Teaching Character Traits & Development

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, you will learn several strategies to enhance reading comprehension by teaching students the importance of character traits and character development in fiction.

Reasons for Teaching Characterization

Think about all the great movies you've watched and books you've read in your lifetime. The most memorable fictional characters are the ones with the strongest character development: Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Darth Vader, Juliet Capulet, and even Homer Simpson. The fact that these characters stand out is no coincidence. They are characters whose authors have spent a great deal of time and effort developing them as memorable characters.

So why is this important from a teaching perspective? For students to fully comprehend a text, they need a firm grasp of characterization. What makes a character's choices and actions believable? Why does Juliet kill herself? Why is Darth Vader so evil? And most importantly, why does Homer Simpson say d'oh! so much? These questions can only be answered through the examination of character development.

Strategies for Teaching Character Development

To introduce students to the concept of character traits, first create an anchor chart. An anchor chart is a visual aid, typically completed on chart paper, that is used by the teacher during instruction. The teacher adds content to the chart throughout the lesson and posts the chart in the classroom for students to refer to. The best anchor charts are ones the teacher and students create collaboratively.

For example, to create an anchor chart for a character, you could post a picture of the character in the center of the chart paper. Next, give students several sticky notes and have them write down each of the character's traits they encounter as they read, such as 'frightened,' 'stingy,' 'daring,' etc. The end result will be a colorful chart filled with student-identified traits specific to that character.

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