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Creative Writing in High School English: Body Language

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

Your students can write a basic creative writing piece. They have mastered the plot, they can create a character. Now it is time to give that character some life! Teach your students about body language as a tool to help build more realistic characters in their creative writing pieces.

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    What is Body Language?

    Body language is a way of a person communicating their thoughts, feelings and ideas without using spoken language. Body language can include:

    • gestures
    • facial expressions
    • hand movements
    • body positioning

    All of the above combine to add meaning to spoken words, or to give some insight into what is going on inside someone's head.

    Different cultures may communicate body language in different ways, so it is not always possible to accurately interpret what someone is thinking just through body language. But in most cases, it can give you a fair idea.

    Here are some examples:

    Folded arms - could mean cross, angry, uneasy and defensive, or just plain cold!

    Frowning - could mean being thoughtful, considering an idea, or displeased with something.

    Smiling - could mean happy, content or amused.

    Body turned away - could mean disinterested, distracted, defensive, threatened or wary.

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    Exploring Ideas About Body Language

    Get your students talking about body language as a first step. Discuss actions and gestures they see around them. Look for examples around the school, or watch a short film or TV advertisement to see how people use their bodies to communicate.

    A great introductory activity is to play a role modelling game where students have to try to give a message written on a card to another student. The trick is - no words spoken! They have to communicate only using their bodies. This encourages students to start thinking about how body language and emotions and feelings link together.

    Another game is to ask students to show 'a five second emotion'. The teacher calls out an emotion, and all students in the room have to show how they would act out that emotion in five seconds or less.

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    Creative Writing and Character Development

    Talk to students about the creative writing task - they need to use their words to share not just the basics of a story, but the ideas, thoughts, feelings and mood within that story. Body language is one way that students can help their characters come to life in their creative writing pieces. Try the following ideas:

    • Use a brainstorming chart to jot down ideas that could be used to build a character through their body language.
    • Write a list of emotions (happy, sad, distressed, anxious) and then write a few phrases that could be used to build that emotion within a creative writing piece.
    • Read through a previously written creative writing draft and look at the emotions and thoughts of a particular character within the piece. Examine ways body language can be used to extend the character and bring them effectively to life.
    • Discuss adjectives, and ensure all students can effectively identify and name some adjectives. These are vital in both creative writing generally, and in character development through the use of body language in particular.

    Here is an example:

    "Rodney folded his arms across his chest. He could see the other boy coming out of a store just down the road. Rodney felt his anger seething inside. He knew he had to tell the boy exactly what he thought about the morning's events. He could not just let things go. He stared for a moment longer, then began marching steadily down the street, his feet beating a solid, even rhythm as he stomped along, head bowed low and eyes fixed straight ahead".

    In this short description, the character and the mood of the situation are both built up using some adjectives and an outline of the body language of Rodney. Without these tools, the description would be less powerful and the reader would learn a lot less about Rodney and his intentions.

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