Understanding Characters Through Shades of Meaning

 Teach shades of meaning to help students better understand characters.
When reading with students, I often ask them to describe how the character is feeling in the story.  I typically get the same one-word responses: good, happy, sad, mad, etc... Of course, I prompt further to help them dig deeper into the text, but it can be frustrating when students don't have the necessary vocabulary to describe precisely how the character is feeling.  This can also hinder their ability to fully understand the character's actions or how they contribute to the events in the story.

Students need to understand that different intensities of feelings influence what a character says and does, or how a character reacts.  For example, a character who is uneasy about something will act differently than someone who is frantic, thus setting in motion different events.  When analyzing characters, students have to learn to 'read' the character to determine how they are feeling in order to understand their actions or the events that unfold.  

Shades of meaning play a huge role in students understanding of the text. Having the ability to discern between someone who is enraged versus someone who is upset is key.  Students need to pay attention to details in the text to consider the character's situation.  This can be a difficult concept to teach when students lack the vocabulary or understanding of the degrees of feelings a character can experience.  

Teaching Shades of Meaning

To take on this challenge, I developed a few activities to help my students learn essential feeling vocabulary.  Rather than providing my students with a set of related feeling words in isolation, I created various sentences in which the feeling words were used.  I directed my students' focus on reading the sentences for the purpose of analyzing the situations first. Students highlighted or underlined the situations in each sentence. Then they conferred with a partner about which levels of intensity the feelings were being experienced in each sentence as they compared and ordered them from low to high degrees based on these situations.

Once students had some experience with the vocabulary used in this activity, I posted chart paper around the room with a feeling word on each poster. Students were then divided into small groups. Each group was assigned a poster to chart situations in which they thought someone might experience that feeling.  Once the given time was up, they rotated to the next feeling poster to see what the group(s) before them had written and then added to that list.  After the groups had carouseled around the room to each poster, the groups revisited the first poster they were assigned, reviewed what the other groups had added, discussed whether they agreed or disagreed with each of the situations on the list (using checkmarks and x's), and then shared out their poster with the class.  This activity really engaged them in some great conversations and sometimes debates.

Another activity that really helped solidify their understanding of feeling vocabulary and their different intensities was a word association sort. Students were partnered up and given sets of words with a feeling card. Their task was to read each word and decided if the word was associated with the intensity level of that feeling.  This was a simple activity that took little prep time.  I used a word card template to write a feeling on one card and various words that would or would not describe someone who is experiencing this feeling.  Students had to consider each word and discuss why it was or was not associated with the feeling.  This really gave students practice with clues they might see in a text that might help them infer how a character is feeling and to what degree.
Shades of Meaning
Implementing these simple activities have assisted my students' success, not only with shades of meaning, but how it applies to a better understanding of the characters and plot of the stories they read.

If you have any activities or strategies to share regarding teaching shades of meaning or feeling vocabulary, please share in the comment area below. I've added a sampler of a word association sort for you to download and use in your own classroom. It includes two sets of sorts (panicked and uneasy). You can use the sort with or without the emoji icons.  There is also a blank template for you to create your own sort.  Just click here for this download.  Hope your kiddos find it engaging as well. For more activities to teach shades of meaning with feelings, visit my Intensities of Feelings resource or click on the resource cover at the beginning of this article.   Happy teaching!