"Brave Irene": 2 Lesson Plans for Reading Comprehension

"Brave Irene": 2 Lesson Plans for Reading Comprehension
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When her mother gets sick, Irene must brave the cold and snow to deliver a ball gown to the duchess before the ball in William Steig’s classic book, Brave Irene. The interesting vocabulary, determined heroine and exciting storyline make this a great choice for modeling reading comprehension strategies to first and second grade children.

Character Mapping

Character mapping helps children use the personality traits of a character to develop a deeper understanding of a story. They may use these traits to help them predict how the character may act later in the story or to understand why a character acted a certain way. When introducing character mapping to younger children, it’s helpful to use books, where the main character has personality traits that are easily identified, which makes Brave Irene an ideal choice.


Brave Irene

Chart paper



Hang a large piece of chart paper where the children can see it. Draw a circle in the center with Irene written inside it. Show the children the book Brave Irene and tell them that you want them to think about the things that she does in the story as you read.

Read the first three pages of the story and stop and ask the children to tell you some of the things Irene did. You might model the first few:

  • She helped her mother get into bed and tucked her in.
  • She brought her mother tea with lemon and honey.
  • She carefully packed the dress in a box.
  • She kissed her mother and made sure she was tucked in snugly.

After modeling a few, let the children tell you a few things about Irene and write them on the chart. Then continue reading and stopping every few pages to list more things on your chart. Finally, stop at the part where Irene falls in the snow with only her hat and hands sticking out and considers giving up. Ask the children to look at the things they have written about Irene. What do they think Irene will do? Explain how they can use what they already know about Irene (that she kept going even though it was cold and she could hardly walk in the wind and that she kept going when she hurt her ankle) to predict what she might do now. Does she seem like the type of person that would just quit? Or is she likely to find a way to carry on?

Finish reading the book and add to your character map. Then look at the things you wrote on the chart. Try to show the students how you some of Irene’s actions show a pattern of behavior and then talk about what they tell you about Irene. All of the things she did to help take of her mother show that she was thoughtful and kind. The way the handles the adversity she faced on the way to the palace showed that she was brave and determined.


Continue to work on character mapping your students. You may want to do a few more read alouds or practice in your guided reading groups or literature circles. Here are a few book ideas for character mapping.

  • Strega Nona series by Tomie dePaola
  • Tacky the Penguin series by Helen Lester
  • Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse and other Lily books by Kevin Henkes
  • Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss

Inferring Word Meaning

We use many types of clues to infer the meaning of unfamiliar words when we read. Use Brave Irene to model and practice this skill with your students.


Brave Irene

Chart paper


Index cards or sticky notes



Read the first few pages aloud, stopping to model your thinking to figure out the meanings of words like dummy, muffler and helter-skeltering. For muffler, you might say, “Hmmm. I wonder what that means. I thought a muffler was something on a car, but it says that Irene put on her boots, her hat and her muffler, so a part of a car wouldn’t make sense. I’m going to reread that part and try to figure out what it means. She also put on her heavy coat and her mittens. It must be something to help her keep warm in the snow. When I look at the picture on the next page, I see that she is wearing boots, a coat, a hat, mittens and a scarf around her neck. I’m inferring that muffler is another word for scarf.”

After you have modeled the first few words ask the children what things they noticed you doing to infer the word meanings. Hopefully you’ll get answers like rereading, using your schema and looking at the picture.

Continue you reading the story and ask the children to raise their hands if they hear a word they don’t know. Then stop and try to figure out the meanings as a class. As you infer the meanings of each word ask the children what clues or strategies they used to help them.


The following day remind the children how they inferred the meanings of words they weren’t familiar with. Then divide them into small groups and give each a copy of another book like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and some index cards or sticky notes. Ask each group to read the book and find two or three words that they don’t know. Have them try to infer the meaning of each word and then write the word and what they think it means on a sticky note. Let each group share one of its words and the clues that helped them infer the meaning.

Listen in on the groups as they work to informally assess their understanding. Are they able to infer the word meanings? What clues are they using?

Your students will be on the way to becoming experts at inferring word meanings and character mapping with these lessons.


  • Steig, William. Brave Irene. Sunburst, 1996
  • Taberski, Sharon. On Solid Ground, Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3. Heinemann, 2000
  • Miller, Debbie. Reading With Meaning. Stenhouse, 2002