Male students discuss in a classroom.
Activity

Map the Internal World of a Character

Students practice using evidence from the text and their own understanding of the world to analyze a character’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, and sense of belonging.

Published:

At a Glance

Activity

Language

English — US

Subject

  • English & Language Arts

Grade

6–12
  • Culture & Identity

Overview

About This Learning Experience

Part of preparing students to be responsible citizens who take care of each other and their world is cultivating empathy—their ability to sense what others may be feeling or thinking. Research suggests that reading fictional texts is an important part of this process. 1 In the ELA classroom, students can build their empathy muscles when they examine a character’s emotions, motivations, and behaviors and then draw connections between what they are studying and the world today. 

The following learning experiences invite students to consider the relationship between reading and empathy and to practice using evidence from the text and their own understanding of the world to analyze a character’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, and sense of belonging. Through the process of exploring a range of human experiences in literature, students can deepen their understanding of others who may differ from them, as well as have opportunities to reflect on and share aspects of their own identities that they would like others to recognize.

In order to deepen their understanding of the text, themselves, each other, and the world, students will . . .

  • Value the complexity of identity in themselves and others.
  • Read critically and ethically to understand thematic development, characterization, conflict, and craft in order to make personal and real-world connections between the text and their lives.
  • Practice perspective-taking in order to develop empathy and recognize the limits of any one person’s point of view.
  • Determine a character’s perspective, feelings, and motivations by examining evidence of direct and indirect characterization from the text.
  • Prepare for and participate in conversations to practice expressing ideas clearly, building on others’ ideas, and incorporating evidence from the text.
  • Produce a clear and coherent piece of writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the purpose and audience.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before using this learning experience, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Facing History learning experiences are classroom-ready activities that you can incorporate into your lesson plans. They are designed to be modular and adaptable, so you can use them over and over again with a wide range of texts to help students explore characterization, point of view, perspective taking, setting, and thematic development through a Facing History lens.

This learning experience is divided into three sections—Introduce, Explore, and Extend—which increase in complexity and depth of analysis, but they don’t need to be used in sequence. The entry point depends on students’ familiarity with the concept and the level of complexity they are ready to tackle. Educators might choose to incorporate just one section into a lesson plan, teach all three over the course of one or two class periods, mix and match, or repeat one multiple times during a unit to help students track character or thematic development.

  1. Introduce: The first activity introduces a concept and helps students develop the schema they will need for deeper exploration. It may involve vocabulary work, schema building, and opportunities for personal reflection and pair–shares.
  2. Explore: The second activity engages students in a deeper exploration of the concept and helps them apply it to the core text of the unit. It includes opportunities for close reading, literary analysis, collaboration with peers, and rich questions for small-group and whole-class discussion about the text and how it connects to the real world.
  3. Extend: The third activity invites students to produce a reflective, expository, analytical, or creative piece of writing (or other form of expression) in order to explore connections between the text, key concepts from the learning experience, and/or their own lives.

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Procedure

Activities

Familiarize yourself with the Sketch to Stretch teaching strategy. Then distribute the Reading for Empathy Sketch to Stretch handout, which supports students in exploring the relationship between empathy, language, and literature. Read the quotations together and have students choose one that resonates with them for a Sketch to Stretch reflection. Alternatively, students can discuss the quotations using the Pick a Number teaching strategy. Consider providing your students with a prompt to guide their reflection or discussion, such as: What do you think the author of the quotation wants you to think about or understand about reading?

Note: For this group activity, the class can focus on the same character, or you can assign or have groups choose different characters to analyze and then share their findings in a jigsaw. If groups have a choice, make sure there is enough information in the text about the character’s internal world so they can successfully complete the task at hand. 

Let students know that they will be gathering evidence that helps them understand a character’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, and sense of belonging in the world of the text. . Pass out the Map the Internal World of the Character handout and review the directions and questions with the class. Then divide students into small groups and either assign each group  a character or allow them to choose (see Note above).

  1. Group Discussion: Have groups review their character maps and then discuss the following questions together. If time allows, form new groups so students can compare and contrast what they learned if they focused on  different characters before synthesizing key ideas in a class discussion. 
    • What new, different, or deeper understanding do you have of your character—their identity, feelings, or motivations—after mapping their internal world?
    • There is an old saying: “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” What does this quotation mean? What do you think it feels like to walk in your character’s shoes? What do you think this character would want you, the reader, to understand about them? 
    • What other characters in the text share your character’s perspective? What characters have different perspectives in terms of what they care about, feel, or want?
    • How can understanding someone else’s perspective be useful when trying to negotiate with someone or solve a conflict?
  1. Have students reflect in their journals in response to the following prompt. So that they can answer honestly and authentically, let them know that they will not have to share what they write. Think of someone you wish understood you better. If that person could “walk a mile in your shoes,” what would you want them to understand about you
  2. Then have students create a visual representation of their reflection. It should include an image of one of their favorite shoes that they draw or paste onto the page, as well as personal reflections about what it means to walk in their shoes. Final products can be shared using the Concentric Circles strategy or in a gallery walk.

Using their character maps and notes from their discussions, have students do the reflection activity (above) for a character in the text. For the first part, ask them to write from the perspective of the character and include at least two pieces of evidence from the text to support their thinking. Then have them create a visual representation that incorporates ideas from their reflection, as well as additional support from the text if you would like them to practice gathering evidence.

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