Inferring Character Traits & Feelings with Illustrated Word Banks
Analyzing character traits and feelings is one of my favorite skills to teach. Every year I seem to put a little more emphasis on this skill, as it really is a huge part of students being able to comprehend fictional text. This is also an easy skill to teach because my kids absolutely love it. The way I teach this unit involves a lot of read alouds, discussing, sharing, and talking about yourself—which all kids love!
It is important to take the time to explicitly teach the vocabulary that kids may encounter with feelings and traits, especially with English language learners. I have seen students become more confident and grow their vocabulary tremendously by focusing on different feelings/trait words and what they mean.
*Quick side note for testing grades* I have noticed that over the years, students have been asked more often to identify character feelings and traits from a passage, or infer to a specific feeling or trait. This is where the explicit teaching of vocabulary comes in handy. You never know what word might be given as a multiple choice option, but teaching them new words helps them gain confidence and boosts their ability to use context clues for a tough question.
I spent a lot of time this summer developing a product to help me better introduce the vocabulary of traits and feelings. I know that I can’t teach every word they might see, but I can do my best to expose them to new types of words. As an added bonus, I don’t have to listen to kids use “happy”, “sad”, “mad”, and “bad” to describe characters…repeatedly. The posters I have made were created purposefully. I grouped similar traits and feelings together to show students that there are varying degrees of feelings.
*Update 2022* I still use this method and it still works like a charm. I have the feelings and traits posters hanging in my classroom and my students refer to this all the time! They even start to use the vocabulary in their everyday life. Click the picture or the button below to check these out in my store.
Below are 3 quick lessons to help reinforce character traits and feelings.
How are you feeling?
Have the kids pause every 2 hours to record how they are feeling in their notebooks. Ask them to use a different word each time and to give a reason. At the end of the day, have a classroom discussion where students can share how their feelings changed throughout the day and why.
Over the first couple days of school, I take pictures of all of my students. I will use them for various things throughout the year. One way I incorporate them into our lesson is by having the students cut around their picture (I just printed these on computer paper) and glue it onto their notebook. Next, every kid grabbed 5 labels, stuck them on the cover and choose 5 traits that describe themselves. Inside the notebook they used a sentence frame on the board to write about why they choose each trait. The frame I used was “I am __ because __.”
Who are you?
Explain to students that feelings can change often, but traits are who you are most of the time. Have students select a character trait that they think describes them and write it at the top of their notebook page. Take a couple minutes at the end of each day for them to write on the page one way that they showed that character trait throughout the day.
This is my favorite way because it introduces the skill so naturally. I read aloud a story with a great lead character. I stop at the beginning, middle, and end to have the students turn to a partner, talk about how the character is feeling, and write that feeling and why on a white board. (Sentence Frame: — feels — because –) You can call students to switch buddies and share what they came up with or share out with the whole group. At the end of the story, have students choose a trait to describe the character. (Sentence Frame: — is — because –) If your students are higher, have them give a reason or a “prove-it” sentence from the book as experience. You can grab a resource for some great character trait read alouds here!
Roll the tape!
Videos are a great way to introduce a skill and make things visual for your struggling readers. As a mom, I have spent way more time than necessary watching Sesame Street. While at times it can be maddening (we’re talking watching the same Elmo’s World skit 4 times in a row), it also gives me good lesson ideas. The puppet characters are all so developed with specific traits that they show throughout every skit. They also talk about feelings/emotions often through the sketches. My students all-time favorite lesson was when I let them watch a bunch of Sesame Street clips (you can find them on YouTube, Pixar short videos also can work). After each clip we talked about the character’s feelings throughout and how we could tell from observing and dialogue. After watching 3 clips with the same characters, we talked about each character’s traits and how they showed that trait over time.
I teach my students to take notes on a fiction passage using a 4 square structure. Before we even get to passages though, we use this method for tracking feelings and traits during read alouds. We also practice this skill with leveled texts in guided reading. I give the students their own illustrated word bank to refer to and they use it to write about and discuss characters. Click the picture or here to check out more about 4 square notes.
Let’s Back it Up to the Beginning
If you looking for a great way to introduce what character feelings and traits are, why students need to know them, and how they can find them, you can start with this PowerPoint mini lesson. The lesson breaks down how we can use a character’s words, actions, and thoughts to infer their feelings and traits.
How do you teach character traits and feelings?
If you have other great lesson ideas for teaching about characters, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!
These are great ideas! I just wrapped up my unit on character traits. We spent a lot of time finding more interesting words to describe our characters. You’re right – knowing the different vocabulary words for character traits is so important!
I love this! Teaching character traits and feelings is a lot of fun.
As an SLP who teaches students with pragmatic delays, I teach character traits in literature because this is a skill that keeps these kids safe as they grow more independent with life skills.