Story elements are an important part of your literature skill curriculum. We are going to be taking a closer look at the parts of story elements over the next few blog posts. Today, we will talk about teaching character!
With character skill development, students are going to need to build their understanding gradually. This reflects in each grade level’s standard requirement. As you can see below, students will go from simply identifying characters in Kindergarten to describing characters in-depth, with specific details from the story. So, when teaching character, it is important to focus on your specific grade-level skills.
Common Core Standards:
- Kinder RL.K.3: With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.
- 1st Grade RL.1.3: Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.
- 2nd Grade RL.2.3: Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
- 3rd Grade RL.3.3: Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
- 4th Grade RL.4.3: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
Stock Up On Mentor Texts With Strong Characters
When teaching character, your most effective tool is going to be strong mentor texts. When students have repeated experiences with well-developed characters, they will be able to strengthen their understanding of character. This is true for every grade level!
So, when you are choosing mentor texts for your character instruction look for one (or more) character(s) who display their traits through actions and feelings. It is also helpful when the problem that the character faces is clear, and that their reaction to the problem involves definable actions.
Here are a collection of affiliate links to Amazon that I think would help your students while learning about characters!
- Jamaica’s Find
- Pink and Say
- The Invisible Boy
- Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun
- White Socks Only
- Bad Case of Stripes
- Enemy Pie
Start By Teaching What A Character Is
When teaching character in Kindergarten, your focus will be strictly on what a character is. You will want the students to look for WHO is carrying out the actions in the story. Students will need explicit examples of characters, allowing them to understand that characters can be found in many forms, not just as people. Starting with an anchor chart and some talk alouds, teachers can describe or demonstrate scenarios that show different types of characters. For example, using a student in the class, have students describe what they are doing. “Riley is smiling. Jo is picking up their pencil. Carson is walking.” Then, use an example with the other types of characters. “The dog is barking. The dragon is flying. The snowman is melting.”
The main goal is for students to grasp the concept of a character being a “who” (even if they are not a person).
Identify WHO Is In the Story
After students learn the concept of a “character,” they are ready to identify characters in stories. This will be for your Kindergarten and First-grade students! When first teaching character within stories, you will want to start with short, simple texts. The activity above is a good example! Students will simply need to identify who the characters are in the short paragraphs.
Shift Into Describing The Character
After some practice identifying characters in short stories and text, it is time to introduce character traits. First and second graders should be able to grasp this skill.
Character traits can initially be presented in known subjects or characters. It will be helpful for students to describe characters they already know, like their family members, friends, or even themselves. Have students practice describing characters they know until they’re ready to analyze character traits in text.
Don’t Forget Character’s Actions
Now, it is time to look for evidence of character traits through character action. When you are teaching character actions, it is easiest to start with the problem in the story. Students will look at how specific characters respond to the problem. This action response tells us a lot about that character! This skill can be introduced in second grade! However, it is going to be essential in third and fourth grades!
Character Actions and Feelings
Anchor charts are always a good idea! This simple anchor chart will help you scaffold your instruction when teaching character. Start with a teacher-led example. Identify and record examples of a character’s actions and feelings. Then, use a think-aloud to analyze those actions and feelings in order to determine a character trait.
Next, include students in the analysis, having them interact with the content. This can be done with a story you’ve read together or one they have read on their own. Continue applying the skill until the majority of your students understand how to use character actions and feelings when determining traits. But, don’t take that chart down! Leave the anchor chart up and it will continue to support skill development and understanding!
This focus on character actions and feelings will be an integral part of your instruction for third and fourth grade. But, this doesn’t mean that second graders shouldn’t be exposed, too!
Make sure that you are giving your students many opportunities to practice character analysis. You can do this with mentor texts, comprehension task cards, printed passages, novels, etc. I would highly recommend using graphic organizers when students are reading on their own or with partners. These will allow the students to direct their focus specifically on character!
Here are a few more affiliate links to Amazon that I think would help your students while learning about Challenge and Response…
- Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber
- The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
- Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
- Jamaica’s Find by Juanita Havill
- Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
Introduce a Mnemonic Device To Help
As I mentioned in the last section, graphic organizers are going to be a major support for focusing on character. This mnemonic device is an easy way to direct your third and fourth-grade students’ focus. FAST stands for feelings, actions, speech, and thoughts. Students will record evidence of a character’s feelings, actions, speech, and thoughts in the four boxes. Then, they will look at that evidence in order to determine the traits that they show for the character.
You can use a printed organizer like the one above! But, I also like to teach my students how to create their own. If they can remember “FAST” and fold a piece of paper into four, they can analyze a character!
Try a Digital Character Activity
Specifically, there are 2-3 character-focused activities in my new digital story elements set. These activities range from simply identifying the character based off of a picture or paragraph to explaining traits about a character. These come ready-made in Google Slides and Seesaw.
Suggested Resources to Help Teach Character Study
If you’d like a complete unit for teaching character/story elements in your classroom, click your grade-level below! Each unit contains lessons, graphic organizers, interactive notebook pages, comprehension passages, task cards and an assessment!
Want to learn more tips for Story Elements?
Watch this YouTube video I created with 3 tips for engaging ideas!
Thank you for reading about teaching character!