Standard Lesson

Creating Psychological Profiles of Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Six 50-minute sessions plus additional time for collaboration and presentations
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This lesson asks students to explore the motivation behind characters' actions in To Kill a Mockingbird. Students first engage in a freewrite activity. They then do research and creative thinking to design a poster and plan a presentation representing a psychological profile for a selected character, while determining what specific factors (such as family, career, environment, and so forth) have the greatest influence on the characters' decision making throughout the novel.  The groups present their findings to the class by assuming the persona of their character and explaining the psychological factors influencing their behavior in the novel.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Many students feel as if literature written in the past, near or distant, is irrelevant. The differences in time and place create a gap too significant between them and the characters in the novel. Students can be guided to overcome this resistance and more fully engage in a text when they recognize the relatable human qualities of a text's characters.

Louel Gibbons acknowledges the importance of relating past literary works to the current students' experiences in To Kill a Mockingbird in the Classroom: Walking in Someone Else's Shoes. Gibbons states, "As teachers, we understand that the appeal of timeless, classic literature lies in its ability to tap into the universality of the human experience and convey feelings and situations to which readers of all ages and eras can relate" Our discussions [in the classroom] remind us that no matter how different our backgrounds, the shared similarities in our life experiences provide a common thread connecting us all." (13)

Further Reading

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.

State Standards

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 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.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 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.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Poster board, scissors, and glue for each group

  • Copy of To Kill A Mockingbird for each student




  • Students need to have finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird before starting work on this cumulative project.

  • Make copies of necessary handouts.

  • Consider individual strengths to determine which students would work best together in groups of three.

  • Consider your own responses to the opening writing and discussion questions.

  • Arrange for access to internet-connected computers for Sessions Two, Three, and Four.

  • Bookmark and test the Character Trading Cards interactive, ReadWriteThink Printing Press tool, and Literary Graffiti tool on your computers to familiarize yourself with them and to ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

  • Bookmark and explore the Social Psychology Website to familiarize yourself with various social issues and their impact on human behavior.

  • Bookmark the Symbols in Literature Website.

  • Create a schedule for when the groups will present their presentations so that each student has adequate time to prepare.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • analyze the psychological background of a character from To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • identify the factors that most significantly impact a character to create a psychological profile for a character in To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • apply what they have read in To Kill a Mockingbird and communicate their understanding of the work by assuming the persona of their character.

Session One

  1. Begin the lesson by asking students to respond to this question about the novel that they just finished, To Kill a Mockingbird: "Why does Boo save Jem and Scout at the end of the novel?" Have students write continuously for about five minutes on this topic independently at their seats.

  2. After giving students time to respond to the question, students should discuss their various answers to the question in pairs or small groups, then as a full class.

  3. Introduce the concept of a psychological profile.  For the purposes of this assignment, a psychological profile of a character is a list and explanation of the various factors that affect a character's motivation and decision making throughout the course of the novel. 

  4. To begin the psychological profile activity, ask the class two discussion questions:

    • What specific factors influenced Boo throughout the novel?

    • What specific factors must a reader look at to understand why characters act specific ways?
  5. Record responses on the board, overhead, or chart paper as the class collaborates to determine the factors that can make up a character's psychological profile.  Possible answers may include: family, emotions, historical events, interactions with a specific environment, physical traits, social influences, and religion, and so forth.

  6. Now demonstrate how one of these factors is evident in the characterization of Boo Radley.  One such example would be the influence of family on Boo's decision making.  See the Example of Psychological Character Profile Factor.

  7. Inform students that they will soon begin work in groups to create a psychological profile for a character from To Kill a Mockingbird.  Distribute and  explain the Psychological Character Profile Assignment handout to the class.   Answer any questions students might have, and making reference to the sample to clarify the expectations of the assignment.

  8. After explaining the project, arrange the students into groups of three, in which there will be an evidence finder, a quote finder, and a symbol selector. Group will self-assign roles (evidence finder, quote finder,and symbol selector) and select a character from To Kill a Mockingbird to use for the psychological profile.

Sessions Two and Three

  1. Enable the students to start thinking critically about their group's character and the way in which this character behaves by directing students to the Character Trading Cards interactive.  Ask each student to create his or her own card for the character that their group selected.

  2. Have students print their cards and meet in their groups to share their different interpretations of the character.

  3. Clarify expectations for the project by reviewing the Psychological Character Profile Assignment handout and sharing the Psychological Character Profile Rubric with the class.

  4. Students will use the remainder of Session Two and all of Session Three to explore the Social Psychology Website.  This Website offers information on "social psychology topics such as prejudice and discrimination, gender, culture, social influence, interpersonal relations, group behavior, aggression, and more."

  5. After researching on this Website, each group should determine the five factors (from both the list that the class created the previous session or any other factors found on this Website) that they feel most influence their character's behavior.  Ask students to print any relevant research found on this Website and highlight the important part of the articles that link to their character.

Session Four

  1. Have groups review and refine the five most influential factors they determined in the previous session.

  2. For each factor on their list, groups will now look for evidence of the factor's influence, a quote to support or illustrate each factor, and a symbol that represents how this character manifests this factor.  Distribute copies of the Graphic Organizer for Psychological Character Profile to help students record their thoughts and keep track of their progress toward completion of the project.

    • The evidence finder will write the paragraph explaining why the group chose the specific factor and how this factor was influential for the character during the course of the novel.

    • The quote finder must find a quote for each factor that best exemplifies this factor's influence on the life of a character and then link the quotation to research found on Social Psychology Website in a paragraph. 

    • The symbol selector is responsible for selecting a symbol for each factor and finding a means of depicting this symbol on the final project; the symbol selector must write a paragraph regarding the significance of the symbol and its relation to the factor.  The students may wish to utilize the Symbols in Literature Website to aid with this part of the final project. Students may wish to use free online clip art or pictures from magazines for the visual component.
  3. Give students the remainder of this session, and time in additional sessions as necessary, to complete their research and interpretation.

Session Five

  1. After gathering and writing all of the necessary information and interpretations, each group will create a poster that contains all of the information for each factor. Students should begin thinking about how they will organize and visually present their findings.   

  2. Familiarize students with the ReadWriteThink Printing Press tool, which students may use to design the layout of each factor. They can decide whether they wish to present their paragraphs using a flyer, booklet, brochure, or newspaper format. 

  3. Remind students that they should then print their ReadWriteThink Printing Press product and attach it to the poster.

  4. Students can also use the Literary Graffiti tool to create the visual representation of their symbol.  This must also be attached to their poster.

  5. Give students time to complete work on their research and poster.

Session Six (and additional sessions as necessary)

  1. Each group will present its findings to the class.  In the spirit of Atticus' profession, each group will act as if the character that it selected for the profile is testifying in a trial.  Each group member will take turns acting as the character that the group selected. 

  2. Each member will have to explain one of the factors that influenced the characters actions, speaking as if he/she is the character.  Each student will have to testify for approximately 5 minutes, with each group participating for 15 minutes. At the end of the presentation, the other students in the class will be able to "cross examine" the group by asking any questions.

  3. Give students time to select which factors they will present.  They should also collaborate on how the character would present this information. 

  4. After all groups have presented and answered questions from their classmates, have students complete the Psychological Profile Reflection Questions. These questions may be begun in class and finished as homework.


  • As another reflection activity, the teacher may ask the students to create a psychological profile for themselves.  The students will select the factors that affect their own decision making.

  • If the teacher would like to create groups of four instead of groups of three, the teacher may add the role of "characterization classifier."  It will be this person's responsibility to examine whether direct characterization or indirect characterization is more closely associated with each specific factor. He or she should offer several examples to support and illustrate the classification.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Student performance should be evaluated based on the poster, presentation, and reflection aspects of the project.  Use the Psychological Character Profile Rubric to provide individual feedback to students.

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