Helping children know the difference between a character’s feelings and a character’s traits is an important distinction. As you share stories and meet characters in books, begin talking about the words that describe the character’s personality and begin recording them on a chart such as this one. Having access to a character trait word bank will help improve the quality of talk, quality of thinking, and written response to reading!
When we begin talking to children about characters’ feelings, very often, they speak in very black and white terms. When asked, they will say a character feels “happy” or “sad.” To quote Steven Stahl from Vocabulary Development, “A richer vocabulary does not just mean that we know more words, but that we have more complex and exact ways of talking about the world, and of understanding the ways that more complex thinkers see the world.” Therefore, as teachers, we must work hard to build their vocabulary for describing how characters feel. In these charts, you can see the progression from talking about the degree to which a character feels sad (or happy) and then developing language for talking about positive and negative feelings. By making this an interactive writing experience, children take ownership over the words and begin to enter this language into their spoken vocabularies.
When studying a character like Kevin Henkes’ Lilly, children can easily identify her brash, bold ways. However, Lilly is a multi-dimensional character and it is important to push students to see both sides. In this lesson, student’s began by brainstorming Lilly’s more evident negative qualities. Afterward, the teacher pushed students to go back and brainstorm Lilly’s “other side,” her more positive side, and in so doing, children gained a fuller picture of who Lilly is as a character.