Lesson Plan

Inner Characterization

Looks aren’t everything, especially in creative writing

Students will be able to...

  • list adjectives to describe personality traits.
  • analyze various personality traits through characters’ sayings, actions, thoughts, or feelings.
  • employ “show, don’t tell” when developing characters’ personalities. 
English Language Arts
Grades 6 – 8
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook

Free to try, Paid

Create an open board on CorkboardMe, and ask student to brainstorm about memorable literary characters for two minutes (can be characters from current novels or from childhood favorites). Next, ask students to weigh in on those characters that they are familiar with by adding adjectives that describe each character.

2 Direct Instruction

Character development is a key element of creative writing. Yet many students focus on physical traits when crafting original characters. Describe how physical traits really only deserve description when they play a role in the story, e.g., Pippi Longstocking’s unusual strength allows her to lift her to get out of tough situations (and lift her horse from the porch); Harry Potter’s scar reveals his “magical” lineage.

Encourage students to think beyond physical appearance, and to delve into a character’s “soul.” What makes a character truly tick? To fully flesh out a character, writers should focus on those traits that make up that character’s personality. To illustrate, create a VoiceThread montage of distinct and unique portraits (advertisement images work well!) Consider images that have diversity in terms of age, race, and sex. Show a photo and ask students to think about a personality trait, a strength or weakness, for that person. But in the spirit of creative writing, encourage students to “show, don’t tell” by giving “evidence” of the personality trait – what does that character (1) say, (2) do, (3) think, and/or (4) feel? For example, a character might be anxious, but this trait would be shown through what he does - cracking knuckles, drumming his fingers, and jiggling a leg. Go through the slideshow and elicit at least three traits and accompanying “evidence” for each image to underscore the different ways that characters could develop.

3 Guided Practice

Free, Paid

Ask students to collaborate in small groups on developing a character in writing. Ask each group to choose an image (provide a folder of preselected photos) and upload the image to a shared Popplet. Next, they should agree upon and add four possible personality traits (strengths and/or weaknesses) for the character. Lastly, ask each student to contribute by writing one “snapshot” scene for each of the four personality traits. They should write a short description about something the character said/did/thought/felt to emphasize that particular personality trait (remember, “Show, don’t tell!”) For instance, if a character is deemed “optimistic,” one author might write a short description about a time when the character said something inspiring and positive.

4 Independent Practice

Free to try, Paid

Have students create a “Wanted Poster” using GlogsterEDU about a famous literary character (possibly pulled from the CorkboardMe brainstorm). Outline the following criteria: upload a photo/image; include a thorough description by outlining personality traits through “evidence” of what the character (1) says, (2) does, (3) thinks, (4) feels; detail a creative reward; and style as an old western wanted poster.

An elementary example might be:

Curious George:

On the loose is a deceptively sly primate who revels in exploring the world around him. His sense of mischief often leads him on extraordinary adventures. Although a silent creature, don’t be fooled by his infectious grin. Despite his nose for trouble, he has a knack for landing on his feet, at times even lauded as a hero.

Reward: A lifetime supply of bananas.

5 Wrap-Up

Ask student to check out and comment on Gregory Macguire’s books on Goodreads. Maguire is a master at redefining commonly recognized characters (the Wicked Witch of the West, the Ugly Stepsister) by retelling classic stories from their point of view. He underscores how characters’ personalities and livelihoods can be crafted by an author’s imagination.