By the time students enter the sixth grade they generally understand the main concept of characterization in literature. The learning objective then translates into students being able to analyze the techniques that authors utilize in order to describe characters in a story. There are numerous ways in which to creatively accomplish this task. This is a concept I prefer to cover at the beginning of the school year so that students can have more meaningful discussions as we move into novel studies throughout the year. Characterization is a concept I enjoy teaching because there are a variety of ways to add creativity, and the instructional goals relate to everything we read over the course of the school year.
When I begin instruction on any topic I first choose a short story or poem that students can easily read and understand. I use the selection throughout the instructional unit, and often refer to the selections throughout the year in order to relate stories or review concepts. The reading selections often serve as reminders to students of what has been covered. In my introductory lesson for teaching characterization I use the short story by Sandra Cisneros "Eleven". I love this story because all students can relate to the main character in one way or another. I introduce the story by sharing the author and title only. I ask students to predict what they think the story will be about, and then I ask them to read the story silently. After a few minutes I read the story aloud, and then ask students to give a brief summary. Once we have confirmed or changed our predictions, I ask students to think about the main character. Questions I ask them to consider include:
- Who is the main character?
- What is she experiencing during the story?
- How does this experience make her feel and think?
- What images did this story convey?
- What words or descriptions does Cisneros use to tell the audience how the main character is feeling and thinking?
After a class discussion about characterization, and how Cisneros portrays the main character to the audience, I have the students break off into groups with partners with an assigned task. Their job is to interview the main character about the incident that occurs. Students must create a list of questions that will further help explain the main character's point of view, words, thoughts, or actions during the story. I provide a few examples of questions to help students begin. When students have at least five questions, I ask them to break off into new partner groups to share their questions. During this time, students conduct their interviews with each taking a turn to ask and answer questions. After the interviews, students independently complete a character sketch graphic organizer and journal entry sharing what they now know about the main character and what specific words from the story support their response.
As a culminating activity, students create their own short story where a main character is described through an experience at school, home, or any place the student feels is significant. After revising and editing their short stories, students are given the option to share their creation with the class. After each story is shared, students take a minute to sketch and describe the characters. This is only one way I introduce characterization. Over the years I have discovered many more ways in which to teach and reinforce this concept. The following are examples of lessons that effectively accomplish this task.
Characterization Lesson Plans:
Curiouser and Curiouser: In this lesson students analyze elements of characterization by reading a review of the television movie "Alice in Wonderland." Students then complete a character sketch of a favorite literary character that can be used to create a cast list of actors to turn their chosen book into their own television movie. This lesson also includes online resources and websites for students to visit.
May the Force Be With (in) You: This lesson incorporates reading, writing, class discussion, and group work. Students use "Star Wars" as a basis for analyzing characters and plot. After reading and discussing elements of characterization, students create their own characters and short stories.
Analyze a Character: This lesson can easily fit into any novel study. After a discussion and introduction of how authors develop character, students work in groups of four to chose a character from a class novel. Each group member is assigned a job to complete concerning an aspect of a character sketch. Then each group creates a life-size character from butcher-block paper using the information from the character sketch. The sketches and life-size character is shared with the rest of the class.
Novels Depicting Older Characters: This lesson includes a list for students to choose a book and identify and discuss a character that faces a problem. Throughout class discussions and reading, students produce a composition that effectively relates an analyzation of characterization, style, symbolism, or theme. This lesson allows students to focus on both reading and writing in order to effectively analyze one aspect of a novel.