3 tips for how to teach character traits and development with novels | Mentoring in the Middle

3 tips for how to teach character traits and development with novels

 Can you use a novel to teach or review important reading comprehension skills without feeling overwhelmed?  Of course!  The key is not trying to do it all. 

If you’re looking to deepen students’ understanding of character traits beyond “nice” and “good” and “persevering,” keep reading!  I previously wrote about teaching character traits using videos, and you can read that here.

1. Pick a good book to teach character traits

You can use a lot of different books, but ones that provide different points of view would be an easy place to start.  You can certainly use picture books to teach character traits, but I recommend using books your students are into.

An excellent choice might be Refugee by Alan Gratz since it introduces you to three characters, all of whom face major challenges over time.   Wonder or Pony by R.J. Palacio also have well-developed characters to explore.

Most characters change over the course of a novel.  So pick books about character traits where the changes are visible, even to students just learning about character development.

2.  Start simple - with themselves {freebie}

I usually start with my students themselves.  What are some ways that they would describe themselves?  If they struggle to come up with words or phrases, have them ask a friend.

Are there words they would have used for themselves when they were 4 or 5 or 6 years old, that they would no longer use?  Most kids will say yes.  Discuss those words and how the words they use now show that they have matured.

You can download this list of character traits if your students are struggling to come up with words to describe themselves.  (You'll be prompted to make a copy and then you can save it to upload or print out.)

3.  Now, move to fictional characters

The same thing happens to characters over the course of a novel.  As the reader, their job is to infer about the character from their dialogue, actions, thoughts, and feelings.

Pick a character from the novel that you're reading and have students work in small groups to come up with some characteristics that are obvious, based on how the character has acted or spoken.

Share out the ones students have come up with.  Now, have them do the same thing with traits that are less obvious, ones that have to be inferred. 

For example, Joseph in Refugee states that he has to act like a man after his Bar Mitzvah, and he goes around acting a bit pompous, but he doesn't talk about how scary it is to take on that role.  That's something the reader has to infer about him.  Sometimes, having to act like a grown-up isn't fun.

  • Do your students need more help with this skill?  This resource, with videos and graphic organizers, may be just what you need.  
page shows QR codes and directions     page shows students working on a graphic organizer     a bunch of colored pencils with a coloring sheet and questions

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