I can't count the number of times I've asked students to describe a character, and all they write is something like: "He has black hair and brown eyes. He is tall." Ugh; not quite what I had envisioned. How to get students to infer about a character's personality traits, rather than their physical description?
Fourth grade is THE year for moving student thinking from concrete to more inferential. A "tried and true" strategy that works is asking the class to recall favorite parts from a book you've read together. We read Jake Drake, Teacher's Pet as a read-aloud. After kids wrote their favorite part(s) on post-its, I asked them, "What does this tell you about Jake?"
They naturally came up with a whole list: Jake is brave, cunning, shy, funny, etc. Not one kid said their favorite part was the way he physically looked! Students placed their post-its under the personality trait.
You can see by the question marks, when we reread the post-its as a class, students questioned certain pieces of evidence. Great for discussion points.
As a write-aloud, we then grouped the evidence under each personality trait and wrote a topic sentence (as students spoke aloud). You can see below how the class helped to revise as we wrote this together. The additional post-its became the supporting statements.
This super-easy strategy makes character traits more understandable. The writing aloud is important to do as a whole class, so those children with larger vocabularies can model specific word choice in a natural setting. Later, students are able to analyze other characters in the same manner and paragraph writing is not so daunting.
How do you teach character traits? I'd love to hear more ideas!