character development · COVID-19 · gratitude · Read Aloud · vocabulary

Exploring Character Traits with Reflective Journal Prompts

“Focus your energy on what you CAN do, not on what you CAN’T. Participate in the solution.”

Elizabeth Benton

Problem: Students will need to take mask breaks up to 2 times per day in another location than my classroom. Outside is preferable, when the weather cooperates. Students will need to be socially distant. What routine can I put in place that is educational, meaningful, and workable for one of our mask break outings each day?

While this is one of my “problems” to figure out a solution, you might have this one or several others. If you are teaching students remotely, you aren’t worried about mask breaks but you surely have a host of other concerns to work through. The 2020-2021 school year is going to be partly defined by how much we, the educators, try to participate in the solution. Some  problems will be ones we cannot solve, but others, we can work to find solutions.

While I tried to figure out the mask break problem, I considered some of the other goals I had for my third grade students this year. Each year, I select a book that will frame our year and be a touchstone text we can come back to at different times and for different purposes. Peter H. Reynolds Be You was my choice for this year, a time when students need to feel seen, valued and heard and fully accepted for who they are. In everything we do, the more we understand ourselves and appreciate our qualities, the more confident and open to learning we can be. Once I settled on that book, I had the idea that I could select a character trait each day that would be something I want my students to aspire to be. A read aloud could help us understand the trait while building vocabulary and creating a collective bank of books we know as a class.

Solution: With a trait a day in mind, I decided a Reflective Journal would be a powerful way for students to think about the trait and how they might connect to it….and solve the mask break problem! Students could bring their Reflective Journal with them outside or to our alternate mask break location. A notebook and pencil are easy to carry and a prompt gives students something to directly respond to. Students need opportunities to write across the school day- not just in writing workshop. This activity certainly would not replace writing workshop but would be another time students can write independently. While students learn about a trait and connect to their own lives, they also build their vocabulary and ability to recognize this trait in characters they meet in the books they read independently. For all these reasons, a reflective journal based on specific character traits seemed to be a way to provide a meaningful literacy experience.

For students who finish quickly or need to work on their stamina, the back of the notebook could be a place for students to list what they are grateful for. I would model this for students, explaining that the list would be for very small and specific things- like enjoying my favorite flavor of coffee (Chocolate Raspberry) or a beautiful sunset. Instead of just writing you are grateful for your mom, I would explain that you might say you are grateful your mom always hugs you at bedtime or reads to you at night.

Focusing on gratitude and positive character traits like resilience and flexibility also serve the purpose of giving students emotional tools they will likely need this year and in life. In difficult times in my own life, an outlook of gratitude truly helped. I’ve needed resilience (haven’t we all?) after painful experiences and I’ve also had to learn to let go of what I can’t control and be willing to adapt to what comes my way (flexibility). These are practices. I need to continue working on all these traits, and likely will for a lifetime. Introducing positive character traits to students through read alouds and providing opportunities for them to process their ideas in writing and look for gratitude are meaningful ways to pass the time during a mask break. If you are teaching remotely, perhaps these reflective journal prompts can be part of your asynchronous time with students. To access the chart below, click here or on the image.

Click on the image to make your own copy of the chart. Each character trait links to a suggested read aloud and a reflective journal prompt.

Please share in the comments other book titles, prompt ideas, or additional traits that you would suggest. We are surely #bettertogether and this year requires us to share our best with each other, for the good of our students. (“Be Generous”….another trait we can add to the list!)


16 thoughts on “Exploring Character Traits with Reflective Journal Prompts

  1. These are fantastic! I have been using some of these with a group of fourth graders and they really enjoy the books and the reflective process, thank you! I am also having trouble accessing “Be compassionate” and “Be Honest”, would you mind changing the settings? Thank you again!


  2. Kathleen: great book choices. I am lucky that I have most of them in my personal mentor text library. I can click on the individual boxes to the book title and journal prompt without a problem except for two choices: be compassionate and be honest. Can you tell me what to do to find those?


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