This lesson can be taught by a classroom teacher or teachers with a basic understanding of literature in informal settings.
Composing and Planning, Producing, Executing and Performing, Analyzing Assessing and Revising
Developing Arts Literacies:
Understanding Genres, Applying Vocabulary, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique, Comparing Styles
Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication and Collaboration
Students examine character as a significant element of fiction. They learn several methods of characterization, identify and critique these methods in well-known works of fiction, and use the methods in works of their own. Students also identify, examine, evaluate, and use the elements dialogue and point of view as methods of characterization.
- Examine, analyze, and evaluate character as an element of fiction writing.
- Define and identify characterization, dialogue, and point of view in works of fiction.
- Incorporate characterization, dialogue, and point of view in their own writing.
- Write for a variety of audiences: peers, teachers, parents, school-wide community, and beyond.
- Group or Individual Instruction
What You'll Need
- 1 Computer per Learner
- 1 Computer per Small Group
Internet access is needed.
Like most literary elements, character depends on other elements to thrive. Students will have to grasp multiple concepts in order to create believable characters. Encourage them to have patience with the process. Visit teachingcomics.org for characterization resources.
Prior Student Knowledge
Basic vocabulary and concepts of fiction writing including:
- Definition of fiction
- Categories within fiction (short story, novel, novella, etc.
- Familiarity with terms used within and to describe fiction (character, plot, setting, dialogue, etc.)
If students need a refresher, visit Literary Elements
- Small Group Instruction
- Individualized Instruction
Arrange handouts in the order the class will address them. Post content vocabulary words for easy reference.
Resources in Reach
Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.
1. Draw a large stick figure on the board.
Draw arrows from its head, mouth, heart, and body. Label the head “thoughts” (expressed through a particular point of view); label the mouth “speech” (dialogue); label the heart “emotions”; and label the body “physical descriptions and actions.”
2. Explain that characters are often similar to human beings in the real world. A character is a person (or sometimes an animal) who takes part in the action of a work of literature. Generally, the plot of a short story focuses on one character—called the main character. A story may also have one or more minor characters. They keep the action moving forward and help the reader learn more about the main character.
3. Explain that typically, not all character traits are revealed at the same time. Information about characters is given to the reader in pieces and clues throughout the story. Sometimes, however, it may be necessary to give a short sketch of your main character at or near the beginning of the story. Characters are defined in a variety of ways through thoughts and emotions, dialogue, actions, and physical descriptions. Explain that authors use these elements to make characters believable.
4. Review the handout Revealing a Character: An Example. Have students read the passage in which all four techniques are used to characterize a girl named Kelly who is visiting Sally O'Brien, her best friend. In the passage, Mrs. O'Brien is Sally's grandmother. Show the students the following statements, and have them point out the lines from the excerpt that prove each statement and name the methods of characterization used.
Kelly has a ponytail.
Kelly thinks that Mrs. O'Brien has a sour face.
Kelly is concerned about Sally.
- Sally’s mother was nice to Kelly.
5. Pass out the Methods of Characterization worksheet and magazines. Have students complete the worksheet by choosing a photograph of a person or animal (or other image they'd like to personify) from a magazine and providing 2-3 details for each method of description listed on the chart. The physical description of the character in the magazine is clear, but it is up to the student to decide which details they would like to reveal to the reader.
6. Ask students to share their character and characterization details with the class. Ask students to explain their choices. Discuss details that reveal character traits effectively. Make suggestions about details that might benefit from sharper descriptions.
Now that students have had a brief introduction to characterization, reiterate that it is a literary element with multiple moving parts and elements. In other words, the use of other literary elements is necessary in order for characterization to be successful (For the elements of fiction, see the ReadWriteThink lesson, Book Report Alternative: The Elements of Fiction.)
1. Review and discuss the following terms.
Dialogue: The conversation of characters in a literary work. Dialogue is typically enclosed within quotation marks in works of fiction. Dialogue may stand in stark contrast to exposition as it comes directly from the characters.
Diction: The selection of words in a literary work. The words used by an author to reveal character, convey action, demonstrate attitudes, and indicate values. Diction may be lofty, plain, common, etc.
Dialect: the form of language spoken by people in a particular region or group. In a literary work, dialect may be used to paint a true picture of the characters.
Point of view: The angle or perspective from which a story is told.
First person point of view: The narrator is a character or observer in the story. In general, the narrator participates in the story’s action. A first person narrator is not objective and the reader must keep this in mind.
Objective point of view: The narrator tells what happens in a story without stating more than can be inferred from the action and dialogue. The narrator is a detached and does not disclose anything about what the characters think or feel.
Third person point of view: The narrator does not participate in the story’s action. He or she is not one of the characters, but is able to relay to the reader how the characters think and feel. This outside voice is limited, or only has access to the characters’ impressions.
Omniscient point of view: The narrator knows everything about all the characters. He or she is all knowing or omniscient.
2. Pass out excerpts of several works of literature that illustrate each method of characterization. Lead a shared reading of the excerpts. Identify the information that can be gathered about the characters. Have students highlight or underline examples. Discuss how the writers use characterization as a literary technique and how point of view impacts the story. Evaluate the success of the characterizations. Ask students to note what they like and dislike about each excerpt/technique.
3. Ask students the following discussion questions:
Think about the characters in some of your favorite books. What qualities did these characters have that attracted you to them? How did the author express those qualities? Have you ever read a book that did not have interesting characters? How did this affect your view of the book?
Resources for this step:
Literature excerpts that illustrate characterizationRevealing a Character: An Example
1. Pair students. Have them work together to complete one (or more) of the following writing assignments:
- Write a characterization of someone you know. Let the reader decide from your writing what kind of person you are describing. Show, do not tell.
- Create a character. Describe your character completely. Use details that help your readers imagine completely your creature or person.
- Describe a person or character whose physical appearance impressed you. The person may have been stunning, extraordinarily plain, physically challenged, cruel or sinister looking, etc. In what kind of mystery/riddle could the character be involved?
2. Divide the class into small groups and give each group a list of character traits. Have each group create a character who illustrates its list of traits but without using the actual adjectives. Then have each group read its characterization aloud so other students can attempt to determine which adjectives the character exemplifies. If time allows, try a variation of this activity. Give every group a list of the same adjectives; the class could then analyze different ways to illustrate the same character traits.
3. Help students better understand dialogue. Distribute the student Writing Dialogue handout containing guidelines for writing dialogue and the choices for writing assignment topics. Students should complete one or more of the writing assignments outlined on the handout.
4. Help students better understand point of view. Have students complete one or more of the assignments on the accompanying Point of View Assignment handout.
1. Have students write an essay that defines and analyzes characterization as a literary element/technique.
Students should work independently. In their own words, they should define characterization and explain how and why it is used in literature. Students should support their essays with examples from three or four literary works. Essays should include an evaluation of the supplemental elements dialogue, diction, dialect, and point of view.
Have students write a short story that employs each device used in characterization. Students should work independently. The short story should use the different methods of characterization, including dialogue, to develop characters and plot. The point of view of the short story should be clear and consistent.
2. Have students share their essays/stories. Students can share in small groups or with the whole class.
3. Have students offer constructive criticism for the essays/stories. Follow the pre-established rules for criticism. Allow the class discussion to include criticism of the work of well-known authors.
- A successful essay will be well organized and supported with details. It will address each detail in the prompt.
- A successful characterization will reveal the thoughts and emotions, actions, physical descriptions, and impressions of characters by other characters.
- Peer evaluation
- Self assessment