessons we have used to launch a study of personification. Pick one or more of these lessons to launch your study. They are quick and easy to teach, and they can be modified to use with most texts. You can use the texts we have recommended, or substitute your own favorites.

“5 Lessons to Launch Figurative Language with a Focus on Personification

Minilesson #1- Use a mystery bag and remove an object such as a shoe. Have your students answer the mystery bagfollowing prompts: “What does the shoe love?” “What does it fear?” “What does it hope for?” Have a few students share their ideas and then introduce the concept, personification.

Minilesson #2- Read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Discuss how the tree has human-like characteristics. Have students generate claims, find evidence, and rethink their claims about how the author uses personification.

Minilesson #3- Read the poem, “The Train,” by Emily Dickinson. Model for your students how to find text evidence that reveals personification. Have students generate claims and find evidence.

Minilesson #4- Read the poem, “April Rain Song,” by Langston Hughes. Model for your students how to annotate the text and generate claims about why and how the poet creates personification in this text. (For additional practice and ideas see Georgia Heard’s Awakening the Heart for her exercise on “Word Guessing” for this poem.)

Minilesson #5- Use an excerpt from the 2013 Newberry Award winning text, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and have your students do a close reading in order to interpret why and how the author uses personification in the text.

Visit us again for additional minilessons we’ve used to launch the teaching of various literary elements. Enjoy!

On Teaching Interpretation

I want my students to be able to think for themselves. This is my teaching goal everyday. Teaching interpretation in a way that enables my students to think for themselves has been something that I’ve thought a lot about for the past decade.

It began ten years ago when I was teaching fourth grade. We were reading the book Tuck Everlasting. As a whole class, we were noticing Natalie Babbitt’s use of time: sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. I had created an assignment for my students- “Note each event that is associated with a time period.” We were analyzing the connection between the mood & intensity of the event and the time of day when it occurred.

I will never forget one of my students asking me, “Ms. Johansen, if you hadn’t told me to look for this, how would I know?” At first, I laughed inwardly- such an astute question from a fourth grader. But then, I was fearful. I didn’t know how to answer. So I answered sternly and quickly, “This is why you have teachers. They will tell you what to look for.” This was one of my teaching-cringe moments. The moment when you know you are giving a terrible answer. My student wanted to be independent. She was looking for a strategy to notice the author’s use of mood, time, and symbolism. She wanted to learn how to think for herself. Above all, she was excited to learn how to notice hidden gems in a text and make her own interpretations. I let her down that day. And I’ve always remembered it.

At the time, I didn’t know how to answer her. I didn’t know which strategies to teach or even that there were strategies that could help her. I was simply making assignments and expecting my students to follow my directions. Now I know differently. I LOVE teaching strategies to students. I cannot imagine teaching any other way. Students need strategies to make the implicit, explicit, and the abstract, concrete. They can do this hard, thinking work on their own.

Redoes are vital. Since my student asked me that question ten years ago, I’ve had a dozen or so redoes. Now when students ask that question, I answer, “That’s a great question! I’m so happy that you want to uncover parts of a text that may seem hidden, on your own! Let’s talk about the strategies you can use and which elements you can be on the lookout for. I bet you’ll find many hidden gems on your own!”

Teaching strategies for helping students think about an author’s use of time and mood:

  1. Use the clip “Decision” from Disney’s Mulan ( to discuss the time of day, light and dark, and weather used by the animators to create the mood of the scene. “Just like these animators, authors use the time of day to create the mood of the scene. It is important to notice the time of day in a story. It may be important and help you feel the mood of the scene.”
  2. Have students think about their own daily schedules. What moods do they associate with different times of the day? What activities take place at different times? How does light and darkness affect their moods and activities during the day. Why might this be important in texts as well?
  3. Use a text like Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt to keep track of the author’s use of time (sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight) and the mood of the event. Creating a chart or using a graphic organizer is best for this lesson. Students may notice that moments of revelation happen at sunrise, whereas, moments of intense action and emotions happen at midnight. (It is also good to notice the colors associated with these time periods. They may be symbolic.)
  4. Most importantly: Create a classroom chart that lists the many ideas students may want to be on the lookout for in a text. “Time of Day” should be on that chart.