Creative Ways to Teach Character Analysis

Authors use many different types of characters to tell a story.  Characters help us feel like we are a part of the story and give us an opportunity to see into their hearts and examine their motivations. Since characters play such an essential role in literature, character analysis is critical in developing a deeper understanding of the text. While the author may explicitly include character traits, often readers are required to make an inference about these traits, using textual evidence and background knowledge. Clearly using textual evidence to analyze and describe character traits is an important comprehension skill, but often a difficult one to teach. Try one of these four creative ways in your classroom:

1. Model through read-alouds: Young students don’t have a lot of experience with character traits and this needs to be built through read-alouds that include strong, memorable characters. Select a read-aloud with a character that students can easily relate to such as Alexander from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. As you read each of Alexander’s bad experiences, describe how you think he feels by pointing out specific textual evidence. After modeling, encourage students to participate in the conversation. Provide think time by incorporating a Stop and Jot or Think-Pair-Share before discussing with the class.

Model with read-alouds

2. Use a Trait Tree: Young students have a limited vocabulary and often need support to select an appropriate character trait. Use Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel’s Trait Tree as a word bank scaffold. Pre-made and customizable versions are available allowing you to differentiate to meet the needs of your students. My students have this in their reading folders and binders and reference it often.

Use a Trait Tree

Trait Tree 1

3. Incorporate written response: It is so important for students to respond to text through writing and Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel’s Character Analysis Graphic Organizers allow students to record their thinking and textual evidence. These are perfect to use during guided reading groups, centers, and homework.

Character map Character analysis

4. Embed art: Written responses don’t have to be limited to reports, they can include murals, posters, poems, or dioramas. During our Charlotte’s Web study, my students used our Trait Tree to analyze Wilbur’s personality, citing textual evidence for support. Afterwards, they made these adorable crayon-resist Wilbur portraits. I hung them up on our “Some Pig” bulletin board. My principal came in as we were creating these and was so impressed with students’ character analysis and loved the integration of art. These were a hit!

Collage 4

I recently completed a similar project after reading Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type from our second-grade basal, students analyzed the cows’ character traits and cited textual evidence. On Friday, they made cows to hang up with their traits.

Cow trait 1.5 Cow traits 2.5

Character traits spotted

Love these ideas? Download Sharon Summarizing Squirrel’s Character Analysis unit to help your students master character analysis within authentic text! This Character Analysis Unit is a sub-skill unit which is also part of our Sharon Summarizing Squirrel Bundle including the following sub-skills: Cause & Effect, Central Message & Lesson, Character Analysis, Compare & Contrast, Main Idea & Key Details, Retell, and Sequencing.


Settle Spring Fever with “Miss Nelson Is Missing!”


Do you ever feel like Miss Nelson, calmly asking the class to settle down while they choose to squirm, giggle and whisper instead? As spring fever hits, patience and persistence decreases and our inner Viola Swamp starts to emerge.

Can you relate? Our Miss Nelson Is Missing! Unit is the perfect way to engage students while providing effective instruction aligned to Common Core State Standards. A built-in behavior system helps keep those squirms, giggles and spring fever symptoms under control.  A preview of our favorite Miss Nelson Is Missing! activities is included below. Download the complete unit here.

1. Create a visualization and take a Visualization Venture.  During reading group time, students closed their eyes and I read the passage aloud. They then put up privacy folders and drew a visualization using key words from text.

VernVisualizing Vulture 2

Vern Vulture visual

After reading groups, we took a Visualization Venture; students silently walked around room, observing similarities and differences. They discussed observations with seat partners and then we discussed as a whole group.  The class immediately recognized that most had elements listed in the text (i.e. spitballs, paper airplanes, misbehaving students), but the details of the characters and layout of classroom were different because people picture things differently based on their backgrounds and experiences.

2. Make character analysis puppets. I glued two lunch bags together with bottom flaps on top and facing out to make a hand puppet. Students colored and cut out Miss Nelson and Viola Swamp heads and glued one head on each flap. Then they cut out descriptive phrases and glued on appropriate character. To differentiate, you could have students record their own descriptive phrases for each character, using specific evidence from the text.

Character analysis puppet 23. Use a Venn Diagram to compare classes. We used a Venn Diagram to compare our class to Miss Nelson’s class. While my class is usually well-behaved and on-task, they have been extremely talkative and hyper, two tell-tale symptoms of spring fever. One of my students   suggested that we add talkative to Miss Nelson’s class; I asked if that fits our class as well. Sheepishly they admitted it did and we reviewed     appropriate talking times. “We don’t want a visit from Viola Swamp,” I said in a stern, serious voice. “Remember what she did to the kids in Room 207? That would be horrible, especially right before spring break!” I reminded them.  While several cracked a little smile, a few looked very serious and it planted the seed for upcoming plans.

Venn diagram

4. Post Viola Swamp sign. The next morning I posted a large sign that said, “Viola Swamp Is Watching You” on my classroom door. I simply enlarged Viola’s head on the copier and colored with crayons. I typed out the text and placed around her head. Before we walked into the classroom, I showed the class and reminded them that we didn’t want a visit.  Every time we left or entered the classroom, a few would whisper, “She’s watching us!”

Swamp Sign

5. Make Viola Swamp behavior slips. Since I had a few believers, I knew I could capitalize on their naivety with Swamp Slips, behavior notes placed on a few students’ desks each night before I left school. In the morning, the few that received a Swamp Slip would immediately remedy misbehavior (disorganized desk, shouting out, loud in line, etc.).  If someone displayed symptoms of spring fever, another classmate would whisper, “You don’t want a Swamp Slip!”

Swamp Slips

6. Dress up as Viola Swamp. On Friday, the last day of our unit and the last day before spring break, I decided to dress up like Miss Swamp. I wore an old, black dress, wide belt, a curly wig and knee-high argyle socks. I placed thick, black moustaches on my eyebrows and made one into a hairy wart for my chin. The finishing touch was a large witch nose I found at a local party store—it completed my Viola Swamp transformation.

Viola Swamp gear

I had the teacher next door walk out to get my class, telling them that she hadn’t seen me all morning. She told them to get unpacked while I hid out in the school library. After 5 minutes, I swung open the classroom door and screamed, “I am your new teacher, Miss Viola Swamp!” and I rapped the nearest desk with a ruler.  The kids look horrified at first, but then one shouted out, “It’s just Mrs. Murphy!”  I kept the costume on and took pictures with each of them.

7. Make a Swamp Snack. At the end of the day, students followed a recipe to make a Swamp Snack recipe. They absolutely loved it and they were reading functional text and using measuring tools in the process. It was the perfect culmination activity!

Swamp snack 2






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