What would It look like if you combined a bear, pig, chicken, snake, and monkey? The possibilities are endless, as new species are developed in the minds of middle schoolers.
While diving into the characterization with short stories students take a hands-on approach crafting their own creature. My students completed this activity after we read and annotated the short story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson. Charles is quite the troublemaker causing chaos when he enters his kindergarten classroom. Needless to say, there are tons of ways to characterize Charles. Rather than having my students answer questions about Charles or write a paragraph describing Charles I get them thinking outside of the box and bring the makers space into the language arts classroom.
After reading the story I ask that the students come up with five-character traits to describe Charles. For my students who may have a difficult time coming up with character traits I provide them with a list of positive, negative, and neutral character traits to pull from. Once they have their five-character traits picked they then need to decide upon an animal that depicts that character trait. For example, if the character trait was conceited, I may choose a peacock, who are always displaying their feathers. Students continue this process until they have an animal for each character trait. Ideas bursting, laughter echoing, and risk-taking fill the air while working students spontaneously collaborate giving ideas about animal possibilities or explaining why that animal or character trait could possibly work.
Once the brainstorm is complete students begin designing their creatures assembling one body part at a time. Some students draw, others print pictures and cut them out, while a couple use online tools. The mode is up to them- the products are anything but monotonous. Once their creature is molded to their liking students provide it with a name.
The last part of this process is writing about the emergence of this creature. Students must write a response explaining how this character came about. They must also explain what each animal part represents and provide an example of how the character displayed that characteristic from the story.
Students infer, demonstrate an understanding of characterization, find text evidence, and hone their writing skills without even blinking an eye! This activity could be used for any novel or text.
When students are provided hands on learning opportunities ownership surfaces, creativity flows, and engagement prospers.