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Understanding Characterization (Grade 8): UDL Approach

The lesson, a series of three related segments, demonstrates a UDL approach to teaching characterization using both text and sound. The flexibility of digital text and audio provides students with interactive support for understanding characters in literature and creating characters in writing.

This lesson provides methods for teachers and for students using sample text and audio excerpts from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. However, the techniques and activities can be used with any digital text and audio.

Each segment of the lesson can span one or more class periods. The three segments are as follows:

  • Understanding characters
  • Modifying characters
  • Creating new characters

Segment 1: Understanding Character (1-2 class periods)

Goal

  • Students will learn the four techniques authors use to describe characters:
    • what the character says,
    • how the character appears,
    • what others say about the character,
    • what the character does.
  • Students will identify descriptive language in a text and decide which technique(s) the author has used.
  • Students will remove descriptive language from passages to determine how effectively the descriptions conveyed the characters.

Materials

  • Understanding Characters template (doc) (pdf)
  • Understanding Characters rubric (doc) (pdf)
  • Character Description of Uriah Heep (unhighlighted) (doc) (pdf)
  • Character Description of Agnes Wickfield (unhighlighted) (doc) (pdf)
  • Audio Description of Uriah Heep (wav)
  • Audio Description of Agnes Wickfield (wav)
  • Student Reflections template, Segment 1 (doc) (pdf)
  • Tape player
  • Multimedia computer with speakers
  • Computer screen projection device

Prepare

  • Choose the content for the lesson. If you are using David Copperfield, download the text and audio describing the character(s) you will use for the introduction and warm-up activities.
    (Note: This lesson is written using content from David Copperfield. If you are using content from a different book, locate appropriate passages and download or reproduce them in digital form using a word processing program. Determine if the text is available on audiotape or CD; if not, record the passages on audiotape. If your school has the equipment, you can record the reading directly on the computer. With other content, simply substitute your content when using the suggested teaching methods in the lesson.)
  • Set up computer with a video projector and sound capability; check that the projection and sound work.
  • Download the Student Reflections template for Segment 1 (doc) (pdf).

Introduce

  • Tell the students they are going to learn how authors create characters. Explain that in addition to identifying how an author reveals a character, they will have an opportunity to change that character's personality and then, use the techniques they learn to create their own characters.
  • Distribute the Understanding Character template, giving students the choice of a digital or print copy. Introduce the techniques an author uses to convey a character and that character's personality, including:
    • what the character says or thinks
    • what the character looks like
    • what others -- including a narrator -- say about the character
    • the character's actions and interactions with others

Model

  • Display the text about Miss Murdstone on the screen, and play the recorded voice reading the passage.
  • Encourage students to articulate what kind of person they think Miss Murdstone is, and how Charles Dickens conveyed that information.
  • Ask students to identify the words and phrases that the author used to show what the character is like. Point out that even her name, Murdstone, sounds like a combination of the words murder and stone and suggests that she is cold, unpleasant, and even cruel.
  • As students respond, highlight -- or change the font of -- the words or phrases that they suggest. Save this changed version to use later.
  • Remind students of the four key techniques an author uses to create characters:
    • what the character says
    • how the character appears
    • what others say about her
    • what the character does
    Explain that authors do not always use all four techniques. Help students identify which techniques Dickens used to describe Miss Murdstone.
  • Now delete the segments that students suggested, and read the text aloud.
    NOTE: It may be necessary to add nouns or verbs to complete the sentences. Avoid inserting adjectives or adverbs. For example, after deleting the highlighted words and phrases in the Miss Murdstone example, you might add words, shown here in bold, to complete the sentences.
    It was Miss Murdstone who was arrived, and a lady she was; she looked like her brother, whom she greatly resembled in face and voice. She brought with her two black boxes, with her initials on the lids. When she paid the coachman she took her money out of a purse, and she kept the purse in a bag which hung upon her arm. I had never, at that time, seen such a lady altogether as Miss Murdstone was.
  • Discuss how this description of Miss Murdstone is different from that in the original text.

Independent/collaborative work

  • Suggest to students that they refer to the Understanding Characters template (doc) (pdf) as they identify what another character is like. Distribute the Character Descriptions of Uriah Heep (doc) (pdf) and Agnes Wickfield (doc) (pdf). Have the Audio Description of Uriah Heep (wav) and Agnes Wickfield (wav) available.
  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to read descriptions of the other characters. Have them select one character to work with. Ask them to identify what the character is like, making notes to record their ideas.
  • If students are able to work on computers, ask them to highlight the words that create the character and save their highlighted versions with an H after the name of the document. If they are working on paper, print the character descriptions and ask the students to underline or highlight the key passages.
  • Suggest that students delete the highlighted words and phrases, add nouns and verbs as necessary to complete sentences, and then reread the passages to see if the character seems different.
  • Have students return to their highlighted copies to identify the techniques Dickens used to create the character.

Share

  • Reassemble the class. If possible, collect the digital documents the students developed and project them for the discussion. If not, have each group report on their character. Ask them to explain what the character is like and tell what in the text or the audio made them feel that way.

Assess

  • Circulate among the students as they work. Use the Understanding Character Rubric (doc) (pdf) to evaluate each student's contribution to the discussion.

Reflect

  • Ask students to record in their Student Reflection template, Segment 1 (doc) (pdf) what they learned about how authors create characters. Offer students the choice of typing in the Student Reflection template, writing in a printed copy of the template, or recording their reflections on audiotape as available in your classroom. If they are working in groups, have the groups collaborate to answer the questions in the template.

Segment 2: Changing the Character (1-2 class periods)

Goal

  • Students will change an existing character using the techniques an author would use to create a character.

Materials

  • Character Description of Miss Murdstone (highlighted) (doc) (pdf)
  • Audio description of Miss Murdstone (wav)
  • Modeling Character Change document (doc) (pdf)
  • Changing a Character template (doc) (pdf)
  • Changing a Character rubric (doc) (pdf)
  • Character Traits list (doc) (pdf)
  • Student Reflection template, Segment 2 (doc) (pdf)
  • Students' character descriptions from Segment 1
  • Character Description of Uriah Heep (highlighted) (doc) (pdf)
  • Character Description of Miss Wickfield (highlighted) (doc) (pdf)
  • Audio description of Uriah Heep (wav)
  • Audio description of Agnes Wickfield (wav)
  • Tape player
  • Multimedia computer with speakers
  • Computer screen projection device

Preparation

  • Review the character you will be using as a model in the introduction and warm up. If it is Miss Murdstone, download the Modeling Character Change template (doc) (pdf) for possible ways to change Miss Murdstone's character. Download the Character Traits list (doc) (pdf).
  • Download Changing a Character template (doc) (pdf) and the highlighted Character Description of Miss Murdstone (doc) (pdf). Offer students the choice of working with digital or paper copies.
  • Download Audio Description of Miss Murdstone (wav)
  • Download the Student Reflections template for Segment 2 (doc) (pdf).
  • Locate students' character descriptions from Segment 1

Introduction

  • Tell students that they will be exploring character further by changing Dickens character into a different type of person.
  • Explain that you will give them the original description of Miss Murdstone with the descriptive text highlighted. Then you will work together change that text to change the nature of the character. Then students will then work alone or in small groups to change other characters.

Model

  • Display and read or play the recorded version (digital or audiotape) of the paragraph that describes Miss Murdstone. Alternately, have students do a dramatic reading of the description, using their voices and emphasis to convey the character.
  • With students decide what type of person you want Miss Murdstone to become, e.g. sweet and soft, cheerful and determined, or kindly and benevolent.
  • Have students generate a list of words that could be used to describe this type of person. Have a thesaurus available, either one from a word processing program, one that is online, or a printed copy.
  • You might want to use one of the descriptions on the Modeling Character Change document (doc) (pdf) as a sample.
  • With the students, select the words or phrases that you will use to replace the highlighted text in order to change Miss Murdstone into another type of person. Make the changes to the digital version of the text.
  • Read or have a student read the description of the "new" Miss Murdstone aloud. Compare the "new" and the "old" Miss Murdstone character, with students pointing or acting-out the differences.
  • Discuss with the students the changes you made.
    • Did you change what the character says, what she looks like, what others say about her, or what she does?
    • Why did you make those changes?
    This activity presents an opportunity to introduce or review the use of literary elements such as simile, metaphor, exaggeration, shades of meaning among synonyms and other related techniques.

Independent/collaborative Work

  • Distribute a paper or digital copy of the Changing a Character template (doc) (pdf) to students based on their preference and options available in your classroom. Review the steps outlined on the template before students begin their work.
  • Explain that the students will each change the character they worked with in Segment 1. If the students worked with a digital copy, have them open the file with the text they highlighted. If students highlighted printed copies, have them available at this time.
  • Alternately, distribute highlighted descriptions of Uriah Heep (doc) (pdf) and Agnes Wickfield (doc) (pdf).
  • Remind students to decide what they want the new character to be like, and encourage them to brainstorm words or phrases to describe such a person. Provide them with the Character Traits list(doc) (pdf) for ideas, or encourage them to type in some adjectives and use the online thesaurus in their word processor to develop some descriptive words.
  • Remind students to underline or highlight the new text they inserted.

Share

  • Reassemble the group. If possible, collect the digital documents the students developed and project them for the discussion. If not, ask each group to read the new characterization aloud. For each, ask students to tell whom they chose and what they wanted the character to become. Then ask them to share the changes they made, and explain why they made these changes. Provide feedback to the students, encouraging them to revise their work if some of the description is inconsistent with their intent.
  • Have students record the new description if software or cassette for recording is available.

Assess

  • As students work, circulate among them and observe them. Use the Changing a Character rubric (doc) (pdf) to evaluate each student's work. Provide feedback to the students.

Reflect

  • Ask students to record what else they have learned in their Student Reflection template (doc) (pdf) for Segment 2 (link to Reflection template). Offer students the choice of typing in the Student Reflection template, writing in a printed copy of the template, or recording their reflections on the computer digitally or on audiotape as available. If they are working in groups, have the groups collaborate to answer the questions in the template.
  • Encourage students to list the different character types that they and others in the class have created. Beneath each type, they can list the words and phrases that were used to create this character type. This information can be kept in their reflections Log, or assembled into a class reference or Character Scrapbook for all to use.

Segment 3: Create a New Character (2-3 class periods)

Goal

Students will use authors' techniques to create their own characters.

Materials

  • Modified characters that students created in Segment 2
  • Creating a New Character template (doc) (pdf)
  • Creating a New Character rubric (doc) (pdf)
  • Character Traits list (doc) (pdf)
  • Student Reflection template, Segment 3 (doc) (pdf)
  • Tape player
  • Multimedia computer
  • Computer screen projection device

Preparation

  • Gather the modified characters -- both digital and print -- that students created in Segment 2.
  • Download the Creating a New Character template (doc) (pdf) for distribution to students and the Creating a New Character rubric (doc) (pdf) to evaluate students' work.
  • Download Student Reflection template (doc) (pdf) for Segment 3
  • Visit the Resources in Digital Content in the Classroom Toolkit
  • (http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/toolkits/tk_resources.cfm?tk_id=41) for a list of downloadable free or inexpensive images, video, sound, etc., that can be used to inspire the invention of new characters.
  • Make sure that Character Traits list(doc) (pdf) is still available on screen or in print

Introduction

  • Tell students that together you will create a "class" character using the techniques that authors use and that they have used in modifying Dickens' characters. After doing so, each student will create a character individually, with another student, or in a group.
  • Explain to students that characters don't have to be made-up using their imagination. Encourage students to think about real people. Authors who write biographies and memoirs describe real people in ways that make them come alive. Explain that many authors base fictional characters on real people -- or some aspects of them-and add to them from the author's imagination.

Warm Up

  • Distribute the Creating a New Character template (doc) (pdf) and review the four techniques. Refer to it as you and your class start to brainstorm ideas for a character that you will create together.
  • As a whole group, decide on the age, gender, and general personality of the person. Then as you refer to each of the four techniques, work as a whole class until you have a general description of your character.
  • Then, to encourage to students explore all four techniques to create a character, have students work in pairs or small groups to develop different aspects of the class character:
    • One group can focus on physical description. Ask the members of this group to generate in words and images, what this character looks like, how the character walks and speaks.
    • Another group can generate both what this character says and does.
    • A third group can describe what others say and think about the character. Agree on the list of others and the relationship of each person to the character. Then have some group members draft what the "others" say about and to the character. The remainder of the group can focus on how the character's response to the other people. Encourage students to develop dialogues between the character and the others that they can perform or record for the class.
  • Gather as a group and share the different aspects of the class character. Discuss if any of the traits or actions don't fit the overall character as described. Have students suggest revisions to these traits or actions.

Independent/collaborative work

  • Establish whether students are working individually, in pairs, or small groups. Remind students to refer to the Creating a New Character template (doc) (pdf) and the Character Traits list (doc) (pdf), and to explore all four techniques if appropriate.
  • If you have downloaded clip art and sounds, encourage students to use them to inspire their thinking.
  • Encourage students to use a variety of media to portray their character: drawings, clip art, sound, sound effects, dialogue, and word lists. Students might also enjoy giving their character a name-much like Miss Murdstone that suggests the characters personality.

Share

  • When students have completed their characters, have each student or group present their character to the class.
  • Once all characters have been introduced, it might be fun to have two or three students at a time portray their characters and interact using a scenario suggested by you or the class, e.g., what movie to see, what to do after school, whose turn it is to do a chore, etc. The class can judge how well each person stayed in character throughout the interaction.

Assess

Use the Creating a New Character rubric (doc) (pdf) to evaluate each student's developed character.

Reflect

  • Ask students to record their experience in creating a character in their Student Reflection template, Segment 3 (doc) (pdf). Offer students the choice of typing in the Student Reflection template, writing in a printed copy of the template, or recording their reflections on the computer or audio tape as available. If they are working in groups, have the groups collaborate to complete the log.

 

 

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