The purpose of the lesson is to infuse explicit character education with literature analysis, encouraging students to recognize and identify character in action by the characters (usually the protagonist) in a work of fiction.
Students should become more aware of their personal actions through our character education program. In this lesson through characters in literature, students begin to examine their own actions and determine if they are behaving in a virtuous manner. At the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School (BFCCPS), character education centers upon four core virtues: temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence.
The approach to this lesson consists of activating the students’ prior knowledge from previous years and lessons on the core virtues. For new students, the course of the discussion will provide the definitions and information they will need to be successful in the culminating activity. Discussion should focus on correctly defining the terms and citing examples of what the virtues look like in action.
Students will discuss their knowledge of the core virtues and share personal experiences to
illustrate what those virtues look like “in action”.
Students will analyze a piece of writing (fiction/non-fiction) and identify how the main character(s) exhibit the core virtues.
Character Map Graphic Organizer
Trade books: The Three Little Pigs by Golden Books (2004, Golden/Disney) and Everything for a Dog by Ann M. Martin (2011, Square Fish) or book of choice
Whiteboard/ chart paper
Before beginning the story, it is important to review the four core virtues.
Ask students, “What are the four core virtues? What do they mean?”
As students respond, take notes on the board as a visual reminder of the definitions to each virtue.
Encourage students to give examples of what each of these virtues look like in their everyday life. Try to get at least one example for each of the four virtues.
Inform students that good writers not only provide an interesting story (plot) they also develop interesting characters. Those characters exhibit positive and negative traits. Give examples from books, movies, TV shows of characters that do and do not exhibit good virtue. Ex. Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movie is full of virtue, but Darth Vader is not.
Introduce the story selection for the lesson. Inform students that they should be paying careful attention to the characters and their virtuous/non-virtuous behavior.
Read the story.
At the conclusion of the story, project the Character Map Graphic Organizer onto the whiteboard.
As a group, guide the students to complete the graphic organizers with examples and summaries for the text.
Choose one character to analyze. In most cases the protagonist is the best and easiest character for the students to analyze. Fill in the circle on the graphic organizer with the character’s name.
In the triangles, fill in each virtue/character trait being examined: temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence.
In the squares, fill in examples from the text (they can be quotes, actions, thoughts, or other evidence) to support how the third pig exhibited each of the virtues throughout the Three Little Pigs story.
Briefly review all four virtues/character traits and how they were exhibited by the protagonist in the story of choice. Make the case that all authors develop their characters in a similar manner and that their most beloved heroes are often shining examples of the core virtues (Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, the third pig). Remind students that an individual is defined by their virtue, just like the characters in our novels, shows, and movies.
Students should form responses similar to these:
- Prudence – sound judgment; making wise choices; thoughtfulness
- Fortitude – personal courage in the face of obstacles; persevering
- Justice – respect and responsibility for the wellbeing of others; fairness
- Temperance – mastering ourselves and our impulses for the sake of the happiness of those around us; moderation; acting the right way at the right time
- An example of temperance might be waiting quietly in line without pushing, moving, or talking in the hallway.
- An example of prudence may be to finish one’s homework before playing video games at night, etc.
Students may offer their own examples of fictional characters who displayed virtuous behavior and which virtue they exhibited.
Students listen to the story.
Students provide examples from the text to support how each virtue/character trait was exhibited in the story.
Extensions and Adaptations
While created for 5th graders, this lesson could easily be adapted for multiple grade levels.
While used with fiction characters in this lesson, the lesson could also be adapted to use non-fiction and biography pieces.
This lesson uses the core virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence; however, any of these virtues could be substituted with other virtues (respect, citizenship, etc.).
For this lesson I chose simple stories like The Three Little Pigs; however, there are an endless supply of other story selections to be used instead. Some others that have worked well are: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (2011, Viking Juvenile); Swimmy by Leo Lionni (1973, Dragonfly Books); and The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (1992, North-South Books).