Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

group of teenagers gathered around a table with sheets of paper on it. blue bar across the middle that reads 4 engaging characterization activities for high school students to try today

One of my favorite things to do with a text – especially a longer one like a novel or play – is to analyze the characters. I like to start with pre-reading characterization activities to allow my students to review and practice character analysis before jumping into the text. 

During reading, we pause to discuss the characters – their motivations, their conflicts, their growth. As part of my final assessment for the text, I try to include a way for students to demonstrate their understanding of a character. 

Keep reading for some of my favorite characterization activities to use for after reading.

Characterization Activity 1: character analysis flip books

three mini flipbooks on brightly colored paper. blue banner reading character analysis flip books

One engaging characterization activity is flip books. You can create whole-sheet flipbooks or mini ones (these are perfect for classes that use interactive notebooks). 

Each character in the story gets his or her own tab/flap. Within these tabs, students can track whatever elements you want them to focus on. 

I’ve used this template to create character analysis mini flip books for Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Great Gatsby. I like to focus on the following for each character:  

    • Background information (this helps explain their actions) 
    • Quote analysis: one important quote and how it impacts the text 
    • Theme: how the character helps develop the theme 
    • Characterization: provide textual evidence for direct and indirect characterization
    • Static or Dynamic? Round or Flat?: Choose and provide an explanation 

Flip books can also be used during reading to track multiple characters. 

characterization Activity 2: different perspectives

blurry photo of upside girl looking through a circle. blue banner at the bottom reading characterization through different perspectives

In most traditional plot structures, the reader only gets the perspective of one, maybe two, characters. One way for students to demonstrate their understanding of a character is to write part (or all, if the text is short enough) of the story from the perspective of a character other than the protagonist. Have students maintain the voice of the chosen character. This allows them to not only show that they understand their character of choice, but also how that character interacts with the other characters, drives the plot, and impacts the theme. 

characterization activity 3: body biographies

pad with What's Your Story? written on it; blue banner at the bottom that reads body biographies

This is one of my favorites. Assign students a character or let them choose from themselves. Students draw a illustration of the character and have them include the following: 

    1. Character name
    2. Quotations: 2-3 direct quotes from the character that add understanding to the character. 
    3. Song lyrics: Choose a song whose lyrics apply to the character. 
    4. Symbolic representations: 
      • Backbone: motivation
      • Feet: fundamental beliefs about life 
      • Legs: virtues and vices (with textual evidence) 
      • Gut: what the character learns and/or feels about himself/herself 
      • Head: something the character learns throughout the story 

The last time I taught “The Most Dangerous Game”, I used this activity; it was a huge success. I gave each group a giant piece of paper (the type that’s like a giant sticky note) to use. One group got creative and actually traced another student to use as their “body”. Hands down – top 3 lessons that year. 

characterization Activity 4: social media accounts

icons of various social media accounts with a blue banner at the bottom that reads social media accounts

Our students are obsessed with social media. Instagram. TikTok. Why not lean into that? 

Have students choose a character and create a social media account for them. Include a biography, posts, images, etc. Make a video as that character. 

Another angle is the use of text messages. Have students create an imaginary conversation between two characters, making sure to keep that character’s tone and voice in each text.

characterization activity 5: choice projects

the word choice with multiple colored arrows leading from it; blue banner at the bottom that reads choice board projects

Another one of my go-to characterization activities is projects – specifically choice boards. With all of the mandated curriculums/pacing guides/scope and sequences and testing we do, students are oftentimes left with little to no choice when it comes to what happens in class. Therefore, I like to provide students with choices when possible. 

In Florida, we take the state test the first week in May. We then have roughly 3 weeks of school before summer break. My first year at my current school, we used those weeks to teach Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”. I love pretty much all things Poe, so I was excited. However, I knew that I couldn’t give my students yet another typical multiple choice test; they were burnt out with those – and so was I. So choice board projects to the rescue. 

In lieu of the dreaded multiple choice quiz, I created a choice board of six projects, each of varying levels of difficulty, time requirement, and point value. The only requirement was that the project(s) that they chose had to add up to 50 points. Projects included: 

    • Soundtrack 
    • Rewrite a scene and set it in modern times (I’ve also done this with Beowulf and gotten some great responses) 
    • Design a storyboard for one scene 
    • Create a movie poster for a film adaptation of the text 
    • Create a social media account with bio, photo, and at least 5 posts (see above) 
    • Create a newspaper that details the events of the story 

The students were given the choice board, some resources (links to Canva and StoryBoard that as well as templates), and two class periods. 

I’ve also used a similar set-up for other stories, adding in projects such as creating a scrapbook for the character or a journal written from the character’s point of view. 

The great thing about using projects is that you tackle not just characterization, but theme, plot, setting, symbolism, and much more. Plus, they allow students to tap into their creativity. Win-win.

There you go. Five characterization activities for high school students. What’s your favorite way to teach characterization? Comment below. 

Looking for an engaging way to study not only characterization in a short story but also plot, theme, and more? Subscribe below and receive your FREE short story analysis mini flip book 🙂 


Ready to try character mini flip books in your classroom? Check out these three low-prep options. 

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