Predicting Based on Characters’ Past Actions

5 Oct

By fourth grade, students are often proficient at making predictions about what will happen at the end of a book-general thoughts like, “the hero will defeat the bad guy,” or “she’ll make the team and help win the game,” based on how books usually go.  That is, they understand that their characters will go through hardships and triumph in the end.  What they aren’t as used to is making small predictions–close predictions–thinking about  how a character might respond to the next big event or interaction based on how that character has responded in the past.

The BBC’s Teaching English channel has a lesson that uses Mr. Bean to teach prediction that can help launch this kind of thinking.  Mr. Bean is a great character to use for prediction work, because he has a very clear M.O.  He tries to solve his problems in ways that fix the immediate issues, but miss the main point.  For example, in the short clip, “Packing for a Holiday,” Mr. Bean manages to fit everything in a suitcase, but he does so by making the items useless, like packing only half a shoe.

We watched about half of the clip, and then we began to stop to predict how Mr. Bean would solve his next problem.  After watching him squirt out half his toothpaste and pack just one shoe, students were eager to predict how he would ruin his pants to fit them.  “He’ll cut just one leg off, to match his one shoe!” some offered, while others thought he’d cut them off at the knees.  Everyone agreed he wouldn’t choose to just fold them.

When we got to the moment where he thinks about his teddy bear, we had a new twist.  A surprising number of a students (about a third) were familiar with Mr. Bean already.  They offered the insight that he really loved his teddy bear–he thought of it as a friend and person.  So we posed the question: if Mr. Bean tends to ruin things when packing them, but he really loves his bear, how will he handle packing the bear?  Now we had two pieces of information to take into account when predicting what he would do next.

“He’ll cut the bear open, take out the stuffing like surgery, and then later sew him back together,” offered one student.

Another suggested, “I think he’ll keep just the head, because that’s what’s important.”

“He’ll stuff the bear under his shirt instead of packing it so he can keep the whole bear, but it will look silly,” said a third.

Mr. Bean eventually chooses to just pack his whole bear, but we stopped to think about the idea that sometimes you have multiple sources of information about a character that you have to take into account when making a prediction–not just past actions, but past thoughts and feelings.

We ended with the idea that just like they used everything they learned about Mr. Bean to make predictions about what he would do next, as readers we constantly used everything we knew about characters–their past actions, thoughts and feelings–to predict how they might react to the next event or problem in their story.

There’s actually an entire channel devoted to Mr. Bean on YouTube, and I can imagine a lot of gems for teaching tucked away in the clips!


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