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The Role of Friends


Friends play many important roles in our lives. The characteristics we value in a friend vary from one person to the next. This project uses the classic story, Charlotte's Web, to engage students in critical thinking about what makes a good friend. The Visual Ranking Tool offers students a non-threatening way to make decisions about key qualities of friendship, while also supporting literacy activities that build comprehension.

Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Question
    Do actions speak louder than words?
  • Unit Questions
    Which friendship traits are most important to you?
    Which characters play the most important role in keeping Wilbur alive?
  • Sample Content Question
    What are character traits?


This project idea makes use of the Visual Ranking Tool. Examine the Visual Ranking Web site and familiarize yourself with the tool.


The lesson can be modified for non-readers and students who are learning the dominant language of the classroom (for example, English language learners in a U.S. classroom).


Pose the Essential Question: Do actions speak louder than words? to the class. Engage students in a discussion about what the question means, offer examples, and allow students time to talk about their own experiences. Chart student responses on the board. Continue the discussion steering it towards personality traits and what makes a friend a friend. Have students create a comic strip to tell a short story about friendship.


Read aloud Charlotte's Web. Periodically, discuss the traits of each character in the story. Ask students to consider: What traits make each character a good friend to Wilbur? With the class generate a cluster map of friendship traits. Students create their own cluster map in a reading journal. Use these reading journals to gauge student learning and teaching throughout the lesson.


When finished reading the book, lead a discussion to generate a list of the main characters that played a role in keeping Wilbur alive. To help students keep track of characters, write the characters' names on strips of paper and insert the names in a pocket chart. (Modification: To help non-readers and visual learners, add a drawing of each character next to the name.) This would be a good time to discuss the Essential Question: Do actions speak louder than words? Have students give examples of what the characters in Charlotte’s Web do and say throughout the book and how this affects Wilbur.


As a class, students discuss: Who played the most important role in keeping Wilbur alive? Who played the second-most important role? (and so forth). Encourage students to use the cluster map of friendship traits to explain their decision making. Use the pocket chart to move the names of characters up and down to reflect students' preferences. This helps young students understand the concept of making an ordered list. In their reading journals students record the character they feel is most important in keeping Wilbur alive and reasons why.

Use the Visual Ranking Tool

After this warm-up activity, students use the Visual Ranking Tool. The pocket chart can be posted as a visual reference. Using the tool, each student uses decision-making skills to arrange the list of characters to answer the Unit Question: Which characters play the most important role in keeping Wilbur alive? Using the comment feature, students enter a key personality trait of the character and use examples from the book to support their ranking. Students print their lists.


Working with partners, students compare their lists and discuss the reasons behind their decisions. This builds comprehension skills by prompting students to recall and discuss the plot. Students also apply critical thinking to consider how character traits shaped the action of the story. The comparison can be expanded by giving students time to compare their lists with more classmates.


Use a rubric or scoring guide to assess student understanding of the following:

  • Identifies characters with their traits
  • Supports their opinions with concrete examples from the book
  • Demonstrates sound decision-making skills
  • Uses original thought


Finally, to connect the learning activity with students’ own lives, students write a journal entry to answer the Unit Question: Which friendship traits are most important to you? Students choose four traits and list reasons why they are most important.


Revisit the Essential Question: Do actions speak louder than words? Students record their thoughts and ideas in their reading journals using examples from the story and their own lives.

Examine the Visual Ranking Activity

The Visual Ranking workspace below represents one team's ranking on this project. The view you see is functional. You can roll over the white icon to see the team's comments and click the compare button to see how different teams ranked the items.


Project Name: Role of Friends (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)
Question: Which characters play the most important role in keeping Wilbur alive? Rank them from most important to least important.

Explore an interactive demo.


Role of Friends
The Role of Friends

At a Glance

Grade Level: 2-4

Subject: Language Arts

Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking, Decision Making

Key Learnings: Reading Comprehension, Writing 

Time Needed: Approximately 30 minutes per day for 5 days