Charlotte is Wise, Patient, and Caring: Adjectives and Character Traits
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Students explore adjectives through a read-aloud and develop a working definition of the term. They list as many adjectives as they can, then combine them with "to be" verbs to create simple sentences. Next, they are introduced to character traits by putting the adjectives from their list in the context of a character from a shared reading. They then use an online chart to equate the character traits with specific actions the character takes. Finally, students "become" one of the major characters in a book and describe themselves and other characters, using Internet reference tools to compile lists of accurate, powerful adjectives supported with details from the reading. Students read each other's lists of adjectives and try to identify who is being described.
The lesson uses Charlotte's Web as an example, but this activity is effective with any work of literature in which characterization is important.
Character Traits Chart Student Interactive: This online tool provides student with a chart for recording a selected character's actions and character traits.
From Theory to Practice
Character analysis represents one of the most common assignments given in language arts classes. A successful character analysis demands that students infer abstract traits and values from literal details contained in a text. This lesson plan not only asks students to infer those traits but also to show that knowledge by applying the traits as they create their own list from the character's perspective. By adopting the traits of a main character, students must "show" their understanding of that character's main features, rather than simply "telling" with a list of traits.
Additionally, the lesson plan provides an opportunity for students to explore the supporting reasons for the traits they have chosen, especially in the context of commonalities among the lists compiled by the class. Even when students can confidently formulate appropriate traits, they often find it hard to connect specific details to their inferences. This process of creating lists and then discussing them as a class gives students practice in connecting detail to inference.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Materials and Technology
- Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book about Adjectives by Ruth Heller (Grosset and Dunlap, 1989), Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective? by Brian Cleary (Carolrhoda Books, 2001), or a similar book that highlights adjectives
- Chart paper and markers
- Internet access
- Copies of the novel being discussed
- Print copies of dictionaries and thesauruses to supplement online reference tools
- Students have read or listened to a substantial portion of the novel and have discussed the relative strengths, weaknesses, and attributes of various characters.
- Make copies of the handouts, if desired. Alternately, find similar information in your class grammar and literature books. The Capital Community College "Guide to Grammar and Writing" Website provides extensive information on adjectives—more than enough information to help any students who are unsure about the part of speech.
- Test the Character Traits Chart student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- review the characteristics of adjectives and identify examples in a text.
- define the literary term "character trait" and explore how to provide details that support their inferences.
- use adjectives to describe characters from a text they're read or listened to.
- conduct research using Internet reference resources to find accurate and descriptive word choice.
- explore perspective by writing descriptive word lists from the point of view of a character in a novel they've read recently.
- Share a basic definition of adjectives for your students, on the board or an overhead, to introduce the concept to students.
- Read Many Luscious Lollipops, Hairy, Scary, Ordinary, or a similar text to students. Ask them to listen for examples of adjectives as you read.
- Ask students to share adjectives that they remember from the text and list the words on the board or overhead.
- Read the book again, this time pausing to add words to the board or overhead.
- Return to the definition and ask students to revise and expand it to include the characteristics that they've learned from the reading.
- Using the class definition and list of adjectives, introduce the "to be" sentence pattern that relies on a predicate adjective. Use items in the class to create some example sentences, for instance, "The desk is white" or "The book is interesting." Add these examples to the board or overhead for reference in the next session.
- Ask student to pay attention to adjectives that they see and hear during the rest of the day at school and at home.
- Review the characteristics of adjectives and the lists of words from Session One, asking students to expand the adjective lists with words that they've heard since Session One.
- Introduce character traits simply by explaining that they are descriptive adjectives that fit the characters in a story.
- Review the "to be" sentence pattern, focusing on adjectives that describe people, choosing characters from shared readings to reinforce the definition of character trait. You can share a modified version of the table below that fits readings that your students know. (Note: The river in Huck Finn is an object that's often discussed as a character. Often, you'll find more than one character treated as a group, such as the Committee of the Elders in The Giver.)
Kind of Character Sentence Pattern Male characters He is ______. Female characters She is ______. Objects treated as characters It is ______. More than one character, treated as a group They are ______.
- Choose adjectives from the list that fit people, and write these example "to be" sentences on the board or overhead.
- Once you're satisfied that students understand the basic definition of character trait, expand on the concept using the Adjectives and Character Traits handout.
- (Optional) Share the list of character traits as a sample list of adjectives for students to refer to as they work.
- Return to the adjectives that chosen for characters from your shared reading, and explore the connections between characters and the actions that character takes (or doesn't). Prompt students to brainstorm actions from the stories that support the descriptive adjectives that they've chosen.
- Demonstrate the Character Traits Chart interactive, showing students how to add items to the chart as well as how to print and save their work:
- Type your name in the first slot in the interactive.
- For the title, choose the character name. Students may also indicate the book which includes the character.
- Click Next to move to the chart screen and enter your information.
- In the first column, write the character's actions from the book. You can include page numbers also. In the second column, write the character traits related to the action.
- Demonstrate that writing is not limited to the size of the box shown on screen. Answers will scroll.
- When you've finished writing your responses, click Finish at the top of the screen.
- In the next window, click Print. Your answers will be displayed in a Web browser window.
- To print answers, choose the Print command from the File menu. To save your answers, choose the Save As... command from the File menu. Students can open the file later in a Web editor or a word processor that imports HTML (such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks).
- Show students that the instructions for using the tool are available by clicking Instructions at the top of the screen.
- Type your name in the first slot in the interactive.
- Individually or in small groups, have students work through the character traits for one character from the reading, using the Character Traits Chart. Ideally, the character that they focus on will be the same character whose point of view they will adopt in Session Three. If computers are not available, students can use the Identifying Character Traits Worksheet.
- Circulate among students, providing feedback and help as necessary.
- Remind students to print and save their work.
- Expanding on the lists from Session Two, demonstrate how to use online resources such as an online dictionary or thesaurus or the thesaurus in Microsoft Word to arrive at additional descriptive adjectives for the characters.
- Once you're satisfied that students understand the basic concepts, divide the class into pairs, and give each pair a piece of butcher paper or newsprint and a wide marker.
- Use the Become a Character assignment as an overhead or handout to explain the activity to the class. Ideally, students should adopt the point of view of the character they analyzed in Session Two.
- Give the students adequate work time (30-40 minutes) to compile their lists.
- Give students 10-15 minutes to finish their lists and their charts.
- As students finish, post their work on the wall or board until all the lists are up.
- Number the papers and assign each list a letter, so that everyone can refer to a particular list easily.
- Each student pair then examines each list and, on a sheet of paper, attempts to identify who is being described.
- Depending upon the time available, look at each list or a selected number of lists, discussing identities.
- The authors of the lists under discussion finally give the "right answers." Again, depending upon time, the class can discuss the adjectives in each list and can cite specific events and details from the text which either support or call into question the accuracy of those adjectives.
- (Optional) Have students look for patterns such as the number of pairs who chose a particular character, or adjectives that were repeated by several groups, as well as adjectives that did the best job of description.
Work Characters Charlotte's Web Charlotte, Wilbur, Fern, Templeton Tuck Everlasting Jesse, Winnie, Mae, Mother Foster Freak the Mighty Freak, Kevin, Gram, Grim Bud, Not Buddy Bud, Herman, Lefty Lewis, Bugs The Giver Jonas, the Giver, Gabriel, Mother Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore Ender's Game Ender, Peter, Valentine, Bean
This lesson plan could also be used as a semester review. Each group could focus on characters from different readings. In addition to identifying the characters, students would identify the work that the characters are in.
- Continue the focus on adjectives by turning students' attention to comparative (-er) and superlative (-est) adjective forms. The lists of adjectives that students have compiled can lead to analysis of the characters to determine who is bravest, who is strongest, and so forth. Draw students' attention to the fact that comparative is used for only two characters, and the superlative is used for three or more characters.
- Expand on students' focus on a particular character from the novel by having them write a character diary entry from their adopted character's point of view. Use a diary prompt from Traci's Lists of Ten, or let students make up their own topics.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Informal assessment works best for this activity. As students work on their lists of adjectives in the first sessions and character traits in the later sessions, observing students' engagement as well as their use of reference books and their lists of adjectives. Provide support and feedback as you move from group to group.
The ultimate assessment for this activity will be students' reaction to the lists written by their peers and their ability to provide support for the traits on the list. As students go over the lists as a group, reinforce good choice of traits, noting both students' word choice and the connection between trait and character.