Teaching Character Traits in the Primary Grades | Simply Skilled Teaching

Teaching Character Traits in the Primary Grades

A box of Crayola markers with a few spilling out over a book titled "Grady the Grouch" that has a little boy smirking next to a paper that says "All About Character" with a picture of a blonde boy next to pink confetti with the title over the image "Teaching Character Traits in the Primary Grades"

Hey teacher peeps! I want to get into some helpful deets about teaching character traits.

We all know the saying “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I’m sure we all agree it’s true. As we teach character analysis and character traits to the kiddos in our classrooms, we help them dive deeper into the stories they read. They begin to understand that a character is more than just “a boy with brown hair and blue eyes.” Teaching about character traits and character analysis will help students learn to think critically and make deeper, more meaningful connections.

Pink confetti next to a box of 10 Crayola markers with some spilling out over three sections of a trifold with the first section that says "All About Characters" over a picture of a cartoon blonde boy next to a second section where a student has written "Grady" over the spot for "character's name" and drawn a picture of the character, Grady. The student has also written "Grady the Grouch" under "Title of the Book" with character traits listed: "unkind," "mad," "mean," "hurtful" and "grouchy. The third section says "Friend or Foe" with a drawing of  a little girl pointing at another little girl who is crying. At the top of the page is the prompt, "Would you like to have the character as a friend? Why or why not?" under which a student has written "yes because he is learning to be nicer now" and the answer goes on, but the answer is covered up by the section section

Paint the Picture when Teaching Character Traits

Begin your lesson on character traits by explaining that authors rarely spell-out the traits that a character possesses. The main character of the story may be brave and adventurous, but the author may never use those exact words. Instead, they use the character’s actions and dialogue to paint vivid and descriptive word pictures.

We see illustrations of the character trait of courage, as Brave Irene trudges heroically through the wind and snow to deliver the duchess’ ball gown. We see the trait of determination as Stuart Little battles huge obstacles on a daring adventure to find his friend. Help students learn to identify the ways in which authors use word pictures to reveal the traits their characters possess.

Teach your students how to understand the difference between external and internal character traits. Explain that although the author may use words that paint a picture of the character’s outward, physical features (a small boy who has trouble reaching the water fountain or a gray-haired woman with wrinkled hands and hunched shoulders), it’s most often a character’s words and actions that reveal the most about who they are inside.

Pink confetti next to a box of Crayola markers with a few spilling out and the black and pink markers lying over a printed fold out with the title "All About Character" one on side over a cartoon drawing of a little boy where the section to the right with a space for the student to write the character's name, draw a picture of the character, write the title of the book, and list character traits

“It’s What’s on the Inside that Counts!”

Explain how the description of the gray-haired woman’s outward appearance may give hints of an inner character trait (for example, “She had kind eyes and a soft smile.”) But the dialogue and actions the author includes (like the fact that the elderly woman is always baking cookies and pies to give away to neighbors) provide stronger clues that help us identify the character’s internal traits of generosity and kindness.

Help your students understand the difference between emotions and character traits. A character in a story may feel fear and express it; however, their actions may show a determination to work through the fear and conquer it. Therefore, we can infer that they possess the character trait of bravery.

Another character may go through the experience of feeling angry when a friend says something hurtful. However, when they comfort that same friend after a fall on the playground, we recognize the character traits of kindness, loyalty and forgiveness. Remind students that feelings come and go, but character traits are qualities that last. Good or bad, they are ingrained within the person and make them who they are!

List the Traits

As you begin to introduce the concept of character traits, one of the activities for character traits involves creating an anchor chart with your students. Begin by asking them to name all the character or personality traits they can think of. Guide the students in listing the items and then separating them into “Positive,” “Negative” and “Neutralcharacter traits. When compiling the list, remind them it’s not a list of short-lived emotions, but rather, a list of qualities that describe inner character.

Teach Students how to Take a Closer Look to Uncover Character Traits

Teach your students how character analysis helps them understand a character (and the story as a whole) better. Explain that they are diving deep and taking a closer look. Show them how to search for textual evidence that will help them make inferences about the characters within the story.

Teach your students to ask the following questions:

  • “What does the character say?”
  • “What does the character think?”
  • “How does the character feel?”
  • “What does the character do?”

As students answer these questions using evidence gleaned from the text, they can learn to make inferences and draw conclusions about specific character traits, based on what a character says, thinks, feels and does. Show them how to identify and record textual evidence using annotations on sticky notes, index cards or graphic organizers. Remind them to note page numbers!

Use examples from mentor texts or class read-alouds that students will remember. Show them how to analyze the text to make inferences, identify character traits, cite text evidence, and create a character trait timeline. Introduce the concept of character development–the changes a character undergoes and the lessons they learn as the story progresses. Folk tales, fairy tales and non-fiction biographical texts can all be used to teach this aspect of character analysis.

Are you having a hard time with virtual class? Check out my blog post with 4 tips for at-home learning – help for parents.

Pink confetti with a box of Crayola markers with some spilling out and the blue and pink markers over the "Friend or Foe" trifold that has a cartoon picture of a girl pointing at another girl who is crying at the top and a picture of two cartoon boys with their arms around each other's shoulders at the bottom. At the top of the page, there is a prompt that says, "Would you like to have the character as a friend? Why or why not?" and then the student has answered, "yes because he is learning to be nicer now and not hurt his classmates anymore so we can be friends now." Next to that, a book is folded open with a cartoon picture of a teacher in a classroom on the left side and a cartoon picture of a girl student and a boy student working together

Other Learning That Results From Teaching Character Traits

As you begin teaching character traits, it will naturally flow into other areas of literacy learning. Identifying character traits will enhance the use of other strategies. It can help with understanding sequencing, author’s purpose, visualization and inference.

In addition, the list of character traits you compile will contain some challenging new vocabulary words. Take the opportunity to identify new words and define them. The students in your class will become better readers and writers through the process of learning to identify and analyze character traits.

If you are interested in using some of these activities in your classroom, check out my Reading Tab-Its below. I have them for Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3.

Download Reading Tab-Its® FREEBIE for Grades 1, 2, & 3

Use Chapter Books for Teaching Character Traits with Fluent Readers

Of course, character traits and character analysis are particularly important strategies to teach fluent readers. The dual focus for these students should always be on comprehension and vocabulary, and chapter books are ideal for teaching both.

While the majority of your Guided Reading texts will be short picture books, you may periodically want to incorporate a chapter book or novel for your fluent readers’ group. Chapter books can be a great way to keep fluent readers engaged and excited about reading, and they can be excellent books for teaching character traits!

Again, keep in mind that chapter books are appropriate for your fluent, On-Level and Advanced readers. You may want to handle it more as a literacy group, only meeting to with the group to “check-in” on their progress and allow them to share their thoughts on the book or characters. Depending upon the group, a shorter chapter book may even be appropriate for your Transitional readers group towards the end of the year.

You may want to choose the chapter book, or let the students vote on the one they’d like to read. Important teacher tip: Be sure to read (or reread) the entire book in advance of the first group! Even if you’ve read it before, there may be important details you’ve forgotten. The details you notice during your reading will guide your instruction, so don’t skip this step!

Pink confetti next to a box of Crayola markers with a few spilling out and the black and pink markers lying over a printed fold out with the title "All About Character" one on side over a cartoon drawing of a little boy where the section to the right with a space for the student to write the character's name, draw a picture of the character, write the title of the book, and list character traits next to the book "Grady the Grouch" with a cartoon picture of a smirking boy

Lesson Activities for Character Traits with Chapter Books

MyNovel-Its”TM Lap Book is the perfect activity to use with fluent readers as they respond to a chapter book or novel they are reading. There are seven different flip-flap activities your kiddos can complete, including:

  • “Sum It Up” (Summarizing)
  • “Word Wizard” (Tier 2 & 3 Vocabulary Words)
  • “What’s the Plot?” (Plot, Sequencing)
  • “Say What” (Inference)
  • “Visualize”
  • “Character Traits”
  • “What’s the Theme?”

Here’s just a sample of how you might incorporate a few of these activities as your Fluent readers go through a chapter book or novel:

This is my Novel-Its unit. I use this project when I work on a chapter book with my advanced readers and we complete the whole unit based on one book.
I also use this for different picture books that I will read during my guided reading instruction for some of my other groups. We will complete each part of this lapbook using a different book for each one.


On Day 1, introduce the book and guide your fluent readers in a discussion and short prediction activity. You may have them read chapter one silently during Guided Reading small group. Then guide them in talking about the chapter, the main character(s) and the setting. From there, choose an activity they will do based on the next 1-3 chapters in the story.

My “Sum it Up” Tab-Its booklet is a great resource to use for this activity, This booklet includes tabbed pages on which students can write a summary for each chapter in the book. guide. Use it after you teach, model and talk about the most important events, and show the students how to write them in a chapter summary.

Character Traits

When they’re deeper in to the story, there’s also a “Character Tab-Its” activity that will be perfect for your lesson on Character Traits. The front side includes a picture they can color and draw, based on the main character of the story. On the inside, they will list character traits they identified, and they’ll provide the evidence that led them to believe the character possesses that trait.


Later chapters of the book may lend themselves to some inferring activities. My “Say What” iPhone Accordion Booklet is a fun way for your kiddos to outline their discoveries of “Something the Character Said, Did or Thought.” It folds out accordion-style, giving space for them to record character quotes or actions, as well as to explain the inferences they made.


When the book is nearly completed and all but the last of the flip-flap activities are done, meet as a group for a lesson on Theme. Fair warning: this is probably the most difficult task in the lapbook!

Lead the students in a lengthy discussion about the different themes that can be identified throughout the book, and then have them complete this final Theme activity to finish their lapbook.

If you’re ready to help your fluent readers tackle teaching character traits with a chapter book, click here for my Novel-Its Lapbook resource! There are also a number of other curriculum resources to help you teach character traits to your Emergent, Early and Transitional readers, so be sure to check them out in my shop!

Well, there you have it, my teacher friend. I hope this information has been helpful for you, and I hope the coming school year finds you with a class full of interesting characters! Keep molding minds and building character, and remember that what you do is making a difference.

Happy Teaching!



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Anna DiGilio


I'm Anna DiGilio

Hi, I'm Anna! I was a primary teacher for over twenty-three years, wife of a firefighter, mother of twin teenage boys, obsessed with being creative and helping teachers and love my Saturday morning quiet cup of coffee!
Thanks for stopping by!



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Hi, I'm Anna! I was a primary teacher for over twenty-three years, wife of a firefighter, mother of twin teenage boys, obsessed with being creative and helping teachers and love my Saturday morning quiet cup of coffee!
Thanks for stopping by!

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