Teaching Character Traits in Reader's Workshop
- Grades: 3–5
The Common Core State Standards in 3rd grade fictional literature calls for students to identify and describe characters’ actions, thoughts, and motivations, which is no small task for an 8-year-old who is just beginning to read longer text. This week, I will share with you how understanding and making inferences about character traits improves my students’ inferencing skills and comprehension. Next week, in part two, I’ll share how my students are incorporating character traits to improve their writing.
Introducing Character Traits
Lessons on character traits are truly lessons on the comprehension skill of inferencing. Rarely does an author come out and say a character is jovial or bossy; instead, the reader must discover it by analyzing a character’s actions and dialogue. It takes several days before my 3rd graders are able to effectively use text evidence to make their own inferences about a character. What follows is the sequence I used this year to teach my students about character traits during our readers workshop.
Define It For Your Students
I begin by differentiating between character traits and emotions. I tell my students that a character trait is the way a person or a character in a book acts: it’s a part of their personality and it comes from inside. Emotions are usually fleeting feelings that may be due to an outside force, such as good news.
List the Traits
Armed with a piece of chart paper and a marker, I ask my students to tell me all the different character traits they know. My class was able to generate about 30 different traits very quickly for our anchor chart. There was rich discussion between my students as to whether some words were true character traits or passing emotions. We asterisked any traits on which we could not reach consensus.
Students then used sticky notes to jot down any traits they discovered during their independent reading time over the next two days. They added their Post-it notes to the anchor chart. Some students also used markers to add traits to the board whenever one occurred to them. Following my lead, students put asterisks on words they felt were feelings rather than traits.
Make a Connection
After two days, we had well over 100 traits and emotions listed on our anchor chart. On the third day we decided to sort the list into two categories, positive traits and negative traits. We discovered it was too tough to categorize some traits, so we created the neutral zone for them. Next week I'll share the entire list I typed up for students to keep in their reading binders.
To help deepen their connection to traits, I asked my 3rd graders to look at the list and choose ten words they best felt described themselves. These words were used later in the week during a literacy center to create the character trait display below. The silhouettes had been done by student partners as part of their science unit on light and shadows.
My teaching partners, Karen Coronado and Eman Shammo, had their students do a similar activity, but had their students put their personal traits into Wordle. They looked fantastic displayed out in the hall.
Once students have a general knowledge of the different types of traits that exist, it is important to move deeper in order to activate their thinking. At this point, students begin to analyze their characters and provide text evidence that helps them infer or draw conclusions about a character’s traits based on what the character says, thinks, feels, and does. In order to do this, students indicated a character's traits on a chart, and then we provided the evidence that led to that conclusion.
Model, Model, Model!
I never expect my students to try something new without being shown exactly what I expect them to do. To start, I used common text from our class read-alouds that was familiar to everyone. On our chart paper, we named characters and then traits they exhibited. Next we added proof from the text, which included specific dialogue and actions taken directly from the book. I jotted down page numbers to emphasize that evidence must come directly from the text.
After depleting examples from familiar text, I used a few of my favorite picture books for illustrating character traits over the next several days. By this time, students were able to fill out the graphic organizer while I read, and we would stop periodically to share our discoveries.
Students applied what we had practiced together during independent reading using the graphic organizer. Most students filled out the sheet while they read, whereas some preferred to do it all at the end.
The final step was to introduce my "Character Traits Reading Response" sheet for their reading binders. I have created a different sheet for each comprehension strategy as well as for partner reading. (Look for those in an upcoming post!) Students use these sheets when I want them to delve deeper into their characters after reading.
I've found that the books listed below work very well when studying character traits. These stories have clear examples that allow students to easily draw conclusions about compassion, integrity, pride, responsibility, bravery, perseverance, slyness, and many more traits and emotions.
Scholastic has many wonderful additional resources available to teach character traits to your students. These are a few of my favorites:
- I love this "Storia Character Traits Organizer" to use with your e-books or the books in your regular classroom library.
- Use the online Character Scrapbook to have your students analyze any character in any book.
- This character traits list helps readers identify a number of common character traits. It includes a check sheet giving readers an opportunity to evaluate the author's depiction of a character.
Join me next week when I share how my students are incorporating character traits into their writing and provide ready-to-use resources for your classroom. Please let me know in the comments below how you teach character traits to your students.