An Inquiry Activity


The Art of Inquiry
by Nancy Lee Cecil and Jeanne Pfeifer


Polar Opposites is an ideal activity for helping students see characters in texts as three-dimensional. This is done by asking them to assess characters on a variety of traits, using a three-, five-, or seven-point scale. Depending on their grade level, younger students can pick one of three choices; older students, who can judge more nuances of meaning, can use a five- or seven-point scale. The exercise is most conducive to critical thinking when students are also asked to justify their responses. In other words, if they rate a character as “generous” rather than as “frugal,” ask them why they believe this to be so, reminding them to cite evidence from the selection they read to support their position.


To initiate the Polar Opposites activity, have students consider the stereotypical views of what it means to be a hero, and discuss what they believe should be the characteristics of a hero. Ask them: What does it mean to you to be a hero? Who are some of your real-life heroes?

As a class, develop a list of personality traits that describes a hero. Record this list in chart format. Then, determine an opposite quality for each trait. For example, if two personality traits of a hero are brave and thoughtful, you might write on one side of the chart fearless and considerate. On the opposite side of the chart, you might include the words afraid and inconsiderate. Each pair of opposites comprises its own continuum, with three, five, or seven spaces in between (see example below). The students (as a group or individually) will determine where on the continuum a hero falls.

Have all students read the same book that includes a character who could be considered a hero. Ask students to identify the hero in the story. Fill in the chart for the chosen character: Where do you think the character fits on the chart? Why do you think so? What in the story supports your answer? How is the hero(es) in the book you have read similar to and different from people you identify as real-life heroes?


The activity example was created using Tommy Prince, a character from the graphic-novel series, Tales from Big Spirit. Graphic novels often offer rich characters that provide examples of society’s shifting, changing, overlapping, and historically diverse social identities.

Theme: Heroes

Where do you think Tommy Prince would fit on this chart for each of the traits? Why?

1. brave __X__ ____ ____ ____ ____ fearful
We think Tommy Prince showed his bravery many times in the story. One time he went behind enemy lines and hid in an empty farmer’s house. When he was in the house, he used the telephone wire to call back to the allies and report what he saw.

2. cautious ____ ____ ____ ____ ___X_ adventurous
Tommy Prince was very adventurous. He showed this by leaving home to find odd jobs and he only had a couple of dollars. He also showed this by volunteering for the army during World War II.

3. wise ____ ____ __X__ ____ ____ foolish
During his time in the war, Tommy could be considered foolish for standing up and raising his fists toward the Germans after fixing a telephone wire behind enemy lines.

4. strong __X__ ____ ____ ____ ____ weak
We think Tommy is very strong because he saved a drowning man. We think he is also strong in character when after saving the man, Tommy simply walked away.

5. leader __X__ ____ ____ ____ ____ follower
Tommy showed he was a leader. While on a mission into enemy territory, he made the private stay with him and help the French fight the Germans instead of retuning to safety.

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