Action Is Character: Exploring Character Traits with Adjectives
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By "becoming" a character in a novel they have read and making lists from that character's perspective, students analyze the character while also enriching their vocabulary. Students gain a deeper understanding of a character by creating charts linking the character's actions with the character's traits. They explore adjectives through a variety of resources. They then use their analysis of the character and their knowledge of adjectives to create descriptive lists of their own three other characters from the novel. The worksheet instructions in the lesson use Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as an example, but this activity is effective with any work of literature in which characterization is important.
Identifying Character Traits: Use this student reproducible as an overview of character traits and an introduction to charting the relationship between characters' actions and their traits.
Become a Character Assignment: This student reproducible gives complete instructions for an activity in which students describe a character they have chosen to "become," as well as three other characters.
From Theory to Practice
Character analysis represents one of the most common assignments given in literature classes. A successful character analysis demands that students infer abstract traits and values from literal details contained in a text. This lesson plan not only asks students to infer those traits but also to show that knowledge by applying the traits as they create their own list from the character's perspective. By adopting the traits of a main character, students must "show" their understanding of that character's main characteristics, rather than simply "telling" with a list of traits.
Additionally, the lesson plan provides an opportunity for students to explore the supporting reasons for the traits they have chosen, especially in the context of commonalities among the lists compiled by the class. Even when students can confidently formulate appropriate traits, they often find it hard to connect specific details to their inferences. This process of creating lists and then discussing them as a class gives students practice in connecting detail to inference.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Materials and Technology
- Chart paper and markers
- Internet access
- Copies of the novel being discussed
- Print copies of dictionaries and thesauruses to supplement online reference tools
- Students have read a substantial portion of the novel and have discussed the relative strengths, weaknesses, and attributes of various characters.
- Make copies of the assignment, character traits, and adjective handouts, if desired. Alternately, find similar information in your class grammar and literature books.
- Test the Character Traits Chart student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- review the characteristics of adjectives.
- define the literary term "character trait" and explore how to provide details that support their inferences.
- conduct research using Internet reference resources to find accurate and descriptive word choice.
- explore perspective by writing descriptive word lists from the point of view of a character in a novel they've read recently.
- Introduce F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation, "Action is character," taken from one of Fitzgerald's journals. Ask students to discuss what Fitzgerald means and how the underlying idea connects to literary characters in their recent reading.
- Use the Identifying Character Traits worksheet and instructions to explore the connections between a character and the actions that character takes (or doesn't).
- Review the adjective part of speech, using the Capital Community College "Guide to Grammar and Writing" Website or your grammar textbook as as reference.
- Share the list of character traits as a sample list of adjectives for students to refer to as they work.
- Demonstrate the Character Traits Chart, showing students how to add items to the chart as well as how to print and save their work:
- Type your name in the first slot in the interactive.
- For the title, choose the character name. Students may also indicate the book which includes the character.
- Click Next to move to the chart screen and enter your information.
- In the first column, write the character's actions from the book. You can include page numbers also. In the second column, write the character traits related to the action.
- Demonstrate that writing is not limited to the size of the box shown on screen. Answers will scroll.
- When you've finished writing your responses, click Finish at the top of the screen.
- In the next window, click Print. Your answers will be displayed in a Web browser window.
- To print answers, choose the Print command from the File menu. To save your answers, choose the Save As... command from the File menu. Students can open the file later in a Web editor or a word processor that imports HTML (such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks).
- Show students that the instructions for using the tool are available by clicking Instructions at the top of the screen.
- Type your name in the first slot in the interactive.
- Individually or in small groups, have students work through the character traits for one character from the reading, using the Character Traits Chart. Ideally, the character that they focus on will be the same character whose point of view they will adopt in Session Two. If computers are not available, students can use the Identifying Character Traits Worksheet.
- Circulate among students, providing feedback and help as necessary.
- Remind students to print and save their work.
- Expanding on the lists from Session One, demonstrate how to use online resources such as an Internet dictionary and thesaurus (or show students a how-to guide Using the Thesaurus for Microsoft Office) to arrive at additional descriptive adjectives for the characters.
- Once you're satisfied that students understand the basic concepts, divide the class into pairs, and give each pair a piece of butcher paper or newsprint and a wide marker.
- Use the Become a Character assignment as an overhead or handout to explain the activity to the class. Ideally, students should adopt the point of view of the character they analyzed in Session One.
- Give the students adequate work time (30-40 minutes) to compile their lists.
- Give students 10-15 minutes to finish their lists and their charts.
- As students finish, post their work on the wall or board until all the lists are up.
- Number the papers and assign each list a letter, so that everyone can refer to a particular list easily.
- Each student pair then examines the posted lists and, on a sheet of paper, attempts to identify who is being described.
- Depending upon the time available, look at each list or a selected number of lists, discussing identities.
- The authors of the lists under discussion finally give the "right answers." Again, depending upon time, the class can discuss the adjectives in each list and can cite specific events and details from the text which either support or call into question the accuracy of those adjectives.
- (Optional) Have students look for patterns such as the number of pairs who chose a particular character, or adjectives that were repeated by several groups, as well as adjectives that did the best job of description.
Work Characters Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore The Hobbit Bilbo, Gandalf, Smaug, Thorin To Kill a Mockingbird Jem, Scout, Atticus, Boo Ender's Game Ender, Peter, Valentine, Bean The House on Mango Street Esperanza, Mama, Papa, Alicia Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Bridget, Lena, Tibby, Carmen Stotan Walker, Lionel, Nortie, Jeff The Chocolate War Archie, Obie, Jerry, Emil, Leon
This lesson plan could also be used as a semester review. Each group could focus on characters from different readings. In addition to identifying the characters, students would identify the work that the characters are in.
- Expand on students' focus on a particular character from the novel by having them write a character diary entry from their adopted character's point of view. Use a diary prompt from Traci's Lists of Ten, or let students make up their own topics.
- Have students use the Profile Publisher either as an aid in generating their list of adjectives before the Become a Character Assignment or as a synthesis of their learning at the completion of the lesson.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Informal assessment works best for this activity. As students work on their list, circulate among pairs, observing students' use of reference books and their lists of adjectives. Provide support and feedback as you move from group to group.
The ultimate assessment for this activity will be students' reaction to the lists written by their peers and their ability to provide support for the traits on the list. As students go over the lists as a group, reinforce good choice of traits, noting both students' word choice and the connection between trait and character.