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Power Play - Supercharge Character Analysis with Social Emotional Learning by Jocelynn from Custom Teaching Solutions

Reading books and analyzing the characters is a powerful tool for character development with students. This however, requires going beyond your typical character sheet that asks students to list things like the character’s name, a few important quotes, some actions, feelings, and if the character is round, flat, static, or dynamic. This character analysis is going to require connection. Incorporating the five SEL competencies is the secret sauce that will help make character analysis relevant and relatable. 

According to CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” (https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/


The five areas of focus are:


  1. Self-Awareness – the ability to consider your own emotions, thoughts, values and experiences, and determine how these can influence your actions.

  2. Self-Management – the ability to regulate and control your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

  3. Social Awareness – your ability to empathize with others and take other perspectives into account. Treating others with respect regardless of diverse perspectives, values, and abilities.

  4. Relationship Skills – the ability to develop healthy relationships with others, taking their emotional well-being into account so that the relationship is mutually beneficial.

  5. Responsible Decision-Making – the ability to make healthy, positive decisions based on different factors like academic goals or safety.


When considering focused, intentional, and relevant character development through character analysis it is important to choose one or two of the competencies to study at a time. This reduces student overwhelm and allows for the necessary time to fully process the competency, the character’s progress with developing in that area, and their own personal connection and learning. 


The best way to structure this is to include all the typical elements, but add the competency as the thematic character focus. This allows the student to truly track the character's growth and development over time. This is beneficial when helping students determine, for example, if a character is static or dynamic, their answer can be rooted in a deeper understanding of the character’s thinking, responses, and motivations. You can grab a free character analysis resource at https://customteachingsolutions.com/characteranalysis


As the students consider a competency, have them answer one or all of the following anchor questions:


  1. What did the character learn about themselves? - What did I learn about myself?

  2. What did the character learn about their peers? - What did I learn about my peers?

  3. What did the character learn about the world? - What did I learn about the world?


Let me walk you through a quick example of what this would look like in action …


At the beginning of the year, have students engage in a series of mini lessons connected to the five SEL competencies. One for each day of the week or one per week for five weeks. It depends on your students and your pacing schedule. 


Connect each competency to a story you were already planning to teach. For example, the short story “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros is a popular short story read with 5th - 8th graders. In this story, the main character Rachel is making connections to age and her understanding of her ability to advocate for herself based on age. Connecting this story to the self-awareness or self-management competencies will take, not only character analysis to a deeper level, but also comprehension and student learning. 


Before reading the story, facilitate a mini lesson explaining what self-awareness is all about. Provide time and space for students to ask questions and share examples or quotes. Then, as the class engages with this text, include identifying moments of self-awareness for Rachel as part of the purpose. 


Model by saying something like, 


“The second and third lines of the story say, ‘And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today.’” 


At this moment, what does Rachel realize about her feelings and expectations?


After the first read, have students consider all the moments of awareness. 


Has Rachel grown or changed? Have these moments of awareness made her better able to advocate for herself? Explain.


You can have the students fill out a FREE, guided character analysis sheet to keep track of their thoughts at https://customteachingsolutions/characteranalysis.


Later in the year, when students are engaged in a literary deep dive, whether connected to a picture book, short story, or novel study, have them focus on at least two competencies, tracking a character's growth and development based on the competency.


During the pre-reading or anticipation guide, share the SEL focus and begin to connect it to themes, character quotes, and plot elements.


As an exit ticket each day, have students answer one of the anchor questions. You can tweak the questions to explicitly ask about the competency, or hint at it. In this way, students are consistently engaging in learning that is rigorous, relevant, and relatable.


Check out the six different character analysis sheets created by Custom Teaching Solutions for you to get started. Grab this free resource at https://customteachingsolutions.com/characteranalysis


Looking for middle grade recommendations? Here are some of Jocelynn's currents favorites:

  • Air by Monica Roe

  • Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

  • A Day with no Words by Tiffany Hammond

  • Marti's Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy

  • Tumble by Celia C Perez

  • Posted by John David Anderson

  • Planet Omar: Unexpected Super Spy by Zanib Mian

  • Simon B Ryhmin' by Dwayne Reed



About Jocelynn Hubbard

Jocelynn Hubbard helps teachers spark joy during the learning experience by creating an inclusive and welcoming classroom environment for ALL their students. She is the founder and managing director of Custom Teaching Solutions, LLC and host of The Culture-Centered Classroom podcast. She has 16+ years of experience in education as an educator, speaker, professional development creator and facilitator. Driven by a passion to see the diverse people of our world feel welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated, she provides training on becoming and remaining culturally competent.


As a wife and mother of five, her goals include squeezing in time for exercise, finding moments of joy each day, and parenting each of her children as unique individuals.

Jocelynn received a B.S. in Education from Miami University (OH) and an MA in Education from The University of North Carolina – Pembroke. She also has a graduate certificate in Gifted & Talented instruction from The University of North Carolina – Charlotte.




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