Getting Inside Character

Asking students to describe a character or write about a character often leads to physical descriptions: "The boy is 9. He has black hair and brown eyes. His name is _______." BORING! How do we get students to move beyond this? Teach inside & outside character traits.
Our read aloud was a delightful adventure book, Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
Roxie Warbler is the perfect character to study both "inside & outside" traits, as well as to see a character change and develop through the plot. One of my fourth graders drew Roxie on chart paper. Next, we divided her in half and students listed all the physical traits  (that could physically be seen) to describe her. This was fairly easy for them, and we had the text to use as reference.

Now the thinking part came in! I asked kids to describe the kind of person Roxie was (on the inside: traits we can't see, but can infer by her actions).  They came up with some great adjectives and personality traits!
The best part was when students had to PROVE IT: they had to give evidence of specific events from the story to support particular character traits. We wrote these on post-its and added it to each inside character trait.
This was very effective! It also elicited terrific conversations when students felt an event could fall in more than one category. (We emphasized there was not one right answer, as long as they could justify their thinking.)
The best part is that now students ASK to brainstorm for a character when planning their writing, or I notice them taking notes by splitting a character in half while reading a book. It gives them purpose for reading! Here are a few student samples of developing character before writing:
I love this student's "because" reasons:

  • good attitude because she is always positive
  • happy because she wakes up not too early
  • heart of gold because she doesn't get mad a lot 
  • growth mindset because she never gives up
  • very talented because she can do lots of flips
How do you teach character traits?

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