Teach characterization using short films that will keep your students engaged in learning!

Short films like Pixar shorts are perfect for this lesson — and students love them!

Students get hooked into the lesson right away!

How do you teach it?

Let’s dive in:

How to teach characterization using short films like pixar that will keep your students engaged.

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But first…

What is characterization?

Characterization refers to the way a writer develops and creates characters. 

How does the character come to life?  That is characterization.

How is a character developed?

The writer may use direct or indirect ways to develop a character.  

With direct characterization the writer tells the reader (directly) about the character. 

For example:

  • Bob was tall and loved anchovy sandwiches.  
  • Mabel was jealous of Fred’s success in the mustard business, and she vowed to get revenge.

Indirect characterization requires the reader to infer meaning based on what the character says, does, or thinks.  It can also be inferred from what other characters say.

For example:

  • Bob packed fourteen anchovy sandwiches in his backpack; just enough for lunch and a light snack.
  • Mabel pushed through the metal doors of Fred’s mustard shop and slipped three jars of his “Honey and Horseradish Spread” into her jacket pocket.  

The difficulty with character analysis

Students often struggle with going beyond the obvious when it comes to character analysis.

This skill requires students to infer information from a variety of clues, but they often get stuck on superficial detail or provide only basic analysis.

The answer:  short films & commercials

A fun way to help students practice analyzing characters and developing important critical thinking skills is by using short videos clips.  (Be sure to read the “Tips for Teaching” at the end of this post for step-by-step suggestions!)

Use easy-to-love short films

Our students are visual!

Short animated films are perfect for students to dig into a character and what makes him or her tick.

And Pixar short films are a great place to start!

Mike’s New Car is one of my favorites to use to get students practicing their analysis skills for a few reasons:

  • students may already have background knowledge about the character from having seen the movie Monsters Inc, 
  • they may already be familiar with the characters, so they have a jump start in their analysis
  • it’s just a few minutes long, which makes it ideal to use in a class period (be sure to see recommended teaching ideas below)
  • it is an “inference goldmine” with facial expressions and body language telling us a lot about the characters
  • and best of all…it’s hysterical!

Use old commercials

Classic commercials fascinate students.

Sure, they’re cheesy and silly … but they’re also funny (as you know, an added bonus in keeping your students’ attention).

Wendy’s classic hysterical “Where’s the beef?” commercials feature:

  • three adorable senior citizens
  • each of these three ladies has a distinct personality, which means your students will love analyzing them.

This companion commercial will give students the opportunity to dig deeper into the main character.  She is certainly motivated!

Use classic cartoons

You can’t go wrong with a Bugs Bunny clip when it comes to teaching characterization!

The little clip below (Wild Turkey Surprise) is:

  • short and full of action
  • includes two characters to analyze — three if you include Bugs Bunny’s waiter imitation!

Tips for Teaching

Keep it short!

A short video means your students can view it several times and really dig into the characters.

Show the film multiple times while the students have a specific task for each viewing.

Model the lesson using the process below:

1.Introduce the lesson by setting the task.  The first time the students watch the film, you can instruct them to just watch for understanding.  What is happening?  What is the “story” the film is telling.

2.  Use “turn and talk” debrief after.  Have students discuss the problem, solution, or something they noticed about the film.

3. Focus the task for the second viewing.  You can use this graphic organizer to help students keep track of their observations. They should choose one character to analyze by looking at what the character says and does.

4. Watch the film a second time.  Focusing on gathering evidence.

5. Again, allow students to “turn and talk” and share what they noticed with a classmate.  Encourage students to add to their graphic organizers at this time since this is a practice lesson.

6. Focus the task for the third viewing.  Now students are quite familiar with the plot and what is going to happen next.  This time, they can observe what they can learn about the main character by what another character says and does.

7. Watch the film a third time.  Focusing again on gathering evidence.

8. Allow a final “turn and talk” for students to share evidence and add to their graphic organizers.

Analyze the evidence

Once students have gathered their evidence, they need to figure out what it means.

Providing students with a list of character traits is helpful.

We know that good characters are complex.  That’s why they seem so real to us!  Encourage students to choose three or four character traits that they can use to describe the character.

You can assess their learning with a class discussion, self-assessment, short answer analysis response, or an exit card.

teach characterization with this resources

 Reasons this lesson works:

  • it’s fun!
  • short videos engage students
  • students have multiple opportunities to view a short “text” and analyze it
  • low-risk practice that builds confidence and vocabulary
  • practice using character traits and “proving” why and how they fit characters
  • students develop their skills prior to moving on to more complex texts and characters

Need more help?

Grab a free lesson plan for this activity right here.

You can use my Character Analysis Resource to support your lesson!  Your students can practice with this character analysis booklet.

What do you think?  What are some other great short films you could use to help your students dive into characterization?  Share your ideas in a comment below!

Happiness always,

2 Comments on How to teach characterization with short films

  1. Can you tell me a good source (or two) for locating movie clips/commercial clips I can use in teaching kids? I’ve yet to find such a thing!!!

    • Hi Susan,
      Thanks for asking. If you can’t use YouTube to find old commercial (or new) commercials or short videos, try your library. Disney has a collection of “short” that are quite inexpensive (I have a link in the post). You can also use the video examples I use in the post.

      I hope this helps! Let me know if I can help further.

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