How to help your students identify character traits beyond "nice" and "persistent" | Mentoring in the Middle

How to help your students identify character traits beyond "nice" and "persistent"

 "So, how would you describe Melody in Out of My Mind?"
Picture of girl thinking with title that says "Character Traits beyond "nice" and "persistent."
Teaching character traits doesn’t have to be complicated, once you get students to move beyond words like “nice” and “persistent.”   

Teach traits through books

Like many learning experiences, getting students to think about themselves first can open their eyes to think more deeply about a character.  Then, when you ask them to step in the character’s shoes, they have a better sense of what they’re looking for.

It’s important that students understand that authors don’t describe character traits directly.  Most often, traits appear in a character’s:

  • Thoughts
  • Feelings
  • Appearance
  • Dialogue
  • Actions
  • Other characters’ reactions to them
For example, in this passage from A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel -

James didn't talk to me the whole way home yesterday.  He didn't even glance over at me when Mrs. Morris laid into us both about responsibility and the importance of knowing how to get from Point A to Point B (I'm guessing Point A was home and POint B the library).  James didn't say a word when Kerica leaned into me and whispered, "See you tomorrow, I hope."

Alice is the protagonist in this book and the story is told from her point of view.  So. she notices James' actions - not talking and not looking at her.  The author doesn't say anything about him being angry, but those few sentences tell you all you need to know.  When you continue reading, you learn that James is being required to shepherd Alice all over their new town.  Why he's the one who has to do it.  And then you understand why he's angry.

In this passage from Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve - 

Ona had lived around white people - that is, her owners - for all her life.  But she was not accustomed to living daily in the same house with white servants, even considering the time that Ona would have stayed with Marth in the mansion house when so ordered.  She hadn't spent much time with white people who were desperately poor, struggling, and powerless.  But standing alongside white servants, Ona would see even more clearly the distinction between their lives and hers.  To be a slave - even the favored slave of the wife of the president of the United States - was to be seen as inhuman.

The authors don't tell you how Ona feels.  But since the book starts with her escaping to gain her freedom, you understand from the paragraph above that Ona is beginning to define herself and the boundaries she's no longer willing to cross.  She is thoughtful and observant, and defines herself apart from her owners, regardless of their position.

Teach traits through video shorts

There are a ton of Youtube videos that you can use to help students.  I find that using short films helps students find a middle ground between you teaching them and them working independently.  They can even watch with a partner if working together makes more sense.

Two videos that work well for character traits are:

Jinky Jenkins and Lucky Lou

This one not only lets students describe the two characters but also how they change over time.

Take Me Home

Even dogs have traits that can be described, and that's very evident here.

Need some help?

If you don't need another set of lesson plans to create, I've got you covered here.  

Cover of Character Traits lessons product
You can:

  • Do all or part of the 5 lessons, depending on what your students need
  • Do one lesson a day for a week
  • Combine the first 4 lessons across 2 days and make the 5th one a homework assignment
  • Lessons can be set up so that students work alone or with a partner, in small groups, or with you leading the whole class. 

Students will watch instructional videos, then a short fictional video. You’ll scaffold them to text with a read-aloud or a picture book.  Finally, they will identify character traits and then dig into their independent reading book.  

Want them to have additional practice?  Take a look at my Character Traits Review Color by Code Activity here.
Cover of Character Traits Review and Coloring Activity

Or buy the Character Traits Bundle and save 20% off the total cost of both items.
Cover of Character Traits Bundle that combines previous two products

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