As an English Language Arts and Literature teacher in an urban all-boys school, it’s imperative that lessons not only be effective but fully engaging from bell-to-bell. To help myself, I take a lot of inspiration from my friends and colleagues on Instagram. In addition, I am no stranger to scouring Pinterest or utilizing the fantastic resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. When I come across a resource that works, I look for as many ways to incorporate it into my lessons as possible. I found the perfect lesson in the form of a body biography and added my own twist to make it extra engaging!
Finding the Body Biography
I discovered that perfect resource when I found Danielle Knight’s “Body Biography” activity. Initially, it was the perfect way for my eighth graders to complete an individual assessment of characterization in their To Kill A Mockingbird unit. However, I knew asking fourth and fifth graders to do the same would be met with moans, groans, and tears! I knew I needed to get their little minds focused on fully understanding words like “intrinsic” and “extrinsic.” On top of that, I needed to do it in a way that didn’t feel like it required the help of a rocket scientist or brain surgeon.
That’s when it hit me! If a brain surgeon is what is required, then that’s what I would need! They were going to use their knowledge of characterization to really dissect characters. I decided my students needed to perform a “Character Autopsy” using Danielle Knight’s “Body Biography” as the “Character Cadaver.”
The Body Biography Dissection Set Up
To begin, I set up my classroom which was the easy part! I already had plenty of flexible seating options and station tables. So, I ordered a box of nitrile gloves, medical paper caps, paper gowns, and face masks from Amazon to make sure each little scholar felt like a real doctor! Then I used another adorable graphic resource found on TPT and designed hospital staff badges for each of my newly inducted Character Surgeons.
Finally, I found a video clip on YouTube of a hospital ECG monitor and projected it on a loop. This gave the classroom the best possible atmosphere for the characterization activity into which I was about to toss my young scholars.
The Initial Reaction
As usual, my students lined up for class as they would on any normal Thursday. When I greeted them in my lab coat and gloves, they were stunned into curious silence. They came into class one by one, each receiving their new badge and “uniform.” Finally, they were told they had a “literary medical emergency.” Characterization surgery was about to begin.
Starting the Body Biography “Operation”
After “dressing the part,” my scholars were split into three groups. Then, each group was given a poster-size, laminated copy of Danielle Knight’s “body biography” diagram. Next, they were told to choose one of the main characters from their novel, Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko.
Once my students got started, the instructions were simple: “dissect” your chosen character by responding to the prompts on the “cadaver.” The class was familiar with the terms on the activity page from the lesson foldables, graphic organizers, and class lectures. The best part was they were showing me exactly what they understood!
The groups collaborated on deciding on a variety of characterization markers including:
- which intrinsic and extrinsic traits to highlight
- which conflicts to mark down
- what symbols would best represent their character
Finally, they had to interpret the meaning behind direct quotes!
Even though the activity was likely designed for more advanced grade levels, my fourth and fifth grade “doctors” were able to make it work! They closely examined all of the elements on Danielle Knight’s “body biography” activity!
Tracie Gerardi is an English Language Arts & Literature teacher in Newark, NJ. She started teaching while still in college, earning simultaneous Bachelors degrees in English and Theater. She has been teaching for 15 years. She’s bronze certified in Whole Brain Teaching and uses her background in theatre arts to reach her students in ways that positively impact their confidence, improve their social awareness as well as their academics. The goal is these experiences will be lifetime memories. She’s also a published author. Her mystery novels are available on Amazon.com and BN.com.