Connecting with Characters

Who doesn’t love a good picture book? As an adult reading picture books is still one of my favorite hobbies. The illustrations are always so beautiful, and you can teach a variety of advanced reading skills just in 32 pages! I have heard many upper elementary teachers say that picture books are too “babyish” for students after third grade. Think again!

This school year it dawned on me… I didn’t have to use only picture books with wondrous words to teach vocabulary to my fourth graders. Since a lot of the vocabulary words we focus on in my classroom are character trait words, all I had to do was to choose picture books with engaging characters. Then, I could use the personality of a character in the book to teach the character trait word that week. So, starting on the first week of school I decided to put this idea into action.


This has by far been the most beneficial way I have found to help kids remember the words on our word wall. Not only are they learning the definition and synonyms of the word, but they are meeting a character who they can forever relate to this new term. All school year they have been asking to reread picture books weeks later. In addition, they are having conversations about all of the new characters they have met. It is almost as if these fictional figures have become part of our classroom.

Along with introducing each word of the week through a read aloud, it’s important that your students work with this word many times in the days that follow. As humans we need up to 40 exposures to a word before it is officially in our memory bank. Even then, without seeing or discussing the word for a long time, it may not stick.

Many of my colleagues ask me, where in the world do you find time in our busy school day to guide your kids through vocabulary practice? I definitely do not have all of the answers, and I understand the crazy demands we have on us as elementary teachers. But, if you can get the kids as excited about the new words as you are, they will WANT to learn new words. They will go home and talk to their parents about these words. It only takes 10 minutes a day!

To kick off the next three mornings after I introduce a new word, students practice this word right when they walk in the door. Some activities involve independent practice, others with a partner or small group. I use one activity a day. As they are working, I try to roam around the room to engage in their conversations. In the beginning of the year, I taught my students how to complete each activity. I try to mix up the variety of activities every few weeks to help them stay engaged and excited. On Friday, we meet again as a whole group and talk about this word related to other words we’ve learned so far this year. Trying your best to keep to a set vocabulary learning schedule will help students learn hundreds of words throughout the school year.

Here are some helpful links about how to get started!

This is a low investment – high return way to teach students vocabulary words.

Please click on the links below and start to use these words, books and activities in your classroom!

  • Choosing words to teach: Here is a great list of character trait words by grade level. I’ve found this most helpful to kick start my vocabulary instruction each school year. Once I get through this list, I allow kids to offer ideas for words, or we try to fill up the missing letters on our word wall!
  • Matching books to character trait words: Here are the books I have found fit well with each word I’ve taught this year. I will continue to add to this site!
  • Vocabulary activities to help students practice each word: Here are some tried and true activities my students have enjoyed. I choose three off the list to complete each week (themed around the same one word). Some I’ve made myself, others I’ve found from vocabulary gurus.

For an in depth description of each activity, check out my Daily Vocab Activities page.

What are some activities you’ve used with students? Please leave ideas and links in the comments! It would be amazing to work together to compile a long list of activities to choose from!

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