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Character Analysis Through Character X-Rays

My children definitely have a teacher for a mother and I love sharing stories about their school experiences and how they act those out at home. Last week, as I prepared to leave to teach a class at the University, I took out the large post-it note pad from the closet. My 7 year old was instantly intrigued and asked for a piece to “make something”. This kind of request is quite typical for my son who wants to write like Mo Willems when he grows up, so I happily gave him the piece and wondered what he would draw.

A few minutes later, I checked came back to view his creation and was quite surprised to find out that he did not create a drawing, but an anchor chart instead! Here is what I found:

Smiling, he told me how we meet characters in books and they all have traits that make them special. Since the chart paper reminded him of school, he wanted to make a “school chart” instead of a drawing. We talked about all of the traits he had listed and his twin sister joined the conversation, adding a few of her own. We talked about our favorite characters and our favorite traits and had a great conversation before leaving for school and work. What a proud Mom and teacher I was!

Obviously, the idea of character traits was something that was important to him and helped his comprehension as a reader and the connections he was making to characters and texts. Ironically, that same week, I talked with a 7th/8th grade English teacher and we discussed how to teach character traits using text evidence in a way that was more engaging than the NYS Expeditionary Learning modules recommended. We decided to create character x-rays using quotes and evidence from the book to form conclusions about the characters we were reading about. I thought I would share our ideas here and give you a template I created for an elementary lesson on character traits and showcase the pictures of the life-size x-rays from her classroom in case you would like to try it. 

First, if you are interested in the ideas of character x-rays, be sure to read the article written by Pamela Jewett about them here:
To begin, talk with students about external and internal character traits, how they differ and connect together. Show the blank character x-ray as a visual graphic. 

External characteristics are those we can see and explicitly read about: physical traits, location and setting, family context, events that impact the character, etc. Internal characteristics are those that are not easily seen: how the character thinks and feels, along with their personality traits. As readers, we use the external characteristics provided in the text to learn more about the hidden, internal character traits that require inferring.

Project the character x-ray on the Smartboard or give one to every student. Choose a character in a text that you are reading and search through the book for evidence of the external characteristics: age, nationality, physical traits, events in the text, etc.. You can choose to have students write the traits on the outside of the x-ray or write the sentence the trait was found in to work with text evidence in the upper grades. Once complete, have a discussion about how those external traits impact the character’s personality and their response to the events in the text (a Common Core standard focused on heavily in the NYS ELA assessment). Write the inferred inner character traits in the inside of the heart and body. 

If you really want to go big like Jennifer Sheerer’s classroom, have students trace their bodies on large pieces of butcher paper and use that as a graphic organizer, rather than the template. Students can work in small groups to collaborate and engage with text evidence, charting their findings for the class. Here are some pictures of the projects in action. Students worked in small groups to create character x-ray of Atticus from To Kill A Mockingbird

I hope this gives you some additional resources for approaching character analysis. As any reader knows, meeting new characters is like meeting new friends and we build connections that can last a lifetime of reading!



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