Art-based projects provide an engaging way to reflect on literary concepts. One way to truly bring a character to life is to have students work in small groups to create a life-size character poster. The examples here are based on short stories used in a high school creative writing class that averaged 10-12 students. This activity can also be used with larger classes, but additional space beyond one classroom would be needed to accommodate the many large pieces of butcher paper.
Immediately after reading the story, some initial discussion is called for, but I prefer to have students do most of their discussing in small groups in order to increase class participation. After explaining the project, I also provide students with a step-by-step printout of tasks. From there I can assist them as needed. When reading the story in class, this activity will take the better part of two 90-minute class periods if you include some vocabulary, pre-reading discussion, etc.
Crafting a Life-Size Character Poster
Jot down page numbers as you locate a direct quote from the story that supports:
- How the character acts.
- How the character looks.
- How the character feels.
- How the character speaks.
Discuss by comparing quotes with your group members. What is particular to the syntax and diction used to bring this character to life?
Each group member should pick a different trait and then type or write an appropriate supporting quote. Don’t forget to introduce your quote, use proper punctuation, and provide a parenthetical citation. PROOFREAD!!!
- Use the paper provided to outline a life-size version of the character. Put the story title and author at the top.
- Attractively arrange your quotes and glue them on or around your character’s body.
- Use the remaining time to cut and paste some appropriate magazine images to the character’s body.
Final Discussion: Come together as a class to pick apart a passage or two in terms of what is working in terms of characterization. Also focus on the difference between direct and indirect characterization. When used in a creative writing class discussion can then be directed toward what students can apply to the stories they are working on.
Students inevitably enjoy this activity. My ninth and tenth grade students would then see the posters hanging in the classroom and ask how come they didn’t get to make one. My response would be to tell them to take creative writing the following year, but really, we could all stand to jazz-up the traditional language arts classroom a bit now and again!
What characterization activities have you successfully used in the classroom?
Permission to use the images in this post must be granted by the author.
I like the combination of art and collaboration on this assignment. It’s helpful to planning subsequent lessons to be able to observe and listen to students talkiing about the one just taught!
How would you suggest one adjust this assignment to 45-50 minute class periods?
To adjust for shorter class periods I would probably do pre-reading activities and start reading the story on day one. A super-short story like Alexie’s could be finished on day one and it lends itself to reading aloud, but Dubus’ is much longer. I would start a longer story aloud and then have students finish as homework. On day two, we would find the characterization quotes, do small group discussion, and copy the supporting quotes down. Then day three would be for making the poster and then picking apart a few passages in regards to syntax and diction. At least that seems doable. I’ve taught during a block schedule for the last six years!
Nice activity. I teach IB classes and have planned to teach students pastiche this Spring. I might use the biography concept in it. Thank you for the idea.
Jeri, this is such a great idea. I’d do it in a heartbeat if I was still teaching high school. I bet you are the best teacher–in another life, I’d like to be your student:)
Cindy, thanks so much. I bet you would be a fun student 🙂