Teaching about character traits is fun. Students enjoy learning new words to describe people, and the subject lends itself to lots of interesting activities. Here are a few things that I've been doing in my classroom in the last two weeks.
Read aloud: I started the conversation about character traits by reading aloud to students and doing a simple 3-column chart (character, trait, explanation). With one class, I'm reading There's A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom. The first chapter of this book introduces us to Bradley, and even my reluctant readers are riveted! Louis Sachar uses both direct and indirect characterization to tell us about Bradley, and we can make inferences about his traits based on his actions, his words, and what others say about him.
With my other class, I'm reading Frindle. (I just can't stand to read the same book to two classes at a time!) In this book, Andrew Clements uses the first two chapters to introduce the characters of Nick and Mrs. Granger. It's perfect for using character traits to make predictions about how characers will interact.
Dialogue based on traits: I have a very dramatic class this year! They love to create and perform skits. After we talked about character traits in read aloud, I gave groups of students a list of characters and traits. (Example: Maya=studious, Andrea=carefree) Then, the group worked together to try to create a skit that would show the traits. For fourth graders, this was a difficult task. As we performed the skits over several days, however, their guesses improved. Students refined their thinking from just saying "nice" to saying "thoughtful" or "considerate".
Character traits in a shared reading: The big message throughout my lessons, of course, is that we need to make inferences about a character's traits. We looked at how we could infer a character's traits through their thoughts, their words, and their actions. In a shared reading, students worked to identify traits for different characters. We used the same chart as we had for the read aloud.
It can be useful to have a character traits list, especially if students are constantly going back to "nice" or "mean". Here is a link to one:
Character Traits list
How traits change: With about ten minutes of reading a day, after a week we reach the part in the book in which we start to see characters changing. One boy today said, "Wow--we're really seeing another side of Bradley." For fourth graders, who are emerging from seeing everything as all one way or all the other, this new dimensionality is crucial. No one trait can describe a character, just like one trait can't describe any student.