How to Teach Characterization in Literature to High School

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Characterization refers to the method by which writers develop characters in fiction. This includes such elements as physical description, actions, thoughts and dialogue. Teaching high school students characterization requires showing students to think of the characters they read about and develop them as three-dimensional people. Use a variety of classroom activities and exercises to help your students identify characterization in fiction and use characterization effectively in their own writing.

  • Have students interview a character from a novel. Pair them up and ask one student to be the interviewer and the other to be the interviewee. Students should aim to get a sense of what their character feels, how it would act in certain situations, speech mannerisms and temperament. Encourage students to use humor and creativity. Have students present their interview in front of the class. Allow the rest of the class to ask unscripted questions.

  • Instruct students to write a monologue from the perspective of a character in a novel you are studying. Monologues should involve the character talking to himself about an issue or situation in the novel at hand. Have students adopt the voice and speaking style of the character. Students should inhabit the character's mind and flesh out feelings and attitudes that are only hinted at in the novel.

  • Ask students to write a description of a character (either from a novel or an original one) beginning with a series of objects. Have them write a scene in which the narrator comes across a series of objects such as luggage, some papers, a room or anything else. The objects should characterize on their own. For example, luggage that is messy and strewn about would indicate a character who is scattered and indirect.

  • Have students draw a portrait of a character, either from a novel or an original one. Instruct students to think about how dress and physical appearance impact characterization. Students should first think about the qualities of the character, including temperament, attitudes, beliefs, loyalty and other qualities. They should then design physical characteristics to match these qualities. Have students present their portraits to the class.

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