Characterization Lesson Plans

Written By Trent Lorcher

When teaching a characterization lesson plan (or any lesson), the teacher must address the one question that hovers over the classroom: Who cares? That is, why is this important?

Analyzing character development in literature helps students make sense of their world. It gives them insight into why we like or dislike another person. It gives students insights that how characters act is a better indication of who they are as opposed to what they say. Students see that often what others think or say about a character isn't always correct.

Keeping it on an ELA standards level, analyzing characters helps students develop critical thinking skills.

  • Students cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis.
  • Students use evidence to determine the theme.
  • Students analyze how complex characters develop throughout a text and how this development contributes to the story's plot and/or theme.

Procedures

The first step in fulfilling ELA standards associated with this characterization lesson plan is choosing a short story or novel with compelling characters. There is, no doubt, at least one of these in your school's textbook or lying about in the teacher book room.

  1. Discuss the four ways writers develop characters in literature: (1) direct comments; (2) physical appearance; (3) character's thoughts, words, actions; (4) other characters' thoughts, words, or actions toward the character.
  2. Create a chart (or snag this one from the world wide web). The chart has five columns: one for the character and one for each of the 4 ways writers develop characters. If you're working with one character and tracking his or her development throughout a novel, use the left column for chapter numbers and fill in the rest of the chart with evidence from that specific chapter.
  3. Once the chart's created or handed out, instruction becomes easy. As students read or reread, instruct them to write down specific words, phrases, or sentences from the text that fit each category. When applicable, students should cite page numbers for their citations.
  4. Write a character analysis paragraph. The topic sentence might look something like this: "In Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour," Mrs. Mallard's thoughts and actions contrasted with other characters' thoughts and action show that she's been suppressing her true self for decades."

Assessment

You can assess this characterization lesson with formative or summative assessments.

  • The Chart. The primary resource for assessing student understanding is the chart. Establish expectations for student answers before filling out the chart. Because it falls in the gathering evidence category of assessment, you may want to emphasize the quality of evidence and proper citations.
  • Participation. Discussing student findings--small group or whole class--with a class discussion rubric deepens critical thinking and understanding. This speaking and listening rubric contains categories for preparation, analysis, and responding to others' comments. It's easy to track comments with a roster and a pen capable of making dots or check marks next to a student's name.
  • Writing Assignment. For students to show mastery, they should be able to write an analysis or apply what they've learned about characterization by writing a short narrative that uses the four methods of characterization.

Add a Character Characterization Lesson Plan

Understanding the effect characters have on a story's plot becomes easier when students analyze what would happen if a new character joined the story. That's what the Add a Character Narrative Writing Assignment accomplishes.

Here's how it works:

  1. Read a story. Any story will do.
  2. Discuss how the story would be different if a new character were introduced.
  3. Instruct students to create a character for the story. They should be able to describe the character's physical and emotional characteristics. They should be able to create dialogue from the character and from other characters about their new character. You could even use the remove chart as a prewriting activity.
  4. Once the character has been created, instruct students to write a new scene.

If you're looking for an example, I created one for the "Monkey's Paw." You'll also find a link to a pdf with a graphic organizer, example, and a writing rubric.

If you feel like creating your own rubric, here are the standards you'll want to address:

  • Write a narrative using narrative techniques, such as dialog, plot, conflict, characters. etc.
  • Use precise words and telling details to create a scene.
  • Develop and strengthen writing by planning (this would incorporate the prewriting graphic organizer).
  • Any language standard you feel your class needs to improve.

The nature of the assignment allows differentiation. The chart can be used with any level of the story. Teachers can provide more chart examples for students who need it.

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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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