We are beginning a unit that focuses on biographies and I wanted my students to concentrate on the subject of character traits. As we were reading our current read aloud, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. https://www.amazon.com/Fish-Tree-Lynda-Mullaly-Hunt we were continually discussing the traits displayed by the characters. Words like funny, nice, kind, mean, and sad were being put forward by the 4th graders. It was apparent that we needed to expand our understanding of character traits. My homework for the night was to look for resources that would help enhance my students’ understanding of character traits. What a treat to find the following blog on Scholastic by Genia Connell. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2012/11/teaching-character-traits-readers-workshop
Following Ms. Connell’s lead, we first had a discussion around the difference between an emotion and a character trait. Together we decided that an emotion is fleeting, while a trait is something inside you that you continually exhibit. Using this definition, we brainstormed a list of character traits, discussing whether each word offered was an emotion or a trait. Students added to the list as they independently read their own free choice books.
It was time to practice what we were learning. In small groups, we read the simple picture book, A Whistle for Willie by Ezra Keats. https://www.amazon.com/Whistle-Willie-Ezra-Jack-Keats/dp/0670880469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476848367&sr=8-1&keywords=whistle+for+willielink After reading the book again together, I asked the students what traits Peter exhibited in the book, reminding them their choice must be supported using evidence from the text. We gathered together to discuss our thinking about Peter. Students explained that Peter was imaginative because he dressed up and pretended to be his father and Peter was perseverant as he kept trying to learn new ways to whistle when he failed the first time. While responding to this discussion, a student commented that some traits are thought of as more positive while others have a negative connotation. We went back to our chart and highlighted positive traits in pink and more negative traits in yellow. This led to an interesting conversation on whether a trait might be both positive and negative depending on how it was used.
Following Genia Conell’s suggestion, we focused the concept of traits on ourselves. Students created silhouettes of themselves and chose 4-6 character traits which they felt best reflected their own character.
Our reading genre over the next few weeks is biographies. To begin the unit, we are reading the biography of Mala Yousafzai titled Who is Mala Yousafzai by Dinah Brown. We will be looking at the character traits she possesses which motivate her in her quest for education for all. To begin the study, we read out loud the powerful picture book Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery by Jeanette Winter. https://www.amazon.com/Malala-Brave-Girl-Pakistan-Iqbal/dp/1481422944/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476848770&sr=1-1&keywords=iqbal+a+brave+boy+from+pakistan
After reading the story of Iqbal, a boy forced into servitude in a carpet factory, I asked the students what character traits he displayed. Pencils quickly went to paper as they described both the traits they found in him and the evidence they used from the text.
Iqbal was rebellious, as he secretly wove kites into his tapestry.
Iqbal was courageous when he returned to the factory to inform others they were no longer slaves.
Iqbal was faithful, as he continued to work at the factory to support his family.
Gone were the responses students had given prior to these lessons. The words sad and unhappy were no longer to be found.
I’m anxious to watch my students transfer their new understanding of character traits to both their reading and their writing. This will be the perfect time to begin lessons on showing, not telling, in writing. Given a simple sentence, The boy is joyful, students will be asked to write what the boy was doing that helped the reader know he was joyful. How does the boy in the sentence display that trait? I’m sure that all the time we have spent practicing showing different traits will show in their writing.
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