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NAIL THAT CHARACTER
Monitoring and Assessment
Nail That Character is intended for the regular whole class but can be adapted for independent small group work with motivated students or teacher-guided small groups.
Engagement: Empowering Teachers with Successful Strategies
Nail That Character is a comprehension strategy which encourages and supports students to read and re-read the text closely by providing a clear purpose for reading.
Nail That Character is based on Vygotskyan concepts of students learning with and from each other in ‘the zone of proximal development’, learning that is scaffolded by the teacher.
Engagement: Engaging Students in Purposeful Social Practices
Four Roles/Resources of the Reader
Based on the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader
developed by Freebody and Luke (1990),
Four Resources Guideposts
Nail That Character Guideposts provide a useful assessment tool.
Implementing the Strategy
Nail That Character using Dougy
Divide class into working groups of 4 or 5 students. Provide each group with two identical blank grids such as the one demonstrated below. Alternatively, students could draw up their own grids. There should be eleven rows, including the heading row. The number of columns depends on how many characters you wish the students to study.
For Dougy you may want to add ‘Brett’ and ‘Cooper’ to the four characters listed on the grid. Discussion of which characters to include is a useful way to establish their importance to the story. You will end up with 40 (4 characters) to 60 (6 characters) sections per grid. Ask students to write the names of the characters they have chosen on the first line of one of the grids.
>> Click here to download this grid in Microsoft Word format (21KB).
Then using the other grid, ask students to cut 40-60 cards of the same dimension. Each group ends up with one large blank grid and 40-60 separate cards.
Students brainstorm a list of adjectives and/or adjectival phrases that describe these characters. Discussion of each character should include why each characteristic was selected because students may need to justify their selection of descriptive words if challenged. It is worthwhile for the circulating teacher to enter into these discussions and ask students whether their justifications come from the text itself or their own cultural knowledge.
Ten characteristics per character are then entered on the cards. For example:
Once all of the cards have been completed and cut up, the cards are shuffled, and cards and grid exchanged with another group.
Access to dictionary and thesaurus is useful. After all, part of the fun is to make life difficult for their peers. Most students will describe Dougy as ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’ – but if they also come up with ‘diffident’, they will have increased the level of difficulty of the game.
To play, the cards are distributed equally (and unseen) among the group who received them. They then take turns to place the descriptive words/phrases on the grid in a space beneath the name of the character it describes best, and explain the reason for putting it there.
Other players may challenge if they do not agree with the description. When challenged, students can justify their inclusion of a word by referring to their own cultural knowledge or by referring to the original text. This can become an interesting exercise in finding supporting evidence, a useful skill in essay writing.
All players must agree to accept the adjective before the card can be left in place. If a challenge is upheld by the others, that player must remove the card and wait for his/her next turn. The game is over once all the cards have been placed.
If there are cards left over, players can challenge the group who created their cards in a post-game analysis, which is also used for the creators of the cards to check that the players got it right. Players can refer to evidence from the text to support their choice of adjectives.
If the cards are stuck (nailed) to the grids and these then displayed on a wall, students can track how often certain descriptive words for the same character were repeated, and discuss what this indicates. They can also vote for the most original description, or create a ‘class’ description from the words and phrases on offer. This may lead to a discussion of the term to ‘nail a character’ and why this is the title of the game.
Widening the discussion can lead to student reflection on why we want to/need to describe people and what use is made of such descriptions, thereby leading to further understanding of how and what we can learn from literature about life. It may help answer the perennial question about the set text: ‘why do we have to read this book?’
The vocabulary generated by this game, and the reasons given for their inclusion, will scaffold the writing of essays/expository texts dealing with characterisation.
Nail That Character is adapted from a version described briefly by Jane O’Loughlin in van Putten, Val (ed.). (1993). Go Under Cover: a Bookweek Ideas Book. Adelaide: CBC (SA branch), p.22.
Maloney, J. (1993). Dougy. Brisbane:UQP.