Teaching the Common Core State Standards for literature about analyzing character traits in a story is really easy when you have the right book! Some books have really strong characters with very obvious character traits. These are the kinds of books you need to teach characteristics / characterization. One book that is great for teaching this is…
Akiak: A Tale From the Iditarod by Robert J. Blake
This is an amazing story for winter by author-illustrator Robert Blake who also wrote Togo. The story is about a sled dog named Akiak who has run the Iditarod Sled Dog Race through Alaska before. The race started and Akiak needed to be left behind by her musher Mick. As she was about to be airlifted back, Akiak escaped and tried to run to catch up with the rest of the team. For days she follows the trail, and many try to stop her along the way. The story of this determined dog reached those ahead on the trail with some even setting out food to help her. She continues on despite everything eventually catching up to her team on the last day of the race and helped them find the right trail to win the race.
Analyzing Character Traits
When analyzing character traits, you can go one of two ways:
an inch deep and a mile wide
a mile deep and an inch wide
What this means is that you can try to look at all of the many character traits that a character may demonstrate throughout a story OR you can focus on how a character demonstrates ONE specific character trait.
One Character, Many Character Traits
Why choose to analyze the many character traits that a character demonstrates?
-dynamic character with a developed personality
-complex story in which the character is put in a variety of situations
-character has multiple problems to overcome and deals with them in different ways
Having the right book, the right story and the right character is essential for identifying multiple character traits. You don’t need a chapter book to have a complex character. Wordless books can have really well-developed characters that have a rich fan of character traits. Really long books can have rather under-developed characters as well. Page number does not equal character complexity.
One Character, One Character Trait
Why choose to examine just one character trait in a character?
-the character demonstrates the character trait multiple times
-the character trait is a defining element of the character
-it is the only character trait that is distinguishable
-the trait is essential for the character to overcome their problem
Oftentimes, animal companions to human characters are ideal for analyzing one character trait. In books without human characters, animals can be more developed, but in realistic fiction or narrative nonfiction, animal characters often only demonstrate one character trait.
Analyzing One Character Trait in Akiak
Getting students to see these important details can certainly be done especially when using gradual release of responsibility and a class discussion.
Whenever I analyze character traits, I almost NEVER do it after a first reading. Your goal with a first reading of a new mentor text is to get students to comprehend the text at the surface level.
I would normally analyze the character traits on the second or third read of the book when students already have a base understanding of the story. Looking deeper at the characters will bring student comprehension of the story to a new level. You would likely not get as good of an analysis if you were to do an activity like this after the first reading of a new story.
Setting up the Analysis and Anchor Chart
With an analysis like this, I explain to the students that we are going to analyze and describe the character. In the case of Akiak, we’re looking at the dog Akiak. We would reread the story and at pre-determined points stop and analyze what Akiak’s actions demonstrate.
In this case, I simply prompt:
How would you describe Akiak from the events on this page? Explain.
Akiak is____ because_____
As you can see, I also provide a sentence frame for students to use to respond. Sentence frames are extremely powerful for helping students respond to questions especially for emerging bilinguals and ELLs.
You’ll also notice that I used an open-ended question to really get students to recognize that there is something in the text. The type of question word you use is surprisingly important in how students answer the question.
With my anchor chart I would create a standard table where I would take a picture of the pages we were analyzing in one column and prepare the headers for each of the other colums
During your analysis using a gradual release of responsiblity (I do, We do, You do) we would fill in the second and third columns to complete the co-constructed anchor chart.
After analyzing the illustrations and details in a story to describe the character, I want to have students really reflect on our learning. With this book, for example, I would have the students describe Akiak and everything we learned about her from both the text and illustrations.
I might also pick out one character trait that is most important and ask students explain how that trait helped the character solve their problem.
For these tasks, I would really want to make sure that the analyzing character traits anchor chart that we had just co-constructed was available and visible to the students either as a picture, digitally, or on chart paper.
DO YOU WANT TO TRY OUT THIS PART OF MY FULL WEEK OF LESSONS AND ACTIVITIES FOR AKIAK?
SIGN UP BELOW!
Note: It’s best to use a personal email because school emails often filter out emails.