Building Character in the Classroom with Meaningful Literature

Having a positive character in the classroom is more important now than ever before. With so many demands on instructional time, it can be challenging to work in community building, problem solving, work on building self esteem, and the many keys to healthy living and socialization. Our counselors are stretched thin, but there are ways that we can all work on these topics. In our reading lessons, we can try to get more from our teaching "buck" by building on these themes through literature and writing. Today, I want to share with you a few titles and ideas I've come across that you could include within your lessons.

Books that Build the Classroom Routine:

The Bad Seed is a great choice for helping students grow into the best version of themselves. It compares a seed's life to that of a human. It's a great choice for class meetings or comprehension skills.

The Bad Seed by Jory John:

Earlier this week, I came across the book, The Bad Seed by Jory John. The book begins with the bad seed introducing himself and how he became the "bad seed". Bad seeds are seeds that don't sprout and grow, and that's essentially what happened to the seed when he was eaten and spit out by a human. He landed in a place where he failed to get nourishment and sunlight. It goes on to connect to daily living as "the bad seed" shares bad behaviors. Luckily, he turns it all around with the support of other seeds to become a "good seed".  

Now, I think with careful discussion, a teacher could use this book to teach characterization, analogy, and compare/contrast to help students infer a deeper meaning from the text, so when I created my unit for it, I included before, during, after activities that can be used for close reading. As part of the unit, students create a lapbook for deeper exploration of the book's themes as well as application to daily life.

This is one of THE best books for community. It is a must read especially in fourth and fifth grades. It includes three companion, kindness lapbook, and class book to welcome new students.Each Kindness by: Jacqueline Woodson

Another wonderful choice for character building in the classroom is Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. It is one that tugs at my heart every time I read it. I picture the faces of children I've taught in the past who weren't always accepted by others or who were left out. It is a sad one, but so so powerful.

The book is about a poor young girl who is new to the class. She comes in with short sleeves and sandals in the middle of winter dirty, sad, and embarassed. Kids whisper and no one welcomes her in. They treat her badly and then, one day she's gone. They're left with guilt.

In this unit, I use the book first for theme building. Teachers compare/contrast theme to main idea, analyze quotes from the story, discuss with guiding questions, and explore story vocabulary, etc. Then, students work on applying the theme to their own classroom with a Kindness in the Classroom lapbook which allows students to think about themselves, their classroom, their communities, and their families. Finally, there is a class book where students introduce themselves. The finished book could be given to new students to read and add to so that hopefully, no students would be treated like Anna.

The Day the Crayons Quit is perfect for questioning, but it's also great for cause/effect too. Check out this post for great books for building character.The Day the Crayons Quit by: Drew Daywalt

Have you heard of the book, The Day the Crayons Quit? It's another one that is written as an anology. It is fairly long to read aloud, but kids do love it very much. As it's read, I'd recommend making an anchor chart showing the crayon color, his/her complaint, and the lesson/moral he/she shares. [THIS BLOG POST] features using this book for questioning too and includes a free printable you might like as well. For the printable to the right, just click the image.

Bully by: Patricia Polacco

Cyber bullying, internet safety, and dealing with cliques are the topics explored with this book. The unit includes many options for reading and writing.
My next choice of books are Bully and Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco (but honestly, we could pick about 4-5 more of her books which is why I just do an author study instead).  Anyway, Bully is about a girl who is new to school and who struggles to be accepted. Naturally, there are a group of mean girls that take pleasure in gossiping, teasing, and shunning others. The book delves into the topic of cyberbullying and internet safety, so it's a great one for the techie classroom.

In this unit, I include before, during, and after activities you can use to work on schema building, vocabulary, cause/effect relationships, making comparisons between books and characters, and summarizing before moving on to persuasive writing about why bullying is wrong and how to overcome it.

Junkyard Wonders by: Patricia Polacco

Junkyard Wonders is a great mentor text for many comprhension skills and for writing. Bullying is the central theme.
Junkyard Wonders is another wonderful book that deals with bullying. In this case, the students being picked on have special needs, and their teachers helps them rise up and stand proud as she shows them their unique gifts and talents. This book is perfect for character development, cause/effect relationships, questioning skills, as well as writing. The unit I created ties reading to writing with before/during/after activities which lead to the writing prompt included.  Seriously, this is one sweet and powerful book!

Additional Titles You Must Find:

This post includes a large collection of character building text recommendations as well as lesson freebies for many of them. Read to learn how each can be used.One Green Apple by Eve Bunting has been around for a while, and it is a wonderful story of coming to America and what it's like to being an ELL student. This book would lead to great discussion and an opportunity to discuss different cultures too. 

This freebie includes a writing prompt and craft to help your students reflect on the message of the story!   • First, read the book.  • Discuss how the main characters change throughout the story from friends to enemies • Then, brainstorm ways your students are good friends to others • Last, create the friendship pie craft and write out their ideas  This activity would be perfect for a whole class counseling session, learning about character traits and behavior expectations, or even an easy writing lesson for sub plans. Another great book is Enemy Pie. This book has also been featured in many blog posts and resources, and in fact, there are quite a few free and paid resource for it. The focus is on friendships and connections. Be sure to check it out!

The Name Jar is a fantastic book too, and my friend, Sandy over at Sweet Integrations has a wonderful lesson to go with it. You can check it out [HERE].

Nerdy Birdy is a wonderful book to use for community building. Students learn to celebrate uniqueness and inclusivity.The last one I want to talk about is Nerdy Birdy It is a newer book, and it's all about a bird that just doesn't fit in with the other birds. [THIS POST] on my blog talks all about the book, and you can download a free lesson on Author's Craft. Of course, any time you dig into a text, you have the opportunity to build on the theme and expand with writing.

Building Classsroom Community is the key to a successful year, but it's so much more than that. This post includes many book suggestions and resources for FREE.Remember, books with community building, friendship, self esteem, and other social themes help kids so much. Be sure to carefully and thoughtfully select your mentor texts to get the most out of the themes.