Fresh Ideas to Teach Characterization

Does teaching characterization have you feeling stumped? I get it. It takes a lot of energy to teach the different story elements like conflict, setting, plot, theme, and the list goes on. By the time you teach characterization, it’s easy to just breeze over it. Luckily, I’ve sunk some time into thinking about engaging activities that get the message across in a fresh way. Here are three fresh ideas you can use to teach characterization this year!

Characterization Idea #1: Graphing Traits and Development

This is a really fascinating higher-level thinking activity that I learned about at a Gifted Ed conference with Ian Byrd. Students are given a list of well-known characters (like Peter Pan, Hermione Granger, and Darth Vader) and a graph. You can put any traits you want on the ends of the x- and y-axis, but when first teaching characterization, I keep it simple and use Dynamic-Static on one axis, and Round-Flat on the other.

Students must evaluate each character according to the x-and y-axes and place them on the graph accordingly. To start, students consider a character from the list, like Darth Vader, and they place him somewhere along the y-axis according to how dynamic or static he is. They repeat the process with the x-axis. The key in this activity is in having students complete it with a partner or a table group because dialogue is everything. You can really make quite a case for several characters. For example, Matilda is a round character, but one could also argue that her changes are minimal. So she’s not totally static, but she’s also not very dynamic. 

After plotting several characters, I ask students to choose three and explain their placement on the graph using evidence and reasoning.

You could repeat this same activity and change out the x- and y-axis into specific traits, like gregarious and reserved, or considerate and self-centered. It’s a fun activity that can be used over and over again (using characters in your short stories or novels) and can be approached differently each time.

Higheer-Level Characterization Activity

Characterization Idea #2: Text Message Trail

Another fun way to teach characterization (that middle school students love) is to have them develop a text message trail. Through text messages, students can reveal who a character is based on their speech, thoughts, effect on others, and actions. You can even tell a lot about a person based on the time a message is sent, the battery level of the phone, the signal strength, and how many unread messages there are, just ask a middle schooler. ?

This activity works well on paper, but there are also fun ways to do it online! iFake Text Message is a quick and easy no-frills platform students can use.

If using a text message trail as an introductory activity, have students create a fake character. If using this as an application task for a short story or a novel, have them create a text message thread between two characters that shows the true nature of each character. 

You can easily spinoff of this activity and do a similar thing with a character’s Instagram, TikTok, SnapChat, or email. Finding easy-to-use platforms online is a bit more difficult, however.

Teach Characterization Using Text Messages

Characterization Idea #3: Creative Writing

Last but not least, creative writing activities are always my favorite, and it’s no different with teaching characterization. Something we are all familiar with is having students read an excerpt and describe what is revealed about the character. But it’s much more fun if you flip that script! Give students a direct characterization statement like “Quinn was competitive. She would do anything to win,” and have them write a scene that reveals that indirectly. 

Another way to teach characterization through creative writing is with short daily quick writes. This does double duty in that students become familiar with character development while learning how to use it in their writing. I love to use visual writing prompts – pairing a compelling image with a writing prompt. An example of this would be showing students an image of a locker and asking them to write about the character the locker belongs to. Another example would be showing students a passport and asking them to write about the character the passport belongs to. The possibilities are endless!

If you’d like to take a look at my characterization quick writes, you can view them on TPT here.

I hope you have found some new ideas to use to teach characterization! I’d love to hear some fun ideas you use to teach characterization. Leave a comment below or find me on FB or IG and let’s continue the conversation!