Children’s Books for Teaching Character Traits in the Classroom
Using picture books to teach character traits helps your students identify a deeper understanding of characters, even if the author doesn’t specifically state them.
Why Use Picture Books for Teaching Character Traits?
Picture books are short and, for the most part, self-contained stories. This lets you finish the books so your students can fully develop an understanding of its characters and their traits. The compact nature of picture books helps your students:
- Use the text and illustrations to analyse feeling, actions, saying and thoughts (F.A.S.T)
- Analyse how characters are influenced by events and relationships
- Identify the change or turning point of a character, and how and when their actions changed
- Identify the difference between character traits, internal traits and emotions
- Infer a character’s thoughts and feelings
- Compare and contrast ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ traits in fairy tales
- Explore how a real person influences or overcomes events in biographies
Teaching Character Traits
Teaching character traits can be challenging. Most of your students will be able to identify if a character is kind or mean, but using character traits as a literacy tool is so much more than that. Explicitly using picture books to teach character traits helps your students develop a deeper understanding.
Picture book authors don’t spend a lot of time describing every aspect of a character, like in chapter books or novels. So, your students need to learn how to infer information from the text, illustrations.
Reading between the lines to identify what the character thinks, feels, says and does will help them understand how events in a story change a character’s traits and behaviour and how this affects the plot and other characters.
Here are some things to think about before exploring the suggested books for teaching character traits.
- Define character traits by clarifying the difference between character traits and emotions.
- Highlight the difference between internal (actions, words, thoughts, and actions) and external traits (physical characteristics).
- Use the vocabulary of character traits as much as possible so they become second nature to your students.
Questions to Use When Teaching Character Traits
- Describe [character’s] character traits?What is the evidence?
- How did [character] behavior and actions affect other characters? What is your evidence?
- Describe the character traits [character] showed during [event]?
- What caused [character] to change?
- Describe the challenges faced by [character]? How did they overcome them?
- What were the most important changes in [character]? Why?
- What prompted [character] to change?
- What do you think [character] is feeling or thinking?
- What is the character going to do next? How will their actions affect the story?
- What was the character’s mission? How did they achieve their goal?
- Identify other characters who were also [trait].
- How would the story have changed if [character] wasn’t [trait]?
- How would the story have continued if [character] didn’t change?
- Why did [character] change from [trait] to [trait]?
Graphic Organisers for Teaching Character Traits + FREEBIE!
I have made a pack of graphic organisers and activities to use teach character traits using ANY book.
I have a freebie that is part of this larger resource so you can try it out before buying anything!
Fill in the form below to get access to the Free Resource Library.
If you already have access to the free resource library, you will find the freebie in the Graphic Organiser section.
Books for Teaching Character Traits
This is not an exhaustive list of books for teaching character traits . You can use any picture books that have characters who show distinct personal qualities (positive and negative) and who go through character development and growth.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon
Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
The Good Egg by Jory John
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice by Jasmine A. Stirling
Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey
Piggybook by Anthony Browne
The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
I hope these picture books to teach character traits give you a great jumping-off point.
This video gives a clear overview of what is meant by the term ‘character’… not to be confused with Superman or characters on a keyboard!
Check out these video playlists on YouTube (which I can’t take any credit for compling) that have short videos you can use when teaching character traits.
Do you have any favourite books to help your students develop a deeper understanding of characters and their traits?
Remember to check out the Character Traits pack on Teachers Pay Teachers. You will find over 50 graphic organizers to print and use in the classroom straight away.