Teaching Characterization to Middle & High School Students

January 16, 2021

Use these ideas for teaching characterization to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Characterization is the way we come to know the characters of a short story, novel, or drama. While sometimes revealed directly, most of what we learn about characters is revealed through their actions, dialogue, thoughts and feelings, appearance, and their effect on other characters. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce characterization in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Examining Action & Getting Into Character
This lesson from Read Write Think first has students identify a character's traits based on their actions. The lesson includes samples as well as a student handout and an extensive list of character traits (adjectives). Part two of the lesson has students imagine that they are one of the characters and generate a list of character traits they would use to describe themselves and three of their co-characters. Students then read over each other's lists and try to guess which character would describe themselves and others that way.

Analysis Through Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers are the perfect tool for literary analysis. With a few well-placed questions, the teacher can advance thinking for a student who has a firm grasp on the story. With a bit of scaffolding or alternatives to writing (pictures, color symbolism), students who struggle with comprehension can soar. Characterization graphic organizers allow for all students to find success.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

Use these ideas for teaching characterization to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.


Practicing With An Animated Short Film
The Adventures of Hopscotch: Hopscotch Begins animated short film and characterization activities provide a comprehensive set of engaging, rigorous resources for literacy instruction. The materials don’t just tell Hopscotch’s story through an animated short film. They use that story to explicitly teach literacy skills. Students eager to learn about Hopscotch’s adventures will receive an instructional lesson about characterization as they view the video, which means they can replay it if they need to see or hear it again. Meanwhile, the story’s design will give students many opportunities to practice characterization. The accompanying activities provide the resources to offer them those chances. They are also supplied in an editable template so that they can be applied to a separate, written core text. Students will be able to engage with them independently or with the teacher and in any instructional model, including in-person or virtual formats. Therefore, the Hopscotch video and characterization activities not only provide a comprehensive set of materials to teach character throughout the year but also will make Hopscotch a welcome member of your class.
*Recommended by Lauren, LIT Lessons

Create Opportunities For Collaboration
This blog post from Teach Between The Lines has not one or two, but three great ideas to get students thinking, discussing, and working together. Idea number one is The Great Motivation Debate, which allows student to collaborate in small groups to become detective and attorney in. First, students play detective to find the true motivation of a character and find evidence to support this assessment. Then, they play attorney as they use that evidence to craft mini-arguments to debate in the ‘courtroom.’ Idea number two asks students to look at a character through the perspectives of other people in the scene/moment with them and consider how the characterization might be interpreted by other characters. Idea number three is a discussion centered around character displacement: taking a character out of their “world” or “text” and place them in another. Students discuss how a character would interact with others outside their own story, which requires a deep understanding of the character.

Spark Students' Imagination With A Visual
Rather than using a text to have students explore characterization, this activity begins with a pair of shoes. You can use images of shoes found online or collect them from home or from colleagues to create a selection of shoes to represent people of all ages and walks of life. Students will pick a pair to analyze and create the character that the shoe belongs to. The Secondary English Coffee Shop has a list of questions to accompany this activity and get students creative juices flowing. You could do a similar activity with bags, lunches, lockers, etc.

You can find all of my resources for teaching characterization and character types here.

Use these ideas for teaching characterization to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.



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