A Character Life Box

Getting to know your characters through words and images


Key Staff

A regular classroom teacher can do this lesson

Key Skills

Creative Thinking:
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture


This language arts lesson offers a hands-on opportunity for students to understand characterization in literature and to connect historical and contemporary culture. Through research and study of Shakespearean England, student pairs get to know about the life of a character in the book Shakespeare Stealer. Students collect props and clues to create a “life box” and a poem about their character. Using props adds a visual and physical dimension to their learning while using words engages mental facilities, making this a whole brain activity. Students must communicate their clues and interpret others clues to reveal character’s identities.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Create a character life box for a character in The Shakespeare Stealer
  • Research information about their character or his/her job and historical context
  • Write a rhyme royal to describe the character depicted in their life box
  • Present their character life boxes to the class
  • Learn about the value of character development in literature

Teaching Approach

Arts Enhanced

Teaching Methods

  • Demonstration
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Research
  • Direct Instruction

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teacher should:

  • Have read the book Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood.
  • Teachers should be familiar with the format of a rhyme royal. A good resource on this type of poetry can be found here.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should:

  • Have read the book The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackford
  • Students should be familiar with poetry and have a basic understanding of character traits such as extroverted, lazy, brilliant, and so forth. An extensive list of character traits can be found here.

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction


Prior to the class, prepare a sample character "life box" for the character of Queen Elizabeth. The life box should contain items that are uniquely representative of the character. The items may be displayed in a shoebox, a small suitcase, or another portable box. You may wish to include items such as a red wig, white face make up, a handkerchief with an embroidered "E," a crown or some royal jewels.

Also prepare in advance a copy of the following poem to go with the box. (Or create your own poem)

My mask is easy to wear.
A face of rouge on all white,
A wig of flaming hair,
A crown worn a bit tight,
Regal in any light.
On my handkerchief an embroidered "E,"
To show my favor, I'll give it to thee.

There should be a table or desk available for students to display their work that is easily visible to the class.

If using music, have music cued and ready to play ahead of time.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Ask students to imagine what might be inside the briefcase, purse, backpack, satchel, suitcase of the following individuals:

  • The President of the United States
  • A rock or movie star
  • A plumber or a doctor
  • A classmate
  • Someone on vacation

How might the contents of these carrying bags be different? What could they reveal about the life of the person who uses them?

2. Introduce the concept of a “character life box”. The objects people carry around can tell a lot about them at that precise moment in time. They could describe what they do for a living or where they are going. You could call these things “character life boxes,” because they reveal something about a person’s life.

3. Discuss the following examples or solicit student ideas:

  • Backpack: history, math, and spelling books — may indicate a student’s homework load for the night;
  • Gym bag: tennis racket, a tube of tennis balls, a towel, and wrist and head bands — may indicate a game of tennis is to be played;
  • Brief case: a legal brief and a court calendar — may indicate a lawyer;
  • Suitcase: swim trunks, snorkel gear, and flippers — may indicate this person is heading for a vacation near the water.

4. Display the contents of your briefcase, book bag and/or prearrange for a student volunteer show the contents of their backpack. Take a few minutes to observe the contents and discuss what they reveal.

5. Teach the students that in a play, props to help reveal information about a character. In some theatrical performances, actors play more than one role. Props and costuming are some of the tools actors use to help the audience distinguish between the characters. For example, the skull of Yorik is a vital prop in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. (See links cited in resource section below for more information on the skull of Yorik)

6. Present the Queen Elizabeth "life box" which you have prepared to the class, but do not reveal her identity. The life box should contain items that are uniquely representative of the character. The items may be displayed in a shoebox, a small suitcase, or another portable box. You may wish to include items such as a red wig, white face make up and a handkerchief with an embroidered "E", a crown or some “royal jewels.” Allow students to examine the props.

7. As an additional clue read a “rhyme royal” about the character life box to the class. You may compose an original poem or use the following example:

My mask is easy to wear.
A face of rouge on all white,
A wig of flaming hair,
A crown worn a bit tight,
Regal in any light.
On my handkerchief an embroidered "E,"
To show my favor, I’ll give it to thee.

Ask students if they now know which character is represented by the life box. Have them explain their reasoning.

8. Engage the class in a discussion about the Queen Elizabeth character life box. Solicit comments from the students. What do they like about the life box, what might they add or take away from it. How does it help them understand the character better?

9. Take a moment briefly review and to check for student understand of what has been taught so far.

  • The importance of character development
  • How the props and the rhyme tell us about the character

Optional: Play a popular rap tune on a CD or mp3 player for the class. Choose a song that you know to be appropriate or you can try “Best Friend” or “I’ll Be Missing You” both by P Diddy. Ask the class what they think the rap songwriter and Shakespeare have in common. Students should be able to come up with ideas such as poetry, rhythm, humor, and emotion among other things. If no one mentions the term, “iambic pentameter,” introduce it at this time.

10. Introduce the topic of rhyming verse as a literary tool. Create or use a rhyme of your own choosing to capture the student’s attention or use the one below.

To teach you what you need to know
I’d like to use this royal rhyme
I have to choose my words just so
Those words may need to be sublime
My idea, you’ll catch in half the time
With luck when all is said and done
I will have made your learning fun.

11. Check for student understanding. Ask students what they noticed about this rhyme. They may have noticed the rhythm or have recognized the rhyme scheme or have an original observation of their own.

12. Teach the students that in Shakespeare’s writings , the Bard gave clues to the actors about how to say the words through rhymes and rhythms in the text. Shakespeare’s actors sometimes did not get their dialogue until the day of the performance. Rhymes not only helped the actors remember the lines but are pleasant to hear and help the audience to remember the story. Some ways in which Shakespeare used these techniques are:

  • Iambic pentameter, a rhythm similar to a heartbeat, pa-pum pa-pum pa-pum. (If you have not already done so, you can now point out to the students that rap artists also make use of this rhythm.)
  • He also used couplets, a pair of rhyming lines in iambic pentameter, to close out a scene. This would cue theater goers that the scene is ending and a new scene is coming.
  • A rhyme royal is form of rhyme Shakespeare used in his writing. This seven sentence, rhyming iambic pentameter verse uses the following pattern ABABBCC. Lines A rhyme with each other, lines B rhyme with each other, and lines C rhyme with each other. Consider this example from The Rape of Lucrece, a poem by the bard. The full text of the poem can be found here.

O happiness enjoyed but of a few!
And, if possessed, as soon decayed and done
As in the morning silver-melting dew
Against the golden splendor of the sun!
An expired date, cancelled were well begun:
Honour and beauty, in the owner’s arms,
Are weakly fortressed from a world of harms.

13. Post the Queen Elizabeth poem used earlier in the lesson. Have students look at the rhyme royal carefully to identify the pattern.

Build Knowledge

1. Tell students that the play The Shakespeare Stealer and the book on which it is based are historical fiction. This means the playwright took real characters and documented historical events and mixed them in with fictional characters and events. Ask students if they can predict which character in The Shakespeare Stealer could have packed this box. Have them record their predictions.

2. List as many of the characters from The Shakespeare Stealer as the students can recall on the board. Use the Character Descriptions handout to add the remaining characters to the list if necessary. Ask students to consider the following:

Which characters seem as if they might be real people and why?

How could one discover whether a character is based on a real or imagined person?

3. Refer to the character list on the board.

4. If your class has seen the play The Shakespeare Stealer, ask students how the actors who played multiple roles distinguished each part for the audience. Answers could include a change of costume, makeup, voice, mannerism or prop.

5. If your class has read the book The Shakespeare Stealer, ask students to suggest props and costuming that would help to distinguish each character for a stage production. Inform students that actors do not usually have much time for costume changes or much space backstage to store props. In addition, the fast pace of a performance requires that the prop and costume be instantly recognizable to communicate the change to the audience. To effectively enhance character development, costumes and props must be well thought out and simple to arrange. For example, hats and cloaks can be quickly added or taken away to change a character, while adding or taking away a beard would be impractical.

6. Pair up students and give each a handout of Character Descriptions . Give the students a moment to familiarize themselves with the list.

7. Assign or let the student partners choose a character to research. The fictional characters can be researched by job type or station in life. Historical characters can be researched for physical traits, personalities and accomplishments. For example, the character Julian is a girl disguised as a boy to work in the theatre. Women were not allowed to perform in the Elizabethan theatres. Allow plenty of time for students to research their character study. Advise students to keep notes on their research to hand in with their finished assignment.

8. Teach the students that imagining the contents of a character’s life box enables readers and writers to “flesh out” a character. In literature, for a character to become interesting, the writer must create specific and believable details that will make us care about this individual. Some reasons that we may care about characters are:

  • We have something in common with them.
  • Something about them is familiar to us, they remind of us someone we know, like, or dislike.
  • We understand their goals, dreams, successes or failures.

9. Revisit the Queen Elizabeth Life Box. Consider the above questions. How do the items in the life box make the character of Queen Elizabeth more believable? For example, a handkerchief is the equivalent of a pack of tissues that one might carry today. Perhaps Queen Elizabeth suffered from allergies, or had a cold, or was moved to tears, all human traits that we share. Encourage the students to take a good look at the Queen Elizabeth Life Box for ideas on how to create their own life boxes.

10. For homework, assign each pair to come up with at least five props or costume pieces they can find or create to put in a character life box for their character. They may use a shoe box, shopping bag, or a pillow case to hold the pieces. Drawings or photos of a prop glued on a piece of construction paper or card stock are acceptable substitutes for a physical object, especially in case weapons are chosen to represent Falconer/Bass and Armin. Students can work on their boxes at home and bring them back to school completed, or bring in the materials and put them together during class time as available.

Emphasize that no real weapons, swords, fencing rapiers, or knives may be brought in for this project.


1. Take a moment briefly review and to check for student understanding of what has been taught so far.

  • The importance of character development
  • How the props and the rhyme tell us about the character
  • What they may have learned from the historical research
  • Ideas they may have about their characters life

2. Allow students class time to finish putting together their character life boxes. Students should have brought in at least 5 objects or images to create their life boxes. This would be a good time to complete the boxes if they have not already done so.

3. Refer students to the Character Description handout located within the Resource Carousel. Have the students identify several characters in The Shakespeare Stealer. Give students an opportunity to create a rhyme royal of one of these characters as a class by:

  • Brainstorming descriptive words and phrases about the character’s personality and actions.
  • Brainstorming words that rhyme with any of the key words.
  • Plugging the words and phrases into a rhyme royal worksheet.

4. Direct the student partners to create a rhyme royal about the character for their character life box. The name of the character is not to be included in the rhyme. The class will try to guess each character. Give the students time to rehearse reciting their rhyme, if possible, committing it to memory.

  • Google Images as a source to find images of props as needed
  • Blackford, Gary L. The Shakespeare Stealer. Puffin Books, 1998.
  • Rhyme Royal worksheet


1. Have each pair present the finished life box and rhyme to the class. Students will display the five selected props, images, or costume pieces of their character, explaining any meaning or symbolism that may not be obvious, without revealing the identity of their character. They will then read or recite from memory their rhyme royal in unison.

2. Have the class guess the identity of the character presented. Direct the presenters to describe their objects in a way that gives clues to the rest of the class. Encourage the students who are listening to ask questions and get clarity before they guess the identity. Allow a few minutes per presenter for this activity.

3. Student partners will hand in life box, and all written material for assessment.


Assess your students' work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel


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Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer

Ann Reilly



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