Creating Believable Characters with Your Students

Creating believable characters in narrative fiction is often a struggle even for adults. When trying to teach this to our students, especially our elementary students, it can make the task even more difficult. However, recently I began expanding my instruction from just a few simple character traits, to getting more specific, detailed, and visual. Allow your students to try developing their characters using these five categories:

Creating Believable Characters with Physical Characteristics

I always start with physical characteristics with my students. This is a part that can often be overlooked but shouldn’t. When students create a visual picture in their mind of their character, they instantly become real. Students should think about how old their character is, what they look like, and their race and culture. Drawing the character is essential to help the reader visually see this as well.

Character Personality Traits

Of course personality traits are extremely important in creating believable characters. Personality traits shouldn’t be confused with hobbies. Personality traits need to be completely separate and specific. Is their character shy, soft spoken, self-centered, giving, or timid? Knowing their character’s personality is essential in creating a believable character for the reader. This is often the lesson teachers start with and sometimes feel that this is enough. While personality traits are extremely important, there is even more we can help students brainstorm to create believable characters.

Favorite Hobbies

Does their character like to shop? Fish? Drive fast cars? Hobbies help a character come to life by creating hobbies that they enjoy. These are different than personality traits, however, many times creating a character’s hobby will lend itself to explain their personality. For example, a character can be shy and quiet and therefore spends a lot of their day reading in a quiet corner they’re made for themselves away from loud noises or too many people.

Thoughts and Actions

This is another lesson that is often forgotten when creating believable characters especially in elementary school writing. Students have to remember that the thoughts and actions of their character have to link carefully to their character’s personality. There are two ways to do this. You can brainstorm this beforehand. Have students come up with things their characters might think or say. Or, you can have students go back after they have written their first drafts and expand on thoughts and feelings within their story. I like to start by having them at least brainstorm some before they write so they are able to create a clear picture of things their character might say or do, even if they don’t use this in their story.


Relationships are another essential part of creating believable characters. People have relationships, so our characters should too. I like to ask students questions such as, “What kind of family does your character have? Who are they closest to? Who would they be likely to share a secret with first? Do they have any enemies? Why?”


By not skipping these five steps we are more likely to have students create believable characters that will in turn hopefully produce a much more three dimensional story.

If you would like anchor charts and activities to help guide this process that you’ve seen in this blog post, click here to check out my “Create a Character” set.

Happy teaching!

Looking for more upper elementary writing posts and ideas? Check these out below!

Why You Should Be Teaching the R.A.C.E. Strategy

Five Mistakes I Try to Avoid When Teaching Writing

Five Ways Students Can Organize Their Writing

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