I asked students to think for 20 seconds about what they remember about dialogue. I wanted students to reflect before calling out answers. I called on a few students to share out their thoughts. Then, I told them we can use dialogue, or what a character says to figure out the type of person they are. We can determine their character traits.
I reminded students character traits are how a person behaves most of the time. It’s the type of person they are. It’s their personality. It’s different from a character’s feelings because feelings are how you feel at the moment about something that just happened. I wanted to students to reflect on a familiar story. For example, in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes, Lilly was usually nice and happy, but she did something mean when Mr. Slinger took her purse. That doesn’t make her a mean person. She just got mad about something. Now, someone who always does mean things is a mean person. For example, Roderick is always doing mean things to Greg. Do you think Greg is a mean person? Why? Students said because he always does mean things. And he’s selfish because he doesn’t like to help do things like take care of Manny.
I told students they were going to identify traits of one of the characters in Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan and build a Case File. (See video.) I wanted students to focus and dig deep into a character throughout the book. I wanted them to be able to feel like they really knew the character personally. I told them I was going to choose the Dad. I chose him because most students would choose Anna, Caleb, or Sarah. Also, Papa character isn’t written about as much as the others and I don’t want students reading multiple pages before encountering examples.
I displayed the character traits chart on the document camera. I displayed a page of the book and used the transparency and marker to underline where Papa said, “Nice, soapy smell, that stew. “ I displayed the character traits list and highlighted the word funny. I said I think Papa is funny because stew doesn’t smell like soap. I read on and identified another trait based on what Papa said and how he said it. Papa quietly says he’s forgotten the old songs. I introduced the trait ‘gentle.’ Someone who speaks quietly is a gentle person. On another page, "No, said Papa, slowly. Not a housekeeper. A wife." We came to the conclusion that Papa is not sure about the children feel about him asking for a wife in the newspaper, instead of a housekeeper. He wants to break the news gently. I explained that a gentle person would do that. He didn’t just come home and loudly announce that he’s looking for a new wife. He probably cares what they think about that and doesn’t want them to be upset. Finally, I guided students in identifying other based on what he said and how he said it and wrote it in the Case File.
Students selected a character they would analyze throughout the book and wrote it on the front of their Case File. They were given the option to work with someone who chose the same character. Students ended up forming three groups by character. I circulated around the room while students worked to underline dialogue and dialogue tags and write the traits on their graphic organizer, assisting as needed. There was much discussion among students about which trait to assign to a character. Student discussions allow students bounce ideas off of each other and consider other points of view. For example, one student said Anna is caring because she told her brother to move away from the fire so that he won’t get too hot. Another student wanted to say that she was nice. A third student gently reminded that they had to use a trait other than ‘nice.’ (Nice, good, and bad are overused, so I tell students to use other traits.) They all agreed on caring.
I informally assessed students as they worked. I looked to see if they correctly assigned traits based on what their character said. I enjoyed listening to their rationales. Sarah’s group said she was active because she said in her letter that she cooks, can keep a fire going, and likes building bookshelves.
At the end of the lesson, I asked students to volunteer to read from their Case Files. They read the trait and how it was revealed based on what their character said. This allowed them to see how various statements made by the character indeed revealed their personality. It also gave all students the opportunity to hear the traits and evidence of the other characters.