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Archetypical Characters Lesson

written by: goldwriter • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 2/8/2012

Archetypical characters give readers a sense of familiarity when reading short stories and novels. Like themes, archetypical characters suggest universal ideas about life and society. This article provides a lesson plan for teaching about archetypical characters in the middle or high school.

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    What's an Archetype?

    In this lesson, students will learn about archetypes in literature. Archetypical characters are characters which may fit a stereotype and have character traits which are repeated time and again in stories. Students should be able to recognize archetypical characters and understand that they are a part of our culture.

    Archetypical characters provide readers with a common denominator for understanding characters and their traits. This accepted understanding allows readers to interpret a story based, largely, on prior experience or knowledge of the established character traits. Writers also rely on these established character traits to aid in story interpretation and to give stories a sense of familiarity.

    Teach the word characterization. Tell students characterization is a major part of any novel. Writers give characters personality traits to help us identify with the characters and understand the plot. We not only learn about the characters’ appearance, but we also learn about the characters’ likes, dislikes, personality, and how the character reacts in certain situations. Read a popular children’s fairy tale, Cinderella and list the following characters from the fairy tale: Cinderella, the stepmother, the father, and the stepsisters.

    Write the word archetypal characters on the board and the definition. Next, write the definition of an archetypal character on the board and list some examples: the hero, the good mother, the sidekick, the villain. Ask the students to name some additional archetypal characters and write them on the board.

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    Group Work

    Assign each group of four students to choose a superhero movie such as Batman, The Fantastic Four or Spiderman. The students will classify characters from the movie, listing the proper names of the characters and the archetypical name. Spiderman, for example, would be listed as the hero. Teachers may give students a partially completed graphic organizer and allow students to complete it. Teachers may also choose to show clips of popular comic book movies for students who may not prior experience with superhero movies. Comic books may also be used.

    For differentiation, students with limited writing ability will be the group spokesperson and verbally give their response to the class (two students from each group). Students with moderate writing ability will write the responses from the group.

    Students will take notes using an archetypical characters graphic organizer, and they will present their list of archetypal characters to the class.