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Understanding Methods of Characterization in “The Great Gatsby"

written by: Linda Wittmann • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 12/5/2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald created some of the most fascinating, beloved characters of American Literature in the novel “The Great Gatsby." Help your students get to know them by tracing the methods of characterization in this activity.

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    As the characters interact throughout the novel, the reader becomes acquainted with their unique personality traits, hopes, desires, and insecurities. As readers, your students may not even be aware of how this is happening, but having them maintain a graphic organizer with the names of the characters and methods of characterization will help them become active and engaged readers. They will begin analyzing the characters and developing connections between the plot and themes of the novel. Literature will suddenly come to life for them!

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    Lesson Objectives

    Students will be able to identify and explain methods of characterization in a work of literature. By teaching them the acronym “S.T.E.A.L." which stands for Speech, Thoughts, Effects on Others, Actions, and Looks, students gain a tool they can use to analyze characters and the methods an author uses to develop them. They will learn how an author creates characters and evaluate the techniques used by a great American author. Students will interact with “The Great Gatsby" and work independently to trace the development of the incredible cast of characters.

    Materials Needed: a copy of “The Great Gatsby" for each student; a graphic organizer that includes the names of all the characters and the acronym S.T.E.A.L.

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    Procedures

    the-great-gatsby-original As students begin reading “The Great Gatsby" present a mini-lesson on the methods of characterization. A fun way to introduce this topic is to arrange for a student from another class (preferably one that your students don’t know very well) to role-play a predetermined script. For example, ask the student to come in at the beginning of the period to ask about a homework assignment. You could have him dressed sloppily and wearing a backwards baseball cap. He can speak rudely, shuffle across the room and roll his eyes at anything you say. Students will undoubtedly have a strong reaction to this exchange and wonder what is going on.

    When the student leaves, ask your class what they know about the person who just left the room. Guide the discussion to how they inferred what they think. They will mention the things he did and said and how he looked. They may even talk about how they reacted to his rudeness and disrespect. Point out to them that all of these ways in which we learn about people in real life are the same ways in which we learn about characters in a book. Notes should be given on the acronym, S.T.E.A.L. and a guided practice on what they know about the “character" who just left should be done. Point out that in books, authors have the advantage of letting us know about a character’s thoughts, unlike real life situations.

    Once you are confident that the students understand the concept of characterization, give them a graphic organizer that lists the main characters of Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan, Jordan baker, George Wilson, and Myrtle Wilson. Have them fill in the methods that they notice as they are reading. You can determine the number of required examples, direct quotes, and page citations based on the level of your students. You can easily adapt these expectations for special education and gifted and talented students.

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    Assessment and Extension Activities

    Students can be formally assessed on the completion of the graphic organizer according to the requirements you set. Giving students a rubric from the beginning will help them know what is expected. Students can also be informally assessed through question and answering as the book is read.

    Formal writing assignments can serve as an extension of the concept of characterization. For example, students can write a character analysis of one character or an essay tracing one of the character’s development.

    Students write pieces of fan fiction in which they create a dialog between one of the characters and themselves, a character from another book, or a historical figure. In order to develop speaking skills, students could role-play conversations, acting as one of the characters.

    These assignments can be personalized to the unique needs and interests of your class. The iconic characters of “The Great Gatsby" lend themselves to many dynamic ideas that will bring the book to life.

References

  • Image from The Great Gatsby film via http://leeslookbook.blogspot.com/2011/07/great-gatsby.html

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