Character [traits] is a journey, not a destination- Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton definitely meant this to be true about teaching character traits to 3rd graders. He must of just left out that one important word.

Each year I feel like it is journey with so many possible roads I could go down. 
And some of that is due to our curriculum. Which I'm not a fan of.
And another part is due to the fact that each year I have different students.
But one thing remains the same....
traits are tricky to teach.

We took a different approach this year and spent a lot of time looking at what our characters say, do, think, and feel and how they do these things and why they do these things before we even started naming traits.

It was the last bushel of leaves we added to this little tree chart we've been growing for the last 3 weeks.

And I thought half way through it was a big mistake. 
And so did my co-teacher.
[or at least that's how it seemed].

But this past week, with all the work we've been doing, I'm feeling a bit more at ease.
And knowing we have around 15 more days in this unit, I think we can continue to see some decent progress.

Here's how we taught into some vocab this week to help with naming traits for our characters. Having a lot of ELs (and just because they are ALL  3rd graders and need to be pushed with their vocab), my co-teacher and I felt like we had to do some instruction and practice around vocabulary, so after my co-teacher shared this resource, (if you are in need of some ideas for teaching traits in RW, check it out- lots of ideas) and I scoured through my Pintrest boards, here's the steps we took this past week.

Pathway 1: Exposure
We started in morning meeting by playing charades using these cards from Erica at One Lucky Teacher. 

They are free and totally awesome- we used them in multiple settings this week. Any word they used to guess the trait word, I would chart. We only used the words on the cards and the person acting out could read the 'scenario' on the card for inspiration. We did allow people to talk, since we look at both what a character says and does (and thinks and feels), but we had to put up some guidelines. They loved it and it fit perfectly for a morning meeting game. Later we moved them onto this chart:

We tried to add more by giving an antonym for a word. For example, they came up with the word "lazy" during the game and so we thought of a word that meant the opposite- active. This provided us to get more words and have an idea of what they mean by thinking of the opposite. The ideas popped into my head after remembering an awesome anchor chart from Deb at Crafting Connections. Her's is much better than mine, but this was created on a complete whim so we'll go with it for now.

Pathway 2: Classifying
So, we've got some decent words (still need to get into so more "juicy" words, but we'll get there- journey...) and we tried using them and I noticed I got a lot of feeling words. This seems common because it's happened each year. So we first did a sort with the words they shared earlier between feelings and traits. Then, we sorted them by negative and positive traits (and added these words to the top of the above chart- in which not all of the words were on our chart). 

The conversations at tables were great, it got them saying the words, and discussing what they mean. We kept using the term, "Would you want to be a _____ kind of a person?" to help us figure out if it was a negative or positive trait 

Pathway 3: Extending
So at this point, they have more words to pull from. Which is great. But now I wanted to tie it back to our trunk of our tree- we pick words based on what our characters say and do (text evidence). But not all students still knew what each of these words really meant or what it would look like in books. So I had my partners each pick one of the trait words and glue it to an index card. Then they wrote down 3-4 things that a person who is that trait would say, do, think, or feel.

(I only had one repeat- otherwise, each partnership picked a different word)
I collected them, and whenever we have a spare minute or two during transitions, I would read the "text evidence" and the class would have to guess what the word was. I'll allow students to create more and keep them in a box for them to reference if they forget what types of behaviors go with that trait. 

We then returned to those awesome trait cards from Erica to think what the characters on the cards would do next to promote them to start thinking about the patterns in their characters' behaviors to pick a strong trait. This also went over pretty well. We did that during the whole group mini-lesson.

Today, I had them do a long write 'essay' on their character from their series using a character trait and multiple pieces of evidence to support it. As opposed to the one they did a 2 weeks ago, they wrote for 10 minutes non-stop and I could see a lot of strong thinking. I haven't had a chance to look them all over (they accidentally got left at school on my desk... oops) but I know we've grown in our understanding.

And I have to keep reminding myself that it is a journey- this trait work- and I think we are on the right path for now.



  1. Kelli, you never cease to amaze me! Your lessons are so well organized and purposeful! I think the time you invested in talking about character actions and motivations is going to really pay off! Plus, you are covering so many other skills- like visualizing and inferring! I love these engaging activities- the morning meeting game sounds fun, and the writing activity shows just how much progress they are making! (I love the "be ninjas" on the sly card!) Also, I was so surprised to run across my anchor chart... thanks!!

  2. I love how your anchor chart for character traits is also a chart for antonyms. Thank you for sharing all of your great ideas for teaching this complex skill.

    Fit to be Fourth

  3. This is such a great post! We talk about character traits in second grade, and all the students can ever come up with is "nice" or "mean"...must do some of your brainstorming! And remind myself it is a journey...a very long one!

  4. Wow! This was a very helpful (and inspiring post)! Thank you for sharing it! I can't wait to try this in my classroom.

  5. This is SOOOO good and scaffolded so well! I am on this unit now and each year, I'm trying to find ways to improve it. This year I have IEPS for the first time in years and lots more reading intervention kids. This really helps tier the work for them.I love that it is all work they are doing instead of a worksheet that just has a list of words--which sad to say, I had to use to save time this year! Thank you so much for sharing this!!!


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