Teaching Character Analysis Using Body Biographies
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
With state assessments just around the corner, it is never too early to brush up on the areas that give students the greatest difficulty. While struggling learners tend to be poor test takers in general, I can identify the aspects of the New York State exam that give my students the most trouble. In English Language Arts, these areas fall under the blanket of reading and critical/creative thinking, i.e., doing character analysis, understanding literary devices, and determining author’s purpose.
A “body biography” is a visual and written representation of a character’s life. In creating a body biography, students practice character analysis, understanding literary devices, and determining author’s purpose. Not only are body biographies a comprehensive way to analyze individual characters, but the process is so enjoyable that students hardly realize that learning is taking place! Read on for ways to utilize this effective strategy in your classroom.
Presenting Body Biographies
Since the concept of body biographies may be new and somewhat difficult at first, present the process in a fun way. I used a cardboard cutout of a popular adolescent literary character (the dashing Edward from the Twilight series and strategically placed quotes from the story around the room. However, before I even got that far, all of my students were completely curious about why this cutout was in our classroom. They were hooked before we even started! I revealed the finished product for their examination and final approval, and was surprised to see the eagerness continue.
Creating Body Biographies
There are two different approaches when assigning a body biography project: individual or group based. When determining which avenue to take, assess your classroom composition and student ability levels. Because all of the elements in this lesson posed difficulty to my students, I created several heterogeneous groupings, and decided to let the project outcomes determine which route to take in the future.
Each small group then completed a visual representation of their chosen character that focused on completing the following objectives and project rubric requirements:
- Create a portrait that illustrates your character’s traits.
- Review significant happenings in the text.
- Include three or more important quotations by your character.
Some suggestions for body biography design include:
- Placement:- Careful placement of drawings and quotations (i.e., important relationship information could go near the heart; what drives characters or their actions may be placed near the spine).
- Symbols: What objects in the story are most often associated with your character? Do any represent ideas or themes within the text? (For example, a light bulb near the character’s head shows that they are creative or good at problem solving.)
- Reflection: How is your character perceived by others? How does this differ from how they see themselves?
- Evolution: Has your character undergone any changes, either physical or emotional, throughout the story? (The picture may be divided in half or printed twice, for "before" and "after" versions.)
After we brainstormed which character to select, I gave my students a character template on which to do their initial drawings.
Then, they laid large pieces of paper on the floor and traced an outline of themselves, which would serve as a “master body biography” to use during their presentations. This template is perfect for whole group instruction as it may be hung in class and filled out together as your novel progresses. It also serves as a constant visual reminder, which is especially beneficial for visual learners.
Next, each group presented their findings in a character interview conducted by the rest of the class. Because students answered from the perspective of the character analyzed, it was evident which students required further knowledge of character development and which had mastered the skill.
Need more ideas on how to teach character analysis? Try a “character T-shirt” on for size, or analyze characters with WALTeR! How do you teach character analysis in your class? Share your suggestions below.