Teaching Characterization with Mentor Texts

Characterization is one of my favorite skills to teach. Let’s face it.  In what other way can you be a teacher like Miss Nelson, live on a farm like Fern, or survive a plane crash like Brian?  It is with characters that our students are able to use their imagination and just get lost in a book. When we think of our favorite books, the characters are what come to mind, and that’s because great books have well developed characters.
untitled-1012128As we teach characterization, we typically focus on the characters thoughts, feelings, actions, and words to determine character traits. When we are determining character traits, we are essentially using the text evidence to help us make inferences about the type of person the character is.  For many students, this skill builds vocabulary knowledge too.  Nearly all students could select a hero or villain, and they could most likely identify them as happy, sad, mad, or kind.  As we delve into characterization more deeply though, vocabulary lags can make identifying the correct trait challenging.  As I teach character traits, I usually provide a character traits sheet as a reference like the one below for my students to keep in their interactive notebooks. This familiarizes students with the more challenging vocabulary with repeated discussions.

untitled-8587607In addition to learning about traits, we also ask students to observe how the characters change through time. Characters are typically not static, but are rather dynamic, changing across the story plot. It is important that students record evidence during their reading, and this organizer may help your readers too.  It comes from Ms. Sanchez’s Fourth Grade website. I love how it ties to the plot events.

I have also used this organizer with my students when we’ve just focused on Character Traits. You can use this with any text, and when I’m modeling, I often project this organizer and record our thinking and on it as I share a favorite mentor text with a strong character.
In reading Comprehension Connections, one recommended technique for skill instruction is to post leading questions for student to think about as they work on the skill. You might give these questions stems to guide student thinking.
How does the character change in the story? 
How are the two characters DIFFERENT in the way 
that they do _____ ? 
How did the character’s actions make him/her a very 
important person in the story? 
Which phrase best describes the character? 
What does the character do to make you think he/she is ______?
What does the character say to make you think he/she is _____?
How do you think the character feels about _____?
Now that I’ve shared a few ideas on skill instruction, I will move to the fun part…mentor texts.  When selecting a mentor text for characterization, you want a book that has a strong character or two. There are so many wonderful options, so narrowing the list is truly impossible.  I decided to include a variety because the choice depends upon the grade level and your students interests.

If you click on the picture below, it is linked to a pdf that is hotlinked to Youtube videos of Jamie O’Rourke, Strega Nona, and Amazing Grace.  Here is a link to materials you can use for The Library Dragon.

Which titles do you love using for characterization? Share them in the comments.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Carla, I agree, there were so many excellent choices for teaching characterization. Your selections were perfect! The graphic organizers you provided will be useful for students to organize their thinking about the characters. Thanks for linking up.
    🙂 Wendy
    Read With Me ABC

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