Analyzing character traits is a key fiction reading skill that is needed for successful comprehension. In most cases, authors do not just come out and tell readers the traits that a character possesses. By teaching students to take a close look at a character’s thoughts, dialogue, actions and feelings, students can begin to analyze and infer a character’s traits on their own.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TEACH CHARACTER TRAITS?
Teaching students to analyze character traits helps them make deeper connections to the story and its characters. It allows students to become emotionally invested in characters as well as what happens to them throughout the story.
Analyzing character traits assists students in understanding the dynamics of character relationships in the story. In turn, they are able to see how these relationships have an effect on the entire plot.
Going a step beyond reading comprehension, analyzing characters can help students in at least two more ways. First, it encourages students to empathize with characters, as well as to see and understand perspectives other than their own. Second, it helps them be able to apply ways to build strong character traits to their own writing pieces.
Teaching character traits can increase in difficulty by focusing on areas like identifying basic character traits to applying the skill in more complex ways.
FOCUS AREAS FOR TEACHING CHARACTER TRAITS:
IDENTIFYING CHARACTER TRAITS:
The first and most basic way to practice character traits is to have students identify character traits (both positive and negative).
They can use a list of character traits as a reference guide to come up with traits that match their character(s).
INTERNAL V. EXTERNAL TRAITS:
Students need to understand that there is a huge difference between what makes up a character’s internal traits v. what makes up their external traits. There are tons of fun ways to do help students see their differences. These can include using an interactive anchor chart, independent reading graphic organizers, or hands-on reading crafts.
Students love this Internal and External Reading Craft pictured below. This craft is great because students can visually see that the external traits make up the character’s outside, while the internal traits make up their inner personality.
EMOTIONS/FEELINGS V. TRAITS:
It is easy for students to get emotions and feelings mixed up with internal traits. This is why it is important to give direct instruction on examples of each. Students need to understand that emotions come and go quickly, while traits are more constant, or permanent. One way to help them see this is by pointing out actions in the story and the feelings that they caused the character at that time.
MAKING CHARACTER TRAIT INFERENCES:
Students can look closely at character’s actions, thoughts, feelings, and dialogue in order to infer the character’s traits. There are tons of fun ways to do this! Graphic organizers are tried and true way to get students to find and organize text evidence in order to make inferences.
Another idea is this fun character analysis craft below. Students fill in under each of the flaps to describe a character’s thoughts, dialogue, feelings, and actions. Then, on the back page, students infer character traits based on what they have written about the character in those four areas.
ROUND V. FLAT CHARACTERS:
The vast majority of creative stories students read will have both round characters as well as flat characters. Round characters are complicated in that the reader learns multiple sides to their personalities. On the other hand, flat characters are the background characters of a story in that their personalities are static and unchanging. Therefore, round characters have multiple character traits and flat characters have just one or a couple character traits.
PROTOGANIST V. ANTOGONIST:
The protagonist of a story is the main character that a story is centered around. An antagonist is a character that has conflict with the main character and tries to prevent the protagonist from reaching their goal(s). Understanding each of their character traits helps readers to make connections to the characters, reveal character flaws, and form a deeper understanding of the story’s conflict.
UNDERSTANDING CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS
From analyzing characters’ traits in a story, students can more deeply understand the relationships between characters. For example, if Character A is stubborn, and Character B is persistent, students may find that although Character B is constantly pushing Character A to do something, Character A doesn’t budge in their beliefs. Encourage students to use text evidence to back up their descriptions of the relationship between characters.
TRACKING CHARACTER CHANGES
So many stories include ways that the main character grows, learns, and ultimately changes from the beginning to the end. Students can track character traits changes and key events that trigger these changes.
Understanding how and why a character grows is key in helping students to find the theme, or lesson, of the story.
RESOURCES FOR ANALYZING CHARACTER TRAITS:
Anchor charts are so great for introducing and breaking down the above fiction reading skills for students. From providing a list of character traits for students to reference, or to giving examples of how students can use text evidence to infer character traits, anchor charts are a great tool to introduce any fiction skill.
Graphic organizers are essential for supporting readers in any new fiction reading skill. They break down skills in a way that make them much more accessible to students.
FICTION READING CRAFTS:
Reading crafts are such an engaging activity to use with hands-on, visual learners. The content of the crafts is similar to that of graphic organizers, but they are really brought to life for students in this visual format.
The reading crafts are very low prep in that most all crafts just require scissors and glue (some require a metal fastener). When complete, they also make a great bulletin board or wall display.
FICTION READING BOOKMARKS:
Fiction Reading Bookmarks are helpful for students to reference before, during, and after reading. This is because each bookmark breaks down elements of a fiction skill. They also include visuals, examples, and thinking stems that students can use to support their understanding of the skill. Then, students can record their thoughts on sticky notes on the back of the bookmarks, or they can record on a one-page notes tracker.
Looking for more tips on teaching character traits and other fiction reading skills? Then check out this blog post on Engaging and Meaningful Fiction Reader Response for Elementary Students!
The following resources are pictured in this blog post: