Students, like most people, are drawn to interesting and dynamic characters. Children can tell you who is mean and nice, friendly and shy. They can describe the actions of their friends or classmates as being any of those personalities. And although they connect to characters, they sometimes see them as distant things and can have difficulty understanding the complexity of characters.
This lesson introduces students to the idea of character traits and teaches them how to support their description with specific actions from the text.
For this lesson, I use a class chapter book that I have already introduced and am a few chapters in, after a character's personality has been established. However, I could have also used a recently read fiction picture book.
I first start by giving students various scenarios, starting off easy and then getting more complicated. I ask them to describe the person I'm describing. For example, I tell them that there is a student who walks around the playground kicking balls away from four square, bumping into students who are in their way and yelling at students who ask him or her to stop. How might we describe that person. I write their ideas on the board. I give other examples as well.
Finally, I remind them of the character in our class book and ask students to describe her. I add their descriptions to the board. This time, I explain to them that for the first few examples, I provided the details, the action the characters have taken to help the class describe them. For our book character, we actually need to look into the book for examples to support ideas.
I choose one descriptor on the board that describes the main character and then ask students to give examples of how the students know that they character is this description.
Then I tell them that they are going to do the same thing in their book.
I remind students that just like us, real people, characters can be complicated. Sometimes they are one type of way and other times they are different. For example, a character may be very generous with their pets and younger siblings, but with others they are stingy and don't want to share. With their families they act goofy and playful but with their friends they are quiet and focused. I suggest that they pay attention to those differences in their characters as well as themselves and others. As they pay closer attention to the complexities of their characters, they get a better understanding of the motives and changing perspectives of the characters in their books throughout the story.
I ask them to write down at least three character traits of one character in the book they are currently reading and support their descriptions with actions, dialogue, or events in the text. Requiring them to support their thinking with evidence from the text helps them focus on exactly how the author presents the information.
Finally, after students have had an opportunity to write down character traits for their characters, they share with their partners. After a quick share, I take a class poll with raised hands.
I use basic character traits like, "honest, friendly, hard worker, etc" and ask students which one they wrote down.
As students raise their hands, they notice some common traits and similarities between books. This is an experience that can later be referenced when I teach students about theme and common types of characters in books.