Having a positive character is more important now than ever before. In fact, character development is probably the most important subject we as teachers have to teach. With so many demands on instructional time, it can be challenging to work in community building, problem solving, work on self esteem, and the many character traits that are included in a character development curriculum. Yet, for healthy living and socialization, we have to find the time for building character in the classroom . 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 Character:
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”.
Themed Poetry Freebie (not included in unit):
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.
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 embarrassed. 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 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
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 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:
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
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.
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].
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.
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.