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reading comprehension

The Best Books for Teaching About Character Traits

Reading
Header for blog about character trait books. Includes picture of a double bubble map and the book cover for Strega Nona.

Character traits are the personality or qualities that make a character in a story unique or interesting. Being able to identify these traits is a common reading comprehension skill. This skill helps readers understand the characters, which in turn helps them understand the story. Check out five of my favorite books to use to focus on character traits along with a few ideas for independent practice.

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No, David

Cover of picture book No, David

I love using No, David to first start talking about character traits especially in younger grades. There isn’t a ton of text so the students don’t get bogged down in a lot of details. Even with less text, the pictures provide plenty of opportunities to get a sneak peek into how David is as a character. Students will often come up with traits like silly, naughty, sweet, and more to describe David. 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Cover of picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

This picture book is a staple in most classrooms. The main character, Alexander is facing a rough day which most kids can identify with (this book is also great for students making a text to self connection). Kids will often identify feelings for Alexander along with the character traits – jealous, loud, active, and mischievous.

Julius, The Baby of the World

Cover of picture book Julius - The Baby of the World

I love using this book to discuss character traits because the main character Lilly’s feelings and traits change throughout the book. At the beginning of the story, she’s excited for her new sibling (Julius) to arrive. Once he arrives and his parents dote on him, Lilly is not a fan. She is angry and jealous and becomes quite mischievous. Then, when a cousin treats him that same way, Lilly changes her tune. She and Julius then become buddies and she shows her more compassionate, loving side.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

Cover of picture book Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

When I use this Kevin Henkes’ story in class, I like to focus on Lilly and Mr. Slinger. Lilly (like in Julius, The Baby of the World) changes her feelings throughout the book. Mr. Slinger is the confident, smart, and funny teacher. Lilly starts off being a good listener, kind, and excited about school. She then gets upset with her teacher and her mean side comes out. By the end of the story, she sees the error in her ways and shows the teacher her kind side again.

Strega Nona

Cover of picture book Strega Nona

This is another great story to use when focusing on character traits of two different characters. Strega Nona is a witch who helps people. She uses this magic pasta pot to do her magic. She has asked people not to touch the pasta pot. Big Anthony comes to be a worker for Strega Nona and he doesn’t listen. He decides he wants to use the pasta pot, but it backfires. This is a great story to focus on both characters and to also compare and contrast two characters.

Independent Practice with Character Traits – Bubble Map

Picture of Bubble Map to show character traits

I love using Bubble Maps from Thinking Maps for displaying character traits. In the middle bubble, students put the character name and then in bubbles around it they put the traits that describe the character. It’s an easy visual way to see how that character can be described.

Independent Practice with Character Traits – Double Bubble Map

Double Bubble Map used to compare and contrast character traits

A Double Bubble Map is a great Thinking Map option for comparing characters. This map is like a venn diagram and students will put the characters on opposite sides. Traits that these characters have in common will go in the middle and traits that are different will go on their specific side. This is a great way to visually see what the characters have in common and what is different.

For more book suggestions, check out these blog posts…

Strategies for Running a Successful Book Study

Book Clubs, Books, Reading
Picture of 2 chapter books that could be used for a book study
Blog header for Strategies for Running a Successful Book Study

Using a book study in the classroom is a great way for students to practice fluency, build comprehension skills, learn how to write a response, and more.  I often use book studies with my second graders in the classroom and have also used them with first and third grade.

Book studies have many benefits including:

  • Improving reading comprehension
  • Providing opportunities for collaboration and independence
  • Giving students a chance to practice written response
  • Fun and engaging books to get students excited about reading

The first time you launch a novel study it can seem a little overwhelming.  I felt the same way too when I had my students work on their first book club.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  In today’s blog post, I’m going to share with you some ideas and things to think about to make it easy to launch your first book study in your elementary classroom.

Choosing the Right Book

Photos of chapter books - Surprises According to Humphrey and Cam Jansen

I take a number of things into account when choosing a book for a book study. First, I look at reading ability. I want to make sure the book I pick is just right. I don’t want it to be so challenging that they don’t understand, but also not too easy.

Second thing I look at is students’ interests. I want to pair students with books that they will be interested in. This is important for engagement and for building lifelong readers. I want students to enjoy what they are reading so I try to put them with books that they’ll be interested in.  

I also try to have students use books that are a part of a series. I have found that if a student enjoys one book, they can easily become hooked and want to read the whole series. This again can help with student buy-in and engagement.

At times, I will also provide students a choice with their novel study. I’ll pick out two books that I think would work for the group and then let them choose which one they want to work on.

Planning and Organizing a Book Study

Photo of chapter books - Ivy and Bean and Jake Drake

When planning and setting up the book study, I like to decide on a start date and get the whole group on board. I tend to use my small group and/or reading time as a time for the group to meet. 

Depending on the group, you’ll need to decide how you want them to work on the book club. For my more independent readers, I will often meet with the group the first time they start reading, but also give them some freedom to work on their own. I will then check in with them after each chapter to discuss and go deeper with comprehension questions. 

Some groups will need more guidance. Some groups I plan to have only working with myself or a volunteer/instructional aide. This requires some thought as to when you’re going to fit it all in.

Management

Photo of 5 kids reading a book together

For novel studies, you want to have clear and high expectations for students. Being a part of a book study is fun, but it is also a privilege. Before starting the book study, make sure to go over your expectations for the book study time. This way students know what is expected of them. I also review the expectations before I send them off to work independently as a group.

Volunteers

Photo of 4 students reading a book together in a library setting

Parent volunteers or instructional aides can be a great asset during book studies. I will often have parent volunteers work with one of the book study groups. This can help them stay on task and provide support if they need help reading or understanding.

Book Study FREEBIE

Photo of FREE Book study discussion cards

Grab these FREE book study discussion cards, which can be used with most books.

Book Study Resources:

Photo of book study pages from Nate the Great

If you are interested in book studies that are already created for you, check out my book study resources in my TPT store.

Favorite Book Study Books:

Photo of 5 chapter books used for successful book studies

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For more info…

Benefits of Using Book Studies in the Classroom

How I Use Book Studies in My Classroom

The Best Books for Teaching Mental Images

Debbie Miller, Reading, Reading with Meaning

I love to use picture books for teaching mental images in my elementary classroom. Creating a mental image or visualizing is an important comprehension skill for all readers. We want students to be able to picture what’s happening or make a movie in their mind to help increase their understanding of what they are reading.  

I use mentor texts when I am teaching mental image skills. When we are working on visualizing – I do not show the illustrations to my students when I read the book. I often hide the cover of a book by putting it in a file folder and then don’t show the pictures as I’m reading. While I’m reading students are closing their eyes and creating their own images. I will often have them stop and sketch their image on a sticky note to see how it changes throughout the story.  

They do love to see the pictures so I will often re-read the story at a later time and let them see the illustrations. It’s fun for them to see if their mental images match with the book’s pictures.

Here is a list of 3 of my favorite books for teaching mental images…

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The Napping House

Photo of the cover of the book - The Napping House

The Napping House by Audrey Wood is a one of the books for teaching mental images that I use when we start our visualizing unit.  This is a great book to use to stop at various points to have kids share or sketch their mental images because they will change throughout the book.

The book starts with a house where everyone is sleeping.  The granny is sleeping in her bed and as the story goes on a child joins her and then a dog and so on until the bed breaks at the end!

When I use this book for teaching mental images, I give students four sticky notes and then pick four points to stop in the book. I then send them to sketch their current image and at the end we do a gallery walk and see how their mental image has changed over time.

The Salamander Room

Photo of the cover of the book The Salamander Room for teaching mental images

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer is another one of my favorite books for teaching mental images.  This book is also great to use and stop at various points for students to see how their image changes over time.

In The Salamander Room, a boy named Brian finds a salamander and decides to bring him home with him. Brian’s mom then inquires about where this salamander is going to sleep. Brian tells a very detailed description of all of the things he’ll bring into his room for the salamander – tree stumps for him to climb, wet leaves for him to play with, etc.  He then adds in other animals to keep the salamander company/feed him and his room turns into a forest oasis! 

I use this book like I do The Napping House. Students again will stop at a few specific points and sketch or share their mental image.  We then discuss how and why their mental image changes throughout the story and how it helps them understand the story.

Pigsty

Photo of cover of Mental Images book - Pigsty with photo of kid and 2 pigs.

Pigsty by Mark Teague is a hilarious and fun book to use for teaching mental images. When we read this book in class, we do come up with mental images throughout the book, but we aren’t sketching as we go. For this one, I ask students to come up with their most vivid mental image to record at the end.

In the story Pigsty, Wendell’s room is a big mess and his mother is after him to clean it. She told him it was turning into a “pigsty.” When Wendell went up to his room to clean, he found an actual pig on his bed. As the story continues, more pigs join and also help him create more of a mess.  Wendell then becomes upset when they start to ruin some of his things and decides it’s time to finally clean. The pigs helped him clean, but then decided they were on their way because his room was too clean for their liking. 

When I use this book for teaching mental images, I again do not show the pictures.  Students are coming up with their own visualizations.  At the very end, I ask students to draw their strongest, most vivid mental image and write a sentence describing it.  We then do a gallery walk so the students can see what mental image the other students picked.

MORE BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Picture Books for Making Connections

8 Favorite Writing Mentor Texts

Picture Books for Opinion Writing

Picture Books for Place Value

3 Book Ideas for Teaching Students to Make Connections

Reading
Photo of book Super Completely and Totally the Messiest and schema anchor chart

Teaching students to make connections is an important reading comprehension skill. It’s important for students to be able to connect to what they are reading to help them understand it at a deeper level. Today I’m sharing with you some of my favorite picture books to use for this reading skill. These picture books work great for text-to-self connections. 

Making Connection Book Recommendations

This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience.

Photo of book Super Completely and Totally the Messiest

Super Completely and Totally the Messiest

This hilarious story has many connections for anyone who is messy or knows someone who is messy. Olivia’s sister, Sophie is the messiest person around and students will love coming up with connections to the crazy things that happen. This is one of my favorite books to use with making connections and I often start with this book!

Photo of book Ira Sleeps Over

Ira Sleeps Over

Most kids can relate to the excitement and nervousness that comes with your very first sleepover, which is the focus on this story. Ira is excited for his first sleepover, but also unsure about bringing his teddy bear. Students often relate to the special stuffed animal, feelings about his older sister, and feelings surrounding the sleepover.

Photo of book Charlie Anderson

Charlie Anderson

Charlie Anderson is a sweet story about a cat who goes between two houses – one during the day and one at night, but the owners don’t know that at the beginning. This is a great book for students who have two or more houses to connect with. Students will also be able to connect to having a pet and worrying about what might happen to that pet if it was missing.

More Book Recommendations

For more book recommendations, check out the blog posts below…

8 Favorite Writing Mentor Texts

Picture Books for Opinion Writing

Picture Books for Place Value

Pin image for making connections blog post

Teaching Mental Images

Reading
Blog heading for Ideas for Teaching Mental Images

This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience.

Mental Images is one of my favorite reading comprehension skills to teach! It is such an important concept for students to learn and can be helpful with boosting their comprehension and understanding of stories! Today I’ll be sharing with you my favorite books to use for teaching mental images and some lesson ideas!

Debbie Miller also has an amazing teaching resource – Reading with Meaning – that has lots of great ideas for mental images and many other reading skills! I highly suggest checking it out!

Book Suggestions for Mental Images:

The Napping House by Audrey Wood

The Napping House picture book for Mental Images

This comical story is all about a house where everyone is napping. It starts off with a granny who is asleep and then a child falls asleep on top of the granny. Then, a dog falls asleep on top of the child and it continues on and on. This is a great book to use when stopping multiple times to see how mental images change over time.

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazar

The Salamander Room (Dragonfly Books) - picture book cover

In this story, a boy finds a salamander and starts to imagine all of the ways he could turn his room into a home for the creature. This story paints great images and is a great way for students to come up with mental images on their own.

Super Completely and Totally the Messiest by Judith Viorst

Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest picture book cover

This is my favorite story for mental images. In this book, we are introduced to a character named Olivia whose younger sister Sophie is quite a mess! This story has many situations that kids can relate to which makes it easier for them to use schema to help them create their mental images.

Fireflies by Judy Brinckloe

Fireflies - picture book for Mental Images

In this story a young boy is excited to catch as many fireflies as he can. He thinks they are so enchanting but as the story progresses he realizes he must set them free.  Fireflies can provide a great visual. Now if students don’t have schema this visual could be interesting, but could also be a great way to discuss how people can interpret things differently.

Bedhead by Margie Palatini

Bedhead - picture book

This is another comical book that most students will relate to! We’ve all gotten bedhead at one time or another.  This story has Oliver’s family trying to help contain the bedhead and ends up with him realizing it’s picture day at school. The author writes so descriptively that the kids will have a great time creating mental images.

Teaching Ideas:

Creating Mental Images from Their Life:

First, I have students create mental images from events in their own life. I find it helps them to understand the concept if they can apply it to themselves first. I give them a paper with four boxes – one for each image. Prior to sketching the image, students close their eyes to focus on the specific mental image.  For this activity, I will often have students create an image for the time they learned how to ride a bike, a time they got hurt, their last birthday party, and their favorite place.

Poetry:

Debbie Miller suggests using poetry for mental images and it is a great way to help students use it with text – but on a small scale! I love using Shel Silverstein’s poems for this activity.  Students relate to them and they are funny, which makes them super engaging.  I use Bandaids, Sister for Sale, Rain, and Spaghetti.  

Students get to hear all of the poems and then pick the one that gave them the strongest mental image. Then, students will draw the image on a blank piece of paper.  After we talk about how even though some students chose the same poem, their images are different. We talk about how their schema and point of view plays a part in how they create their own mental images.

Photo of drawing of Spaghetti poem.
Photo of drawing of Rain poem

Books:

Next, I use many of the books that I listed above to help with visualizing.  For these read alouds, I do NOT show the pictures! I want the students to create the pictures in their mind. {I will often go back and read the story again after the activity and then share the illustrations).  

With these read alouds, I plan out a few stopping points ahead of time. I will often give students a page with 3-4 boxes. When I pause reading, students will then sketch their current mental image in one of the boxes. Then, I read some more and they sketch their new image. This is a great way to help students understand that their mental image can change over time. See an example below for the story – The Napping House.

Photo of book - The Napping House
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