Teaching Character Traits in Reading

Teaching about character traits in reading can be challenging but fun!

One of the hardest parts for kids is that in most pieces of literature, the character traits are somewhat abstract. The author doesn’t directly tell the reader what the character is like, which forces kids to have to learn to piece it together by making inferences based on what the character says and does.

So our job as teachers is to equip our miniature detectives with the tools they need to figure out what each character is really like. How do I do that in my classroom?

Here are 10 tips to use for character traits:

1. Define Character Traits

First, we define character traits and talk about what is and isn’t a character trait. One of the things I use is this anchor chart to guide our discussions about a character’s outward appearance vs. his/her inner character.

Then we brainstorm a list of character traits on a separate anchor chart as a class. Of course, I already have a pre-made list, but part of the learning process here is to allow students to share their knowledge and to work together to create a list that is more meaningful to them before we take sometime later on to enhance the list.


2. Evaluate Character Traits as Positive, Negative, or Neutral

When the anchor chart with all of the character traits is done, I like to revisit it the next day and talk about the difference between positive and negative character traits.

We go through the list and mark a plus or minus sign next to each trait. For those traits that could be viewed either way, we mark these with an “n” for neutral.

3. Do an Art Project Involving Your Student’s Character Traits

The next thing we do is an art project. There are a number of really good projects, like doing Wordles on the computer, or making silhouettes, but I usually have the kids draw cartoon caricatures which they label.

To do this, we look at the character chart and the kids choose 10 of the character traits which describe themselves. After jotting these down on scratch paper, we head to the computer lab, where the kids type these using a variety of fonts in larger sizes. We print these and later cut them out and glue the words around our cartoons.

4. Use Mentor Texts: Fiction

Once I feel that the kids have a basic knowledge of character traits, it’s time to dig into text together. I love choosing fiction in the form of mentor texts because they are short but oh, so rich!

After reading each book, we discuss each character, what character traits were shown, and how we know this. The “how we know this” is an important part and can help the kids practice searching for text evidence.

One of the strategies I use to help kids identify character traits is to teach them to use the acronym F.A.S.T., which stands for Feelings, Actions, Sayings, and Thoughts. If kids are able to determine these things about the character, chances are, they’ll “get” what the character traits are.

5. Use Mentor Texts: Fairy Tales

Besides using fiction, fairy tales are great to use because they often have very black and white type characters, which make them ideal for identifying character traits practice. It’s fun to compare and contrast the villains and the heroes, that are present in so many of these classic tales.

6. Use Mentor Texts: Fables

Fables are another treasure trove resource for character traits because the writers often portrayed them in simplistic or sometimes exaggerated ways to make sure that the readers got the point of the story without much trouble.

Fables also have the added “short text” bonus, which I love for practicing skills. Rather than reading 100 pages to figure out a character, we can practice as a class and in 30 minutes or less, we can figure out several of them. Love that about fables!

7. Use Real People

Using real people, whether it is a historical person from the social studies book, a famous person from a biography, or even the principal (if he/she is a great example, which I’m hoping would be the case), real people are super interesting for character traits examples.

Another plus to using historical figures is that they can help you integrate reading and social studies. In my mind, that’s awesome!

8. Use Task Cards

Task cards are always one of my favorite things to use in the classroom. When kids think of task cards, they usually think “game” or “fun” but I think task cards are actually a “great learning opportunity!”

I created a set of Character Traits Task Cards Print and Digital that I like to use that have mini-stories on each of the 32 cards. I like to set them around the room and give kids clipboards to write on but you could sure use them as a whole class or at centers too. These give the kids some real concentrated practice.


Characters, Settings and Events: Print and Digital

Characters, Settings, and Events Unit in print and digital for 3rd - 5th grades

9. Independent Work

Now that the kids have become fairly well versed in determining character traits, it’s time to kick the little birdies out of the nest a bit, so they can do some independent work. I love using lots of passages and graphic organizers from my Characters, Settings and Events: Print and Digital. With 48 pages (including 32 task cards), there’s enough material to allow the kids to get lots of practice with a variety of activities. And my favorite part…It includes both a print AND a digital format to give you greater flexibility in the classroom!

10. Review Throughout the Year

Once the unit is done, we don’t just set it aside and forget about it. Like everything we do, I try to continue to weave it in as we go. Even a simple question with each read aloud or every piece of literature the kids read can help. “What character traits did you notice?” goes a long way towards keeping this concept fresh in the kid’s minds.

Happy teaching! Thanks for stopping by!

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