As third graders begin reading longer, more complex pieces, more time is spent on reading comprehension through the study of plot, story conflict and character analysis. Third graders learn to classify characters as major or minor, understand internal and external conflicts and identify character strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Incorporate a variety of reading and writing activities focusing on character analysis that also expand the third-graders’ cognitive thinking skills.
Third-graders take on the persona of the protagonist as they write entries for a diary. As students finish reading each chapter in their assigned book, they write a first-person journal entry that addresses the emotions, actions, hopes and fears demonstrated by the protagonist in the chapter. The diary entry assists students in understanding how the personality and behavior of the protagonist shapes and foreshadows the story.
Introduce the concept of inference in the process of character analysis with an exercise that teaches children to examine character motivation and personality types. Ask students to review a story for details on the significant thoughts and actions of the main character. Explain the difference between significant and insignificant detail with an examples such as shutting a door or shutting a door in someone’s face. The students should write down one significant thought the protagonist had, one significant piece of dialogue he said, one emotion the character felt and one action he performed. The students should then analyze each one to determine represented character traits such as bravery, weakness, kindness, cowardice and so forth. Expand the lesson into a class discussion to create a list of character traits that correctly define the protagonist’s personality.
Hire your third graders as junior detectives to investigate the characteristics of the main characters by noting details in the story. Assign each student a character to “watch” while they are reading their book or story. Give them a worksheet to take notes on their “target” that has one column for physical or descriptive characteristics and another for tracking the behavior and personality traits. Students should be encouraged to infer personality traits from the way their assigned character talks, thinks and acts. Continue the exercise into a character analysis discussion in which the investigators compare notes.
As a follow-up to the trait mining exercise, ask your third-graders to select one chapter from the book under discussion and write down all the character traits demonstrated by the protagonist based on their thoughts, emotions, actions and dialogue. Ask the students to compare their chapter list to the class-created list of defining traits for the protagonists. Have the third-graders circle any characteristics on their list that conflict with the ones listed on the protagonist personality traits list. Explain to the students the concept of characters behaving against their personality type to add drama and conflict to the story. Provide examples to demonstrate the concept, such as an instance in which a brave protagonist behaves cowardly at a pivotal moment in the story.