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NAIL THAT CHARACTER

Sieta van der Hoeven

Monitoring and Assessment

Four Resources Guideposts

Classroom Organisation

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

Strategy

Nail That Character

Text

Any adolescent fiction novel, short story or film, eg Dougy by James Maloney, UQP, 1993

  • encourages students to bring own cultural knowledge to their reading/viewing of fiction in print and/or film
  • uses peer support to scaffold student reading/viewing of challenging texts
  • engages students in discussion of and around the text
  • teaches students that different interpretations of the same text can be valid and valued
  • teaches students about the ‘give and take’ for coming to the consensus necessary for active construction of, and participation in, the game
  • scaffolds the use of supporting evidence when writing essays/expository texts
  • a fictional text incorporating themes and issues such as prejudice, family relationships, small country town attitudes, moral dilemmas, the role of sports and of sports sponsorship, treatment of Aborigines, and an Aboriginal dreamtime story
  • engages students through the plot, the explosion of dramatic action, the focus on sibling and peer relationships, small country town attitudes to sports and sports sponsorship, and black and white relationships
  • engages reluctant male readers
  • includes sophisticated textual codes and conventions, eg foreshadowing and symbolism, requiring students to make predictions and construct implied authorial meanings
  • uses the first person narrative voice, requiring students to infer meaning from what is presented through a young observer’s innocent eyes (albeit an observer who is asked to act decisively at the crucial moment)
  • connects to English through a study of the text as literature, particularly a study of the characters, their motivation and choices, based on student perception of their personalities
  • connects to SOSE through a study of personal, familial and cultural relationships, and through an examination of attitudes to Aborigines in a small and remote outback Queensland community, both prejudiced and positive

Four Roles/Resources of the Reader

Based on the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader developed by Freebody and Luke (1990),
Nail That Character involves students in the following repertoire of purposeful social practices:

Code breaker

Decoding the codes and conventions of written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • focuses on particular words in the text while searching for authorial descriptions of characters
  • analyses such words based on their function in the sentence
  • focuses on character actions and reactions to determine what these say of the character’s personality
  • reflects on own reading/viewing strategies after group work allows comparison with others’ reading/viewing strategies

Text user

Understanding the purposes of different written, spoken and visual texts for different cultural and social functions, eg:

  • analyses text features to scaffold the creation of new texts (the game)
  • reflects on how constructing and playing the game has helped and enhanced understanding of character motivation in general, based on meaning made of this text, that is, an understanding of how to read oneself and others in real life

Text participant

Comprehending written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • predicts character development based on understanding of authorial intention and their own cultural knowledge
  • reflects on how the text invited the reader to participate: were readers ‘told’ the story or ‘invited to join in’? Watching from a distance or right there with the main characters? Did the reader become one of the characters?

Text analyst

Understanding how texts position readers, viewers and listeners, eg:

  • determines which characters are well developed and which are stereotypes or otherwise flat
  • examines the role played by each character to further the plot
  • examines how the author positions the reader to react in a certain way
  • analyses the ideology of the text
  • discusses possible gaps and silences in the text: which characters were allowed to speak for themselves? Who do we hear of only through the mouths and minds of others?
  • determines own position on social issues raised in the text

Four Resources Guideposts

Nail That Character Guideposts provide a useful assessment tool.

Implementing the Strategy

Nail That Character using Dougy

Preparation

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.

Dougy

Gracey

Raymond

Mum

       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       

>> 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.

The Game

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:

Dougy

Gracey

Raymond

Mum

Quiet Determined Impulsive Caring
Shy      
Observant      
Diffident      

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.

Challenges

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.

Post-game analysis

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?’

Further use

The vocabulary generated by this game, and the reasons given for their inclusion, will scaffold the writing of essays/expository texts dealing with characterisation.


book cover << click here to download a larger image of the Dougy cover

References

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.

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