Character Inquiry

Because I'm trying to develop a mindset of inquiry for both my students and myself, I have had to rethink, tweak, and in some cases, completely overhaul my approach. Take characterization — a literary analysis tool that students need to know so they can better understand characters as well as people. How can I approach it in a manner that would satisfy student inquiry? How can I introduce it so it is less about what I need them to know and more about what they want to know?

We started by brainstorming a list of questions that we could potentially ask a character, questions whose answers we could infer through character interactions, words, and actions. Our list included questions like these:

  • What do you fear?
  • What do you admire in others?
  • What's important to you?
  • How are you changing?
  • What do you like the most about yourself? The least?

It was challenging for kids to come up with questions that are specific enough to be interesting, but general enough to be applicable to the different characters in our novel. Maybe it's because students see characters as flat, word processed beings who aren't like real people. These kinds of questions hopefully push kids to become curious about character motives and attitudes, which would add to their understanding of human nature.

Students chose a question and attempted to answer. They created a digital poster that displayed what they know about their chosen character, including the question, traits, textual support, and quotes. The better posters truly communicated a unified idea and demonstrated a little bit of inquiry and some analysis.

I was happy that we turned a lesson which usually involves more lecture and note-taking into one that got students asking a question and then searching for an answer. The results weren't as good as I hoped, but I think better modeling of the poster would make a world of difference. Also, more thorough scaffolding of the lesson by identifying the character traits first, finding support, and then formulating an umbrella question about the character based on their analysis — working backwards — would improve the unity of the information shared.

This is cross-posted at


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One Response to Character Inquiry

  1. Pingback: In Retro Cite 06/28/2012 « A Retrospective Saunter

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