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5 Easy Ways To Teach What Character Traits Are in Children’s Literature

Do you get blank stares when you teach what character traits are? Are their answers limited to words such as “nice” or “mean”? 

When I taught second grade, I quickly realized how limited my students’ vocabulary was when it came to describing the character traits of a person. They could easily tell me what the character looked like on the outside, but on the inside? Not so much.

The good news is I will explain 5 activities that will improve your students’ understanding and grow their vocabulary.

Now, before we get into the strategies, I have some FREE tools for you!

Why Is Teaching Character Traits Important?

As students begin to read more complex stories, character analysis helps the reader have a deeper understanding of the story. It requires higher-order thinking skills since the reader often has to make inferences. 

In the upper grades, students explain how the story events changed the character. Well, before they can do that, students need to master describing character traits.

So here are a few ideas to use with your lessons:

Define What Are Character Traits

Everyone has character traits. They make up our personality. Some of them are good character traits like honest, creative, or being friendly. Others are bad character traits such as grumpy, rude, or impatient. You can’t see these traits on the outside. However, you can figure them out by what a person says or does.

Also, it is important to point out that a trait isn’t a momentary thing. They aren’t mood swings. True character traits are the way a person or character acts normally. How do they interact with others? How do they handle problems? 

Explain Strategies for Identifying Character Traits

There are four ways students can figure out a character’s traits. Explain the acronym FAST.

F stands for FEELINGS. Often authors let us know how the character is feeling or their mood.

A stands for ACTIONS. The way the character behaves. How they react to situations.

S is for SAID. Words spoken and unspoken are powerful clues.

T stands for THOUGHTS. Sometimes writers let us know what the character is thinking without using dialog.

To help anchor this concept, have the class discuss the characters from a famous fairy tale such as The Three Little Pigs. What did the wolf do? Which trait matches that behavior? 

✏ Want the FAST Poster and Character Traits Graphic Organizer for FREE?

Build Their Vocabulary

Students often fall back on common words such as “nice” or “sad”. The challenge is to expand their vocabulary beyond the first word that pops into their head. More specific vocabulary means deeper understanding and comprehension.

One method is to brainstorm synonyms for ordinary words such as nice. Together you could create lists of character traits. If you turn it into an anchor chart you can build upon it throughout the days ahead. This provides students with a higher- vocabulary at their fingertips.

In my classroom, I liked to link different character traits to stories we read together as a class. I’d print a copy of the book’s cover. After we read the story, we’d discuss which three words best describe the main character. Then I add the words to the wall display.

bulletin board of book covers with good character traits beside them.

Practice Identifying Traits Using Fables or Read Alouds

A natural way to launch a discussion about character traits is through fables such as The Tortoise and The Hare. Each character had a completely different attitude towards life as well as the race itself.

Another way to embed a conversation is after your read-aloud time. So many great books lend themselves to this topic. I wrote this post about my 15 Favorite Books for Teaching Character Traits if you’d like some suggestions.

Give Opportunities to Apply Their Understanding

Once you have provided guided practice through read-aloud books or your weekly basal story, it is time for your students to try it on their own. It is important that the student explains HOW they figured out the trait. What evidence supports your answer? 

I created this activity for my students. It has 5 short stories for them to practice with as well as an open-ended form that they can use with any story.

 I’ve got you covered when it comes to resources for teaching character traits! And if you haven’t already, scroll up to snag my FREE Anchor Charts and Activities to support your lessons!

Looking For Additional Character Traits Resources?

character traits posters
Product Cover for List of Character Traits and lessons

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  • Alison Monk

    When I started teaching, I quickly realized that student teaching didn't prepare me for the real challenges of being alone in a classroom full of young children. The learning curve was steep and time was limited. That is why I created the Literacy Garden. My hope is this will be a place for inspiration, mentoring, and connecting.

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  • […] I also wrote an article that goes into more detail on how to teach lessons on character traits. You can find 5 Easy Ways to Teach What Character Traits Are HERE. […]

  • […] 5 Easy Ways to Teach What Character Traits Are […]

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    Hi! I'm Alison

    My #1 passion is all things literacy! I'm a curriculum creator and literacy specialist with over 30 years teaching in elementary classrooms. My goal is to share creative and engaging ways to grow your students and are easy to implement and academically sound. You can expect to find teaching tips to boost your confidence and grow your learners. You don't have to do this alone! I'm the support you've been looking for. I'm so glad you are here!

    About the Literacy Garden

    When I started teaching, I quickly realized that student teaching didn't prepare me for the real challenges of being alone in a classroom full of young children. The learning curve was steep and time was limited. That is why I created the Literacy Garden. My hope is this will be a place for inspiration, mentoring, and connecting.

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