Teaching Kids to STEAL in their Reading – Understanding Characters


Ok, so the title of this lesson sounds like the kids will learn to do the wrong thing… However, it is completely the opposite. Students in this lesson will learn how to use the STEAL (Speech, Thoughts, Emotions, Actions and Looks) to create more in-depth characters. They learn that we don’t have to write the literal information for our readers to understand and create pictures of our characters. A great lesson for extending your kids.

Australian Curriculum Links:

  • Discuss texts in which characters, events and settings are portrayed in different ways, and speculate on the authors’ reasons (ACELT1594)
  • Make connections between the ways differentauthors may represent similar storylines, ideas and relationships (ACELT1602)
  • Discuss literary experiences with others, sharing responses and expressing a point of view(ACELT1603)
  • Discuss how authors and illustrators make stories exciting, moving and absorbing and hold readers’ interest by using various techniques, for example character development and plot tension(ACELT1605)



Prior to lesson:
  1. Display various picture story books on your floor/kids’ tables. (Try and choose deep texts that do not explicitly tell you what a character is like) A couple of books that seem to work well are:
    • Sunday Chutney by Aaron Blabey
    • The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
    • Heart of the Tiger by Glenda Millard and Gaye Chapman
    • Special Kev by Chris McKimmie
    • The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith
    • The Day Leo Said I HATE you by Robie H Harris
  1. Explain to your children that today we are going to look at how to create wonderful characters in our stories, but before we do, we need to see how AUTHORS create characters in their books. 
  2. Explain that we have a selection of picture story books for everyone to read and we are reading to think about the characters of our stories today.
  3. Tell the kids that before you go off and read, I’d like to show you a trick on how to understand a character. It’s Called STEAL.
  4. Write the word  STEAL vertically on your board somewhere.
  5. Explain that the word STEAL is an acronym (meaning that the letters each stand for a particular word) and ask if anyone can guess what they might be if we are trying to develop an understanding of a particular character.
  6. See if your kids can get it, but if they don’t, write the words in for them and explain each of the following:
    • S is for SPEECH – What the character says will tell us a little bit about their personality
    • T is for THOUGHTS – When someone thinks something it tells us what kind of person they are
    • E is for EMOTIONS
    • A is for ACTIONS
    • L is for LOOKS
  1. Handout STEAL sheet and explain that you would like your children to fill the sheet in about the book that they will choose from the tables.
  2. Explain that filling in the STEAL part is only half of understanding the character. The other half comes from our own thoughts about the STEAL (We have to think as we read).
  3. Allow children to head off and read their books in pairs (I like pairs as it allows for some discussion about the STEAL parts before they fill them in).


  1. Ask children to return to the floor and to tell you about the following in their pairs:
    • The name of the book they read.
    • What they thought their character was like (without reading off their sheet)
    • Explain why they thought this (can look at sheet now)



  • Collect worksheets for an understanding of them finding literal and inferred information and applying their own evaluations to it.
  • Listen to children read and conduct a running record (if you want).
  • Additions to the final discussion.




If you like this lesson, or have an idea to improve it, please consider sharing it on Twitter and Facebook or leave a comment below.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email