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Teaching Character Traits to Elementary and ELL Students

In order for students to identify character traits from a story, they need to have the vocabulary to do so! It's crucial to provide elementary and ELL students with lots to visual aids and examples so they understand what the words mean. Then, they can more easily make connections to new characters.


How do you build character trait vocabulary?

Examples, examples, examples! Instead of just telling students what a word means, show them an example of people demonstrating that trait. I like to use photographs, videos, and picture books. You should also use the vocabulary as much as you can, like praising students for their determination or patience when they display those traits.


1. Build Character Trait Vocabulary with Real World Photos

Teaching resource thumbnail with photos that model character traits

In this resource, students look at a photograph and try to figure out which character trait matches the photo. Each slide shows an image and four answer choices. Discuss what the words mean and have students discuss which vocabulary word they think best matches the photo. Students may be able to justify more than one answer! This is a great way for students to practice oral communication and explaining your thinking.


There are 15 total slides so you can spread the lesson out over several days, especially if you take time to discuss and have students justify their answers. Extension idea: Encourage students to give another example of how someone could demonstrate that character trait.

Teaching resource examples with photos that show character traits

Some vocabulary words used in this resource include: hardworking, brave, responsible, proud, adventurous, creative, shy, easygoing, caring, cooperative, generous, helpful, competitive


2. Build Character Trait Vocabulary with Real World Examples

I love these posters by Kaitlynn Albani because they give examples of how students can display character traits in their everyday lives. Sometimes students really struggle to understand what a word like "respect" looks like so I think these would be very helpful to display in your classroom. There are also black and white examples for students to fill in their own ideas and examples. This would be a great beginning of the year activity during a citizenship unit as well.

Poster that says "I can be kind by" with examples of actions

3. Build Character Trait Vocabulary with Videos

You can find great animated shorts or movie clips on Youtube. I love showing this clip from Mulan to teach the word "determination" and "persistence". Truscott Teaches has assembled a resource with graphic organizers tailored to 9 different Pixar short films, which can all be found on Youtube. She includes a character traits word bank which can help students find the trait that best fits each character. This would be a highly engaging activity for elementary aged learners!

Teaching resource where students analyze characters in Pixar short films

What's your favorite way to teach character traits? I'd love to hear your ideas below!


Happy Teaching!


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