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November 15, 2012 Bringing Characters to Life in Writer's Workshop By Genia Connell
Grades 3–5

    Last week I shared how I give my students a solid foundational knowledge of character traits through my reader's workshop. Children are taught how they can draw conclusions from what a character says or does to get to know the character better, thereby improving their comprehension. Once students have a good familiarity with character traits in reading, we begin to incorporate them into our writing. In my classroom, it's always at this point, when students can add some personality to their characters, that their writing really begins to take off.

    After we created our character trait anchor chart, the students in my room were constantly going up to it to find that "just right" description of their characters. I typed the list out so my students could put it in their reading binders. That paper is one of the most-used reference sheets in their binder for both reading and writing!

    "List of Character Traits"

     

    Bring Characters to Life in Your Writer's Notebooks

    In reader's workshop, students rely on clues that an author has written to make inferences about a character’s personality or motivation. After a few days of practice, this becomes quite easy for most students. When I turn it around, however, and ask my students to leave clues in their writing to help their readers get to know their characters better, that’s not quite so easy, and they need a little help and support.

    Role-Playing Traits and Emotions Using Reader's Theater

    Reader's theater is a great way for students to connect a character’s voice and actions to their character traits or emotions. As a bonus, it also helps improve student fluency, and this activity in particular reinforces the Common Core reading standards for point of view and narrator’s perspective. You can find several free reader's theater scripts readily available online.

    • To prepare for this activity, cut apart a list of 25 character traits and emotions.
    • Select and copy a few easy-to-read scripts with two to four characters. I find fairy tales work very well for this because of the familiarity that students have with the stories and characters.
    • Put students into groups of two to four, depending upon the scripts you have chosen.
    • Students sit with their partners along with a script you give them, and each student randomly selects a character trait/emotion from a hat or paper bag.
    • Students read their script using the character trait they have selected. Students quickly get into their roles because they find it hilarious to have (for instance) a pessimistic big bad wolf meet an obnoxious little pig and his shy brother. 

    Short Writes

    To help my students acclimate to incorporating character traits into their writing, we do a series of what I call "short writes." With writer's notebooks in hand, students meet me on the carpet and gather around our chart paper.

    I start by writing a simple sentence similar to one most of my students commonly pen: "The boy was scared." 

    Next I draw a head and body and ask the students:

    • What does your face look like when you’re scared?
    • What might you say or think when you’re scared?
    • How does your body look when you’re scared?
    • How do you move?

    As you can see in the picture, we fill the chart out together until students have come up with a sentence that incorporates everything we charted.

    We do this activity together several times, then students try it independently. Even though I don’t require it, students love to draw their own head and body before they start to craft their sentences.

    The final step is for students to revisit writings in their notebook. They select sentences that they edit using their newfound knowledge of character traits.

    When it is time for students to share what they wrote, the excitement is always very high. My 3rd graders feel great success in taking a mundane sentence, the one they most frequently write, and changing it into a sentence that fully describes their character.

    Character Development in Writing

    The next step is for students to write a complete narrative that includes at least one character they have fully developed. In order to do this, I give them a graphic organizer I created. If you are wondering about the difference between the two organizers, they were made to appease my students. At first I only created the boy, but my girls spoke up, wanting a different one for girl characters, so I put together the second one and everyone was happy!

    Character Profile Boy

    After my students begin using this planner, the depth of their characters changes dramatically, and their writing overall improves.

    I know there are many, many effective ways to teach students about character traits. I hope you find a couple of my ideas useful, but I would love to hear how you teach traits in your classroom. Please share in the comment section below!

     

     

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Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2