When it comes to teaching characterization, there are a few go-to lessons we all know. Of course, we know direct and indirect characterization. We might even know STEAL, speech, thoughts, effects on others, actions, and looks. This blog post isn’t going to review those strategies.
Instead, this blog post is going to give four creative ways to teach characterization. Characterization is one of my favorite literary elements to teach because there are so many unique and creative ways to analyze characters. Also, you can use and reuse these activities with different works because there is so much nuance among different characters. In other words, the way a student completes these activities with one character might be totally different with a new character.
The key is addressing the main elements of fiction that correspond to characterization while engaging students in these creative activities. Protagonists and antagonists, epiphany, and narration are examples of additional literary elements to review with characterization.
All of the following activities are high-engagement, student-centered strategies and activities to teach students how to analyze the role of a character in the story. The activities in my Elements of Fiction Unit and Narrative Writing Unit provide the perfect complement to these activities and can be used with any story.
1. Characterization Collaborative Poster
One of my favorite activities to get the ball rolling is a character collaborative poster. This is a great student-centered discussion strategy to discuss characterization, and it creates beautiful student-created, content-driven classroom decor!
What is a Characterization Poster?
Each student is given one piece of paper with one task. Then, their pieces come together (via tape) to create a poster. For this activity, I use four tasks to create one poster; therefore, each group will have four students. Each task relates to one element of indirect or direct characterization. Here are the elements I use: action/inaction, speech, other character’s opinions, and environment. Each student will have an individual paper that instructs them to provide examples from the text that reveal the personality traits or relationships of the character.
The real magic happens when students put their papers together to create a poster. This is a great piece for a discussion as each student can explain their examples. Then, in the middle, they can work together to create a character sketch of their character. Each group of four can do a different character from the story. Then, once all groups are done. Hang up the posters and facilitate a gallery walk.
How to Create a Characterization Poster
For this activity, I start by creating a collaborative poster with four indirect or direct characterization tasks. Here’s how to create the poster:
- Open Canva and open a poster template.
- Then, design your poster.
- Download the poster as a png image.
- Open the image in Adobe.
- Go to file > print.
- Select Poster under Page Sizing & Handling.
- Play with the Tile Scale until you get the right number of pages.
To save you time, you can download my free Characterization Collaborative Poster. Click below, and I’ll email you the templates.
2. Hot Seat Discussion
A hot seat discussion is a fun role-play activity in which a student or a group of students takes on the role of a character(s) in the story. They sit on the “hot seat” while the class asks them questions about the book, the plot, and their decisions. The “character(s)” do their best to answer just like the character would. The result is an exploration of the character’s motivations, desires, conflicts, and perspectives.
What is a Hot Seat Discussion?
Before asking students to assume the role of a character in the story you’re reading, you have to get them to think deeply about the character’s choices. They have to get inside the head of the character to pretend to be the character. The previous characterization poster is a great way to get them started, and you can check out the characterization activities included in my Elements of Fiction Unit.
Once students have taken some time to think about direct and indirect characterization of their chosen character, it’s time for them to take the hot seat. Once on the hot seat, their goal is to respond in first person as the character without breaking character (get it?).
Tips and Variations for Hot Seat Discussions
The most successful hot seat discussions have a clearly defined purpose before you even begin the discussion. This means that you’ve set parameters for why the character is being interviewed, who the audience is, and what types of questions the audience is going to ask. With these structures in place, your students can focus more specifically on the character analysis and less on the details.
If students feel apprehensive about being alone on the hot seat, you can have students roleplay several different characters from the story and interact with each other.
Another fun variation is to ask students to dress and talk like the character to add even more magic to the activity.
3. Create a Character
A great way to teach characterization is to use characterization to create a character. Whew! That’s a wordy sentence, but it’s exactly what you’ll do for this fun creative writing activity. This can be a stand alone lesson on characterization, or it can be used as part of a narrative writing unit. So, let’s get into it!
What Is Create a Character?
Create a character is a creative writing game that uses part strategy and part chance. I first had this idea after watching an impro show. The actors asked the audience to give them a scene or situation for them to improvise.
In this creative writing game, students will use prompts related to characterization to create a character and invent a story based on that character. Here are some ideas for prompts:
- A first and last name
- A fear
- Favorite food
- Favorite hobby
- Favorite color
- A place to live
Tips and Variations for Create a Character
Now, you can either ask for students to call out ideas and you can pick your favorite. Or, you can have them write their responses on slips of paper. If you choose this option, collect the slips on different piles for each category, so you can randomly choose the result. (I personally like this way best because it adds the element of surprise and chance.)
Once you’ve filled each category and you have your character basics, ask students, in groups or independently, to write a character background filling in the blanks. Have them find a picture that represents their character, and it’s always fun to have them present their character to the class. The results are so creative! It’s really interesting to see how students use this inspiration differently!
If you like this idea, check out my Narrative Writing Unit. The overall goal of this unit is for students to write their own short story, and this character section fits nicely within the larger unit. You might also consider the individual Characterization Lesson and Activities. It includes several lessons related to creating a unique character with supplemental prompts and activities.
If you like these ideas, check my other blog posts on elements of fiction activities and lessons: