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Character Background Discovery


Students will demonstrate an understanding of the methods of discovering character analysis by actively participating in the discussions and activities throughout the lesson.


**This lesson is intended to give students experience discovering character analysis sources/techniques and may be a couple class periods long.  Then students can apply these principles to their own character work for a specific performance piece.**


Materials Needed


Lesson Directions

Get two volunteers, and have the students read the Trifles scene for the class

Step 1: instruction

Tell the students that we will be spending the class period getting to know these characters.  Ask them what sources we have that help us get to know the characters.  Lead them to the following sources (and write them on the board):

  1. What we glean from the script
  2. What we learn from history and research
  3. What we discover from our own experience

Step 2: discussion

Ask students what they can discover from the script, and why that is important.  Ensure that the following three sources are identified: 1- what the author says about the character, 2- what the character says about him or herself, 3- what others say about the character.  (Write them on board)

Step 3: transition

Tell the class that we will analyze Mrs. Hale as a class.  Divide the class into three groups.  Assign each group one of the sources for discovering information from a script.  Each group will read the entire script (it should take about 25 minutes) and students will rotate roles in reading the script.  Students who are not reading will act as scribes to write down the information that is gathered as the script is read.

Step 4: group practice

In groups, proceed to read the script.  Reassign readers every few pages.

Step 5: transition

 Create three columns on the board for each of the sources of finding information on the character.  After reading the script, have each group list the information they discovered on the board.  Briefly discuss what we already know, and ask students what else we might need to know to fully develop the character of Mrs. Hale.

Step 6: discussion

Ask students to give examples of how history and culture can affect a character.  Have them come up with several questions about Mrs. Hale that might be better answered by knowing about the history of the time.  (i.e. What religion was she?  What was her relationship like with her husband?  What were her daily duties as a farmer's wife?)

Step 7: instruction

Using the notes from the supplemental material, talk to them briefly about the historical period of Trifles, to help them understand how that can affect the characters. Brainstorm a list of search words they could put into an internet search engine to lead them to learning about the history/culture/time period, etc.  If they have access to them, have them use their phones or tablets or computers to immediately research and explore the history, etc.

This could also be put to them as homework: Assign them to come back to class next time with 2-3 facts about the time period that might affect Mrs. Hale and the story.

Step 8: group practice

In groups of 2 or 3, have them look over their research and other history resource documents to see what they can discover, writing down what they find. (This should be a taste of historical research, not a comprehensive experience.)

Step 9: discussion

Have students share findings with the class and discuss how further research could be helpful.

Step 10: instruction

Remind students that there are still holes in our character's history.  To fill in those holes, we must discover who they are through what we can deduce (or guess) and through our own experiences.  One way to do this is to ask ourselves what happened five minutes before the scene took place, and what the character will do five minutes after.  Ask students to give examples of how what just happened might affect what is taking place, and how it takes place.

Step 11: guided practice

As a class, come up with what may have happened to Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale five minutes before the scene and five minutes after.  Write discoveries on the board.

Step 12: transition

Highlight how much information there is on the board now.  There are some details that we may know or guess about a character.  These details alone will not create an interesting character.  We need to ask the big WHY.  To access this information, we need to know ourselves first.


Step 13: guided practice

Have students list an interesting detail about themselves (other than a physical characteristic), i.e. “My favorite color is blue”.  Ask one or two students WHY that detail is so. Continue to ask them to dig, until they hit on a real reason, ie “I have blue eyes, and I think that blue makes me look the most beautiful”.  Have all the students write down the WHY behind the detail.


Step 14: instruction

Have students think about life-changing experiences - those things that are so painful or so tender that we don't think about them on a regular basis.  We don't normally talk about them or think about them because they are either too dear to us, or too painful.


Step 15: directions

Have students think deeply about experiences they have had that have been life-changing and have had a part in shaping who they are.  They are to write down this experience.  It must be turned in to receive credit, but if they don't want the teacher to read it, they should just staple it shut.  As long as it is complete, they will receive credit. Allow them to take time to think about this, and write down their experience. By going deep into ourselves and remembering details about how this experience changed us can be carried over to a character and their world.

 Step 16: individual practice

Now apply all the work they have just done to the character of Mrs. Hale – take the information gathered on the board through the three sources and create a life-changing experience that she has had in her life previous to the play’s story.  Students can work by themselves or with a partner.  They should imagine in detail her experience – grounded in the research of the three sources – and write it out however they choose (monologue, journal entry, essay, newspaper reporter article in third person, etc.).

Step 17: group sharing

Have the students share with each other the experiences of Mrs. Hale.

Step 18: application

Students should take the ideas of the three sources and life-changing experience exploration and apply it to their own character in their next performance/unit.

CLOSURE: Before class ends, remind students of the three ways that we gather information about our characters.


Through discussion and participation, check to see that students understand the three ways of finding information about a character.  Collect the students’ life-changing experiences for completion points.


Author's Notes

ADAPTATIONS: Students who have difficulty writing may verbally describe to the teacher each of the methods of discovering character background, as well as participating in the group discussion.  Pair students who have difficulty reading & comprehending information with students who can assist them.