A Fun Activity You Can Do with Any Text
If you’ve been following Next Time Teaching for a while, you know I am all about activities that can be used with multiple texts. I’ve presented on them before, and I’m excited to be presenting again at IATE this year. Geometric Character Analysis is one I’ve been doing for so long and with so many different texts that I don’t remember where it came from. If you know where it comes from, shoot me a message, I’d love to know.
I like Geometric Character Analysis because it’s a sneaky activity. Kids are engaged and having fun, but when you listen in on their conversations, they’re talking about important ideas and thinking in interesting ways. It’s perfect for the Friday before a break or other days when you want something fun and creative but still focused on the text you’re teaching.
So how does it work?
Working in groups, students design a shape for each character. They consider what type of person would be a rigid square or a swirly blob. You can also have them consider size, color, and texture or pattern depending on the materials and time you have available. There’s a printed set of directions here (it’s for Raisin in the Sun, but you can edit it for any text you like). Occasionally, students will want to slip into illustration, like choosing a bottle shape for Walter in Raisin in the Sun because he has a drinking problem. I encourage them to think of a shape that itself looks drunk, which is a more challenging task.
After each character has their own shape, students arrange the shapes on a blank sheet of paper to represent their relationships. For this reason, it works best with texts that have a group of characters, like the family in Raisin in the Sun. But that’s really so many books, and I’ve done it or seen it done with everything from the clones in Never Let Me Go to the Alpha Company of The Things They Carried to Hamlet. Sometimes I let them add arrows or other symbols to indicate these relationships, and sometimes I don’t.
Students can then present their work to the class. The whole activity including introduction, brainstorming, and presentations can take between 40 and 60 minutes depending on how many characters they have and how many materials you have for them to choose from. To speed it up, you could assign each student a character to determine a shape for at home, and then put them into groups in class. Sometimes I also like to add a twist like a new character or a setting, too.
Variations and rationale
At the heart of Geometric Character Analysis is metaphorical thinking. Students must take their knowledge of a character’s traits and translate it into physical attributes such as color and line. It’s easy to underestimate, but that’s complex thinking. Plus, students are doing this in a collaborative group, so there’s built-in communication and negotiation. The finished products may not look like masterpieces, but the thinking process is key.
If you think your students would benefit from scaffolding, you could have a pre-activity discussion about the emotional impact of different colors, for example. If you want to add rigor or accountability, you could ask for textual evidence or a written explanation. Rather than having students present, you could have groups trade finished products without any explanation and then examine another group’s and try to determine the characters from the shapes. This could result in more interesting conversation about interpretation (as well as some conflict, perhaps, but that’s another opportunity for negotiation).
If you feel like getting out the markers and glue, give Geometric Character Analysis a go. And if you’re looking for other activities that can be done with any text, try Passage Pass or this reading journal.