Help! My Students Can’t Identify Character Traits

As a school based speech-language pathologist, I often work with students on understanding and defining character traits. My students are often able to understand what’s going on in the story, but when asked to identify or describe a character’s personality, they struggle. I frequently have teachers come to me looking for advice with this skill as it is a common learning objective. It is likely hard for my language impaired students due to difficulty understanding implied meanings, as well as reduced ability to use descriptive/precise language to express meaning. To work on identifying character traits with my students, I like to use explicit instruction, relate it to the students’ own lives and give it a purpose to help them carryover the skill to their everyday life.

Try this with your students see how it goes!

Use Explicit Instruction

Make sure to take the time to tell the students what they are learning about and why it’s important. Students respond well to being told the why, even at a young age. Explaining the why and having them verbalize it will help them understand and see the value. I think it helps speed up progress too.

Students are more likely to be engaged in it rather than just being told to do something because you “said so.” This can apply to social skills or reading comprehension. To help students understand the why, I’d say:

“We are going to learn about how what people SAY and DO gives us clues about their personality, or the type of person they are. This is true with the people you know, yourself and the characters you read about in books!”

To explicitly explain how to work on the skill while reading a book, I’d say:

“As we read the book, we are going to practice looking for clues that will help us figure out the character’s personality and the type of person they are. We’ll look for and think about how their actions, their comments and behavior gives us clues about their character. We’ll use adjectives to describe their personality, or their character. That’s called understanding character traits.”

Relate it To Their Own Lives

Have them discuss recent events with peers or family members. Discuss and prompt them to understand how the things people have said and done to them help them understand the type of person they are. Also, help point out that the way you say things to others and how you treat them impacts how they feel and treat you!

Provide a list of common character traits and personalities. Make sure they can use synonyms to describe the meaning of the words.

Give It A Purpose

Work on this skill as you read books and stories. Challenge the students to locate, highlight or find examples of actions and dialogue that gives clues. Help them use self talk to consider prior knowledge and the context of the story to select the appropriate character trait. Here’s an example:

Help students describe Tom’s character trait as BOSSY!

Then to give it PURPOSE, have the students create their own story with original characters. Help the students pick characters with a few different character traits. As they dictate to you, type the story while prompting them to include actions, dialogue and events to convey the personality. Then, let them illustrate the story and share with their families and peers! Once the story is complete and illustrated, make it into a book. Have a story night where students read their story with others and hold an author’s signing. The students will love it and parents will too! Then, here’s the best part:

Have the students take their book and read it to younger students. THEN, the students get to teach the skill to the younger students!


I hope this gives you some ideas about how to help your students understand character traits.

I have created an activity designed to help teach this skill on my Teachers Pay Teachers page. You can find it here.

The Creative SLP

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