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What Are the Best Tips for Teaching Characterization?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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When teaching characterization, a teacher should keep in mind what aspects of characterization are most important and make sure students are engaged and interested in the subject. Much like someone telling a story, a teacher needs to grab the attention of his or her students and engage them immediately in the lesson. Once the teacher has the attention of the class, then he or she should present information and terms in a way that is clear and allows students to understand what is most important. While teaching characterization, the teacher should also be sure to let the students practice and “play” with characterization to ensure full comprehension.

One of the best ways a teacher can start teaching characterization is with an activity that gets the attention of the students. There are a number of different ways in which this can be accomplished. For example, a teacher might show a short clip from a movie in which a strong character is present and a great deal of information can be gained about him or her. The teacher can then let students describe the character in different ways and have them explain how they were able to decide on those descriptions, which serve as ways to begin teaching characterization.

Though the beginning of a lesson is important when teaching characterization, teachers should be sure to keep the attention of students and engage them further. It is vital that students understand what aspects of characterization are most important and know how to use them. This means that ideas like direct and indirect characterization should be introduced, and students should understand that these ideas are important and likely to be on tests. None of these ideas should be “hidden” within the lesson when a teacher is teaching characterization, and the ideas introduced in the initial part of the lesson should be carried throughout the rest of the lesson.

Teaching characterization should then continue with activities that allow students to practice and use different types of characterization. This ensures that students engage with the idea of characters and characterization, so they understand the material in an applicable and not purely theoretical way. Different activities can be used for this, such as having students name characters from popular movies and describe them in direct and indirect ways. Students can also be given worksheets while a teacher is teaching characterization, providing the students with opportunities to describe characters through different methods of characterization.

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Discussion Comments
By anon300970 — On Nov 01, 2012

I'm teaching Characterization right now as part of my genre study unit. I've found great information online, and this is no exception. I'd like to offer some information to supplement what has been posted here.

I use Read-Write-Think from IRA/NCTE and found this:

Indirect Characterization: Think about what the author doesn't tell you about the character(s). You have to "STEAL" the evidence from here and there. STEAL stands for: Speak (or says, or speech); Think (thoughts); Effect on others; Actions, and Looks.

Also, I teach my students (sixth/seventh grade) about the different types of characters and how the characters change -- physically, mentally, emotionally.

My favorite text to teach characterization is actually the movie "The Princess Diaries." It covers everything in an exaggerated (opportunity to teach hyperbole) way.

Thanks for what you have posted here. --Stephanie

By nony — On Dec 30, 2011

@MrMoody - I agree that’s a good start. When you get into indirect characterization however, I think you might find it a bit more challenging.

My son came home one day complaining that his teacher had asked him to find the defining character qualities of a person in a work of fiction. Try as he might, he couldn’t find much. That’s because the story didn’t give much in the way of physical descriptions of the character.

You will have to train the students to pore over the story and find unique traits, like physical quirks, manners of speech, attire and what have you, to really nail down characterization in the work of fiction.

By MrMoody — On Dec 30, 2011

I think that movies are a great way to teach characterization. That’s because some films employ what are known as “character actors.”

These people have exaggerated character qualities, almost like they were living caricatures of themselves. You can find this in a lot of comedy films.

I would use these films to teach characterization because in those instances, the defining character qualities stand out and scream to be noticed. I think if you’re teaching the subject for the first time then you want to start out with the most obvious examples, not those that are subtle.

Later, when students understand what characterization is, you can move on to the subtlety of indirect characterization.

By jennythelib — On Dec 30, 2011

@MissDaphne - You remind me of a teacher I had in middle school! I forget what words she used exactly, but she taught the same idea as evidence and explanation. It's such a good thing to get them started with early because it can be adapted to just about every kind of writing. What do you observe? What does that tell you? Whereas the five-paragraph essay, with the idea of the five-sentence paragraphs, is just useless after about ninth grade.

I like the idea of using movie clips to get students involved. Anything with a video seems like a treat to them! It's particularly effective if you use a movie (or a book) that they're all buzzing about, if you can find one that's reasonably appropriate to show!

By MissDaphne — On Dec 29, 2011

I've found that whenever possible, you want to integrate writing skills with literature skills. So if we are learning about characterization and looking for it in the stories and novels we're reading, we will also practice it in fiction that we're *writing.* We'll discuss how they can let the readers know about the character; some things they will tell outright as the narrator (direct characterization) and others the reader will notice.

I usually talk about three different kinds of indirect characterization: things the character says, things the character does, and things that other characters say about the the character.

I talk about "evidence" and "explanation" and we'll do this with characterization, too. I'll have students look for, for instance, something a character says. They'll write that down as "evidence" and then give their "explanation" - what they can tell about the character from that line of dialogue.

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