Character Development: Using T-Charts to Develop Internal and External Traits

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SWBAT to use precise words to describe characters in their stories.

Big Idea

Writers chose an idea and then develop the characters by creating their internal and external traits.


5 minutes

There are many steps to the writing process. At this point, students are still brainstorming and prewriting but they are now focused on character development. Students learned that a fiction idea is not just writing, “a girl climbs a mountain by herself and she’s proud,” but instead it needs to includes some specific information about the character and the struggles of the character and go something like this: “A 9-year old girl has had a knee injury and will never be able to bend her knee.  At first she gives up on life but then something happens to change this and she decides to not give up anymore.  To prove herself she sets out to climb the mountain that overlooks her house.  She doesn’t get to the top but she proves herself in a different way and learns something."

In this lesson, each students will select one idea to turn in to a published story at the end of the unit.

I teach them that fiction writers don’t just go from picking an idea to writing a drafts of their story.  They live with it for a while and do some on-the-page strategies for developing their characters.

Because the will need to bring life to the people that will make things happen in your story.




5 minutes

Let me show you how I don’t go straight into thinking about what will happen. I refrain myself and try to get to know my characters.

I tell the students that I already know some external things like her name and that she’s nervous about her dress. I know that she’s wearing an olive green dress.  I know that she’s 12 or 13 because she’s going to a school dance. 

I come out of the think aloud to say, "Did you see how I don’t just pick any ol’ random characteristics but I try to put together traits that fit together and make her into a real person.

As a think aloud, I develop the character a little more. 

Looking at my list again, I ask myself, “do all of these things fit together?” She’s nice so she smiles when people talk to her. She’s quiet so she doesn’t usually talk a lot. And because of these things, she doesn’t really get picked on but she also doesn’t really get noticed.

I restate what I did to the students, explaining how I started with what I knew about the character. I knew she was a little like me.  Maybe you know that your character is a little like you or like someone else or maybe that they change from being one way, tough and then to gentle.

Okay, the last thing I do is I check again to make sure all of this makes sense.  I know that I say that she’s nice but I need to define it a little more.  Maybe it means she’s so nice that she never wants to upset any one.  But there are a lot of people who are nice.  I want to make her real and not too good to be true so I need to make her a little more complicated and genuine.  Even a guy like Harry Potter doesn’t have good thought all the time.  Maybe it means that she’s scared to say much but everyone thinks she’s nice and she doesn’t want anyone to stop thinking that about her. Maybe it means that she doesn’t try very hard because she’s afraid that people will notice her and might think something bad about her. She assumes that people won’t like her if they knew her but she wants to have real friends, too. 




20 minutes

At this point in the lesson students are going to try to do develop characters on their own. First they are going to think about their character and try to add some more traits to the external side. They should think about what his/her hobbies, his/her looks, ways of acting in the world, his/her friends or family, his/her experiences at school.  Make sure that students are thinking about how the external side matches with the internal side..

When they are done, I ask students to share their thoughts so that other students might also be inspires by what other students created.