ELACC8RL3: Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or
drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
When teaching characterization, I always begin by asking how we get to know someone new. If our counselor brought us a new student, how would we figure out what kind of person she was? Students’ answers will always bring us to an author’s characterization tools:
- Dialogue: what a character says or what is said about a character
- Actions: what a character does or doesn’t do
- Description: what a character looks like, how he or she dresses, what the author tells us directly
- Internal dialogue: what the character thinks or what other characters think about the character (okay, so I do have to point out that we can’t read a new student’s mind, but still . . .)
From this quick brainstorming session, we look at a piece of literature together. For example, we might examine the passage from “The Tell-Tale Heart” in which the narrator awakens the old man. We have lots of internal dialogue on the narrator’s part, but we also have a little dialogue as well as actions and reactions on the part of both the old man and narrator. The incident is the old man’s awakening; the narrator reacts by waiting patiently for an entire hour. What does that reveal about the narrator? He’s determined; he’s committed to his plan; he’s evil . . . answers abound, all of which can be supported by the text (ELACC8RL1).
Throughout the year, we return to this concept and these characterization tools repeatedly, with short stories, with novels, with selected passages.
What strategies do you use for teaching characterization analysis?