Analyzing characters is a key reading literature skill that will help your students develop a love for literature. When we learn to analyze characters, we are learning to understand others’ experiences and to relate better to the characters we read about. Here are some tips for how to teach your students about character analysis and character development.
Learn to Identify Character Traits
This is a tricky concept for many students. Often, students want to identify very basic traits. But, if we teach students to dive deep into studying characters, they will be able to better analyze in-depth traits. The most effective way to do this is by studying what the character says, does, thinks, and feels. Then, use these clues to determine character traits. I recommend using a chart like the one below.
Analyze Character Change
Once students are able to identify character traits, they are able to look at how a character grows and develops throughout a story. To do this, I recommend having students chart the major events in the plot, along with how the character responds to those major events. We can use the character’s response to determine more about the character and how they are evolving throughout the story.
After we look at how the character has developed throughout the plot, we can determine if the character learned a lesson that helped them evolve. This isn’t as straightforward and is open to critical thinking and interpretation.
How to Teach Character Development
I recommend spending at least two full weeks focusing on this skill. Here is the recommended lesson layout and schedule for teaching plot structure:
Teaching Character Development: Week 1
Week one is focused on using genuine mentor texts and picture books. Students will learn about identifying character traits and analyzing how a character changes over the course of a story based on events. Students will learn to identify these elements in engaging and relatable picture books. Students will also focus on practicing this key skill in their independent reading. Applying these skills to students’ independent reading should be a large focus of not only this unit, but also in weeks to come. Here is the typical layout of what this week could look like. Lessons may vary depending on the grade.
Week 1 – Day 1
Introduce key vocabulary surrounding this skill. Vocabulary should include plot, characters, character traits, character change. On day one, walk students through the process of how to identify character traits to describe characters. If you are using my digital mini-lessons, this is also the time to watch the video introducing this skill. On day 1, review a simple mentor text such as a common fairytale. Practice identifying character traits of the main character. Students should use what the main character says, does, thinks, and feels to help them identify traits.
Week 1: Days 2-4
Review the anchor charts. Read aloud a new mentor text each day. Using a graphic organizer, identify what the character says, does, thinks, and feels to determine character traits.
Week 1: Day 5
Display the anchor chart with key words and vocabulary blocked out. Have students help you fill in the blanks. Students use a graphic organizer to identify character traits in their own independent reading book. At the end of reading, invite a few students to share their book and review the plot.
Week 1 Resources:
My Digital Mini-Lessons are available in a year-long bundle, where you get an entire year of reading mini-lessons that cover all grade level reading comprehension standards.
Teaching Character Development: Week 2
Week two is focused on using leveled passages to analyze characters. Throughout the week, you will be teaching your students to use text evidence to support their answers. You will also be scaffolding the assignments, increasing text difficulty, with the goal of helping students read passages throughout the entire grade level band. During this week, the focus will also be on answering plot structure questions that align with standards and state assessments.
Week 2: Day 1
Introduce Character Development anchor chart. Read aloud the Mentor Text Pippi Longstocking. Model analyzing Pippi at the beginning of the story using the graphic organizer and questions. Emphasize that this is only analyzing her at the beginning of the story. When we read stories, it is important to analyze the character throughout the story. This helps us determine how the character develops.
Week 2: Day 2
Select a story in the mid-range of the text complexity band. Make the story and question set poster size or project the text and questions. Read the story as a class, and then work together to answer the questions.
Week 2: Day 3
Students complete a passage and question set in partners. I recommend choosing a text in the mid-range of the text complexity band. Always review work as a class or in groups.
Week 2: Days 4-5
Students complete a passage at the low range of the text complexity band independently. Be sure to review student work. If students did not get answers correct, ensure you make time to review with students independently or in small groups.
Continue to assign increasingly more complex passages. Continue to assess and review work.
Week 2: Day 5
By the end of the unit, most of your class should be showing mastery of the passages. This is the time to give the assessment. I recommend giving both assessment passages together, but you can also separate the passages and use the different levels to differentiate.
*Follow your students’ lead. These lessons may take more or less time. Do not move on to subsequent lessons until your students are showing progress.
Resources for Week 2:
Visuals are key! Use graphic organizers and charts to track character traits throughout the story. This provides structure and a visual for students who struggle with organizing this information and answering open-ended questions.
Growth By Grade
Strategies for Reinforcing Character Development by Grade:
Kindergarten: Use illustrations and words to track what a character says, does, thinks, and feels.
1st Grade: Map out the things that characters do, or their actions, in the beginning, middle, and end. Use pictures and words to support thinking.
2nd Grade: Use a graphic organizer to identify what the character does, says, thinks, and feels at the beginning, middle, and end. Discuss what these actions tell us how the character changes.
3rd Grade: Use a graphic organizer to map how the character evolves throughout the story. Identify character traits that describe the character at the beginning, middle, and end. Discuss how the plot events impact the character. Write a response analyzing how the character evolves, or changes, during the story.
4th Grade: Write in-depth about the protagonist and antagonist. Use specific details from the text to support analysis, including the evolution of two or more characters.
5th Grade: Write in-depth responses comparing and contrasting two characters. Quote specific text details to support thinking.
More How to Teach Character Development Resources:
These tips will help teach your students about character analysis and character development. For more support on character development, check out these resources that can be used in small groups and centers:
2nd & 3rd Grade
Character Response Skill Pack Bundle – RL.2.3 – Print & DigitalProduct on sale
4th & 5th Grade
Story Elements Skill Pack Bundle – RL.4.3 – Print & DigitalProduct on sale