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Charting the Characters
"The Secret Garden" is a much loved book that is driven in part by the rich characterization of the principal protagonists. In order for students to fully understand how the characters change over the course of the book it is important to character chart The Secret Garden and observe, first hand, how this takes place, and to recognize the importance of character development within the story.
After an initial reading for enjoyment, and the general sense of the story, encourage students to make notes of the words and phrases that are used to describe each of the main characters. For example: on the first page of the story we are given a clue to Mary Lennox' character, " the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen" (page 5) Continue to make notes throughout Chapter One and a picture will emerge of an ill-tempered, demanding, disagreeable child.
Repeat this process for Dickon who is introduced in Chapter Two. What words are used to describe him?
Colin does not appear until Chapter Six but the reader quickly recognizes his whiny, demanding character.
Discuss with students that sometimes the author uses direct facts about the characters, and sometimes does not tell the reader directly, but we find out through the character's actions or words. These are called inferred characteristics. For example the reader knows that Colin is used to being in control and nobody questioning his actions - on page 61"..the doctor did not look pleased, but it was quite plain that he dared not oppose his patient."
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Traits to Chart
Other information to gather about each of the characters is their physical appearance.
Male or female?
Color of hair?
Color of eyes.
Type of dress.
How does the person move?
Any unique quirks?
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Ideas for Charting
In "The Secret Garden" the characters change so drastically over the course of the story that it would be beneficial to make two charts for each of them. One showing their personality and traits at the beginning of the book and one showing their personality and traits at the end of the book.
To download a character web click here. In each section of the web print a word to describe the character.
To demonstrate the similarities and differences between Mary and Colin invite the students to create a Venn diagram. Do their upbringings and environment reflect their personalities? To download a Venn diagram click here
Invite students to make large drawings of each of the characters.They should have a front view and a back view. On the front of the drawing print the characteristics and traits of the person as the story ends. On the back print the characteristics and traits of the person at the beginning of the story - this implies looking back.
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Evaluation and Assessment
Invite students to share their character charts with the class and explain their findings. Discuss which method shows the character development best.
Did the students identify the characteristics of each character and show how they changed over the course of the story?
Did the students distinguish between factual and inferred traits in the characters?
Students will see that, as they do a character chart, "The Secret Garden" will become a more meaningful book. The students may learn to apply the chart techniques on their own for other novels being studied.