Identifying Character Traits for Affirmations

Blending academic and social emotional language in a seamless fashion
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About This Strategy

In this strategy, the teacher explicitly teaches the concept of character traits to students in order to support students to use academic language and also build their social emotional skills in the classroom. Character traits can be identified in characters in fiction, figures in non-fiction, people around us, and most importantly, ourselves. This strategy is taught by utilizing word lists or banks to be applied to familiar people in literature and life, and ultimately to the students themselves. By using this strategy, teachers are able to build a bridge between this academic world we live in and a student’s social emotional state, thereby supporting teachers to build and maintain a positive classroom culture.

Implementation Steps

  1. Model how to identify character traits by having students to come with a list of words to describe you, their teacher.

    • In the model, use a think aloud strategy to show students how to come up with characters. An example of this: “I am a person that really likes to do things for other people. What is a word that means a person who likes to do things for others? Oh, caring. Okay, I write down caring." 

      Depending on the age of the audience, drawing a picture of yourself and labeling your character traits can help with all students access. 
    • Push students' thinking by using guiding questions such as, "How do I act or how would you describe me?"

    • Have visuals, a word bank, or an example list of character traits  visible for students to reference. See below for an example of visuals. 

  2. In a class-wide discussion, instruct students to think of a character trait to describe you using "I am statements". For example, "I am caring."

    • Consider providing a sentence frame, a graphic organizer, or an informal place for students write their thinking down. 

  3. If you are not comfortable with steps 1 and 2 above, you can select a character in a text or historical figure that is already familiar to students. Present a picture of this character or a drawing. Repeat the same exercise as before. Ask guiding questions such as, “How would you describe this character?” 

    • In this section, push their academic language. For example if a student says a person is nice, push them to use different words by asking,  “Is there another word we can use that means nice?” By using this academic language, this will create more descriptive writing as well as benefit their speech. Consult the resource below to share with students to help push their academic language. 

    • if students utilize emotions/action words like "crying" instead of the character trait of being emotional, direct students to the anchor chart below.

  4. Finally, instruct students to create positive character traits about each other. On a piece of paper have each student's name written down. Pass out each student’s name to another student. This activity can be completed in small groups or full class.   In this step students will write about each other. They will each come up with 5 to 10 different positive character traits for the student named they picked.

    •  It's crucial to ensure students are writing positive traits about each other.  This means the teacher needs to walk around the classroom checking on all of the work and seeing what is written. Make a firm stance that only positive traits will be accepted if unkind words are written, follow the behavioral protocol at your school. 

    • If you see a student struggling creating words, provide a list of possible positive character traits. See example for reference

  5. Gather all the papers to do one final skim through for positive words towards classmates. This would be a good time to provide feedback on their word choices. 

  6. Once ready, students can sit in a circle to read what their classmates said about them. 

    • Begin the circle, with instructing the safety of the circle and describing how to hold a safe space. For example, “Today we are going to share space together. It’s important that we lift each other. When one person is talking, we are all into that speaker. I have this rock and whoever has the rock can talk. Let’s show each respect and kindness today.” Please use whatever circle norms you’ve created for your classroom. If you have not done a circle before, please see resources below on possible circle norms. 

    • Students will individually read off their statements written about them in a I am statement. For example, “I am generous.”

      Some students may have included examples of how this student displays this character trait. For example, He is generous, because he always shares his food with me at lunch.” Instruct students to read the full sentence if it is written.
    • Once each student has an opportunity to share, ask a few (3-4) guiding questions. Some example guiding questions can look like, "How did it feel to read those words?",  "How did it feel to know it came from your peers?," or What do you think of our community and how's that changed since this exercise?”

    •  Give space for each student who would like to share for at least 2 or more minutes. 

    • Close out the circle with shoutouts or gratitude for each. This can look like, “ I am grateful to have you as a student because today you showed some much adventure in explaining how you felt.” 

EL Modification

In this strategy, students are able to build their academic  language. This is especially beneficial to students with English Language needs because they are acquiring more social language and being able to express themselves to others.

Implementation steps:

  1. Provide hand gestures to join character traits in your model. For example, saying the word loving and giving yourself a hug.

  2. Print or visually display pictures to go along with character traits in a word bank or organizer. 

  3. Preview words that were written about the student. Define the words if needed

  4. Practice saying their sentences before share-out either in partners, groups, individually. 

  5. During share out, warm call (give them a heads up) students before it’s their turn to share out. 

  6. Promote using encouraging body language in circle time like sending shine (waving fingers) especially if a student is showing difficulty reading or shy/nervous to speak aloud.

Special Education Modification

In this strategy, students increase their diversity of vocabulary while engaging in affirmations that build self esteem.This is important to students with disabilities, because it provides a space for inclusivity and a stronger community within the school. Students will also have the opportunity to use their voice and share their own reflections.

Implementation steps:

  1. Provide a word bank or organizer for students use that has visuals next to it. See resource below for an example. 

  2. Give students descriptors to help ignite their thinking for a word. For example, “Sam is always cleaning up after himself, what would we call him?”

  3. Practice the traits others said in a small group or partners before the full class. (See example)

  4. During circle, provide positive body language to students to encourage them while speaking (like twinkling fingers towards the speaker) especially if noticing anxiousness, etc. 

  5. Create a nonverbal signal if the student does not want to speak aloud or wants to be skipped in circle

  6. Seat students near a buddy peer that could support them if missing a word or if they feel uncomfortable. 

    • Other options, to allow students to get priority pick of seating preference such as near you.

Character Traits to Affirmations for Distance Learning

This strategy can be used virtually and will be beneficial during a time where students are not able to connect with each other as they can.

Implementation steps:

  1. Utilize a white screen to draw a picture of yourself. This could look like using a blank document or using some kind of annotation tool (see resources for examples).   

  2. In the chat, have students write a word that describes you. Ask probing questions like, "How would you describe me?”

  3. Verbally read aloud the chat and add the words to your picture in a slide.

  4. Once there are at least 8 different words to describe you, read each one of them aloud as an I am statement.

  5. Next, display a picture of a well known person, book character, historical figure, etc. on a slide and repeat the same exercise. 

  6. Assign each student in your class, a name of someone else in the classroom. This will be the student they will need to create 5-8 positive character traits for. This could be sent to students in a chat, email, or another method. 

  7. Have students turn in their work to you first by using a collaborative google document or form. Check for positive traits and word choice. 

  8. Host a virtual class circle during which each student shares his or her character traits aloud. Or consider having students make a Flipgrid or a Padlet in which they share the character traits about themselves.

Related Lessons

This strategy can be implemented in numerous ways such as an exit ticket, morning meeting, circle, ELA lesson, etc.

Below are two lessons in which character traits are identified and analyzed, and how to conduct a class circle.