I Remember Mike! How to Create a Memorable Character

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SWBAT explain how an interesting character generates powerful narrative by discussing an audio text of a memoir and writing their own narrative sketches.

Big Idea

Creating characters in this lesson is a bit of magic!

Image Elicitation

20 minutes

Character-Based Stories.  I  am building on Hillocks' ideas of observing and writing, but this lesson provides a twist towards fiction.  I have found that students sometimes think in terms of stereotypes and enjoy the chance to create a character that is somewhat of a mix of things.  So I will introduce the idea of a flat/round character  then turn that insight to the image created by William Hogarth of Simon Lord Lovat (link) .  The goal here is help the students to write stories that help develop an imagined character and experience with effective techniques (W.9-10.3b).  When the students generate their own character that is at least somewhat complex (having virtues and flaws), then the story seems to generate quite well for most of them from there.  What is more, many students become completely enthralled (even a little obsessed!) with the characters that they create, so their writing is very engaging to read (W.9-10.3a)

Preliminary Questions. 
Because I want to elicit their ideas on flat/stereotyped characters, I will ask: what are some stereotypes that are unfair to teens?  Teachers?  Adults?  Grandparents?  Why do stereotypes exist?  
Now, I want to turn the conversation toward complex characters, so I will ask: How are stereotypes different from realistic characters?  Which has the most potential for growth?  For an interesting story?
Image Questions: What do you see here?  What details help establish his personality? [Outside of the fact that he is old and fat-- as  many students will jump right back into stereotyping here--heh.]
Character Induction:  

1.) Write down one negative trait about him [manipulative, extorting, hates cats, etc.].  Now, in your notebook, describe him in such a way that we get this trait, but you should be careful not to use the word itself--instead, suggest it! 

2.) Write down one positive trait about him [intelligent, organized, hates cats, etc.].  Be sure that this trait doesn't flatly contradict your previous trait but that they could somehow co-exist in a character.  For example, don't add "honest" if your negative trait is "deceitful"; you can, however, add "intelligent" if  your previous trait was "deceitful," as these two traits could add to each other but don't necessarily contradict.  NOW, write a sentence or two to suggest this trait, much like you did with the negative trait, but do not use the word.  


Paired Sharing:

I am trying very hard to create a writing culture in the classroom in which students are comfortable with taking risks to share their work (SL.9-10.1b).  I know that many of them will have created some interesting lines of description here, and many will  naturally use metaphor here (W.9-10.3d).  So I will use the paired sharing as an intermediate step, hoping to draw a few students to take the risk and share their work with the whole class.  Again, I am going to reinforce the power that comes along with re-creating an experience--this time, a character--for a reader purely out of one's imagination. 


"I Remember Mike" by Lynda Barry

30 minutes

I will play Lynda Barry's memoir of high school called "I Remember Mike." (link)  It is AMAZING!  I ask the students to write down her word choices and ways of helping readers to re-create this experience, and in so doing, we focus on her use of language (w.9-10.3d) that is precisely chosen.  

She describes being on the bottom of the social hierarchy as being "plankton" and the outlandish hair of the main character as "white brillo."  It's warm, funny, and above all, COMPLEX!  Here we have a character who is loved and despised, forgotten yet unforgettable.  It's a great follow-up to the previous lesson episode, and it leads into the next experience in this lesson in which the students can create an original character.

Pre-listening, I will comment:

1.) Keep in mind that this story takes place in the late 1960's, a time of race riots and much racial tension.  See if you can notice how the main character figures importantly into that.

2.) Write down Lynda Barry's details for evoking Mike and his situations as the story unfolds.


Post-listening, we will discuss the students' observations about her style and what we can learn from a memoir like this.  For example, students may notice that he puts a straw into the mink lungs and makes it breathe but then helps his teacher up after she slips; such a set of contradictions would suggest that he's a goof but also a very kind young man.  It's this set of complexities that make him an interesting character.  As a result, in whatever details the students provide, I will try to ask what the detail reveals about Mike' character AND how his character is made more complex and rounded by the detail.

Character 4-1-1 -- getting the basic outline of an original character designed

15 minutes

We will do page 2 of this packet (see resource) that we will explore in depth in the next lesson (link), and students will begin to formulate some of the basic information about their character (W.9-10.3a).  I ask them not to pick a character age under 10, as this can limit their character's world view and thus the conflict explored in the story.  Other than that, the exercise is pretty self-explanatory from the handout.  Enjoy!!