Characterization Lesson: Googly-Eyed Photographs in a Suitcase
One of my favorite literary concepts to teach is characterization.
Characterization is the core of literature. Without strategically-developed characters, readers are less likely to feel connected to a piece of literature. In addition, well-developed character arcs are often link to theme, teaching us important life lessons.
In order to teach students about characterization, I love having my students practice developing characters in their own writing.
First I begin by reviewing direct vs. indirect characterization. I created a flipped lesson using Visme to teach and assess these two concepts. I like using the STEAL acronym to teach indirect characterization because it's a clear way to demonstrate the various ways we make inferences about characters. I usually do this flipped lesson as a Do Now/Bell Ringer.
Once my students have grasped the concepts of direct and indirect characterization, I have them write the following three pieces. They then choose one to revise and submit for a final grade after they've completed rough drafts of all three.
CHARACTER IN A SUITCASE STORY:
Pack a large bag (suitcase, duffel bag, book bag, etc.) with objects that could connect to one person. These items will be used to tell a story, so choose items that will serve as jumping off points for your students (I included items such as clothing, travel maps and books, ticket stubs, car keys, etc.). Explain that the best writers are often the best observers and that in order to develop a character while writing, a writer must include both direct and indirect characterization.
Present the suitcase to the class and tell the students to imagine that they have found this suitcase and must go through its contents to determine who the owner is, so that the suitcase can be returned. Allow the students to go through the contents of the suitcase writing down their observations. Who do they think this suitcase belongs to? What are this person's personality traits? What are his/her likes or dislikes? Hobbies? Career? Aspirations? Experiences? Lessons learned? The students should write down observations based on what is in front of them as well as inferences they make about the suitcase's owner.
Once they have written down they observations, have the students make a list of ten character traits about the owner. When they are finished, have them circle three characteristics that stand out in this person's personality. Then, have the students write a short story or scene about the suitcase's owner where these three chosen characteristics are developed through both direct and indirect characterization. In addition, have the student include a life lesson the character learned because of his/her personality traits (For example, the character was tenacious and learned not to give up during a period of turmoil).
GOOGLY-EYES OBJECT STORY:
My students had a lot of fun with this one!
Buy a pack of googly eyes with self-adhesive backs. I bought this pack from Amazon.
Give each student a pair of googly eyes and have them place the eyes on an inanimate object. I allowed my students to find an object around school, but this could be done in the classroom or at home.
Have the students write a story or scene from the perspective of the object where they develop the object's personality through both indirect and direct characterization. Furthermore, encourage students to connect the object's personality to the object's purpose (For example, a fire extinguisher could be brave and stoic). In addition, have the students include a lesson the character learned that would be related to the object's personality (For example, maybe Walter Fountain learns that one should always stick up for oneself after spending many years literally being spat upon).
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BEST PHOTO STORY
Have students visit the National Geographic's Best Photos of 2018 website. Have them choose a photo and write a complete scene or short story using the photo as inspiration for the plot and including the subject of the photo. This story can be written in first or third person perspective. However, it should include a mixture of direct and indirect characterization. Furthermore, in the story or scene, the students should include how the character's hardships/conflicts have taught him/her a life lesson.
Once the students have completed all three rough drafts, have them choose one story or scene to revise/edit and submit as a final draft.
I graded my students' story/scenes according to this rubric: