Inferring a Character's Feelings by Their Actions: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Ashley Davis

Ashley has taught first, fourth, and fifth grades and holds a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

In this lesson, learn how to infer the feelings of a character based on the text from his or her actions or reactions. Determine how different actions of a character can change your interpretation of that character's feelings.

How Are You Doing?

You get to lunch and sit beside your best friend. You haven't seen him all day because he's in another class, and you are excited to finally catch up on the day's events. You ask, ''How's your day?'' He replies, ''Fine'' without ever looking up. You know everything isn't fine, but how do you know? Well, since he's your friend, you can to tell by the look on his face, the tone of his voice, or because he won't look at you. You can infer by his actions that everything isn't fine. To infer is to use the information you have, whether it is behavior or actions, to make an educated guess.

Inferring Feelings

Just like you knew your friend wasn't fine based on his actions, you can infer how characters in a book feel based on their actions. Authors use a character's actions and his or her own description of those actions to help readers understand the feelings of that character. Let's look at a simple example from Kevin Henkes' book Chrysanthemum about a little girl going to school for the first time.

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How does Chrysanthemum feel about her first day? The author has used positive adjectives, ''sunniest'' and ''brightest,'' to inform us about what Chrysanthemum is doing that morning. Based on her actions--wearing her sunniest dressing, brightest smile, and running--we can infer that Chrysanthemum is excited about the first day.

In the previous example, the author wanted the reader to understand only one emotion. However, other times, the author will give details that suggest the character has many feelings happening at the same time. Just like you can be excited and nervous to try something new, characters in books can have many feelings all at once. It's how the author makes them seem real. Let's look at a paragraph from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

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What can we infer about Harry? First, since Harry wants to send a letter to Ron and Hermione, we should understand that Harry is lonely and misses his friends. Next, because he uses the Dursley's fear to avoid being lock away, we can infer that Harry doesn't feel welcome and is unhappy in his current situation. J.K. Rowling wants to help readers understand Harry's overall unhappiness at the beginning of this book.

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