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Unit 4, Lesson 1: We Can Be Real Characters!

This first lesson involves students in developing the skill of portraying character roles following the reading of The Great Horn Spoon, by Sid Fleishman.  Students need this skill before they address the problems to be solved in the unit through simulation and a mock trial.


Materials & Resources Needed

  • Room for students to group with a partner and move around
  • Powerpoint

Essential Question / Issue

Can one portray another’s physical, emotional and social character?


  • Students will understand the character’s motivations.
  • Students will be able to effectively use dialogue and movement to portray characters.

Quality Criteria for Assessment

This objective will be assessed through teacher observation and feedback as students practice.


Quality Criteria Absolutely! Almost! Not Yet
Active and productive engagement in role play.      
Stayed in character with convincing use of movement, gestures and expressions.      
Dialogue was clear (clarity).      
With good projection and emotion.      
Strong interaction with other characters.      

Learning Activities (Approximately 30-40 minutes)


Slide 1:  Cover slide, By the Great Horn Spoon…What Happened Next?

Let students know that in this unit, By the Great Horn Spoon, we will be studying more about what was happening at the time of the Gold Rush in California.  They will all need to learn to become different characters in some short dramas.  Actors need to understand “character” as an element of theatre, so that they are understood, sometimes even when they don’t even say anything!


Slide 2 Ask the students what an “occupation” is.  Chart responses: doctor, waitress, construction worker, secretary, teacher, etc.

  • Ask students to think (no wild guesses!), exactly what your occupation is as you role-play the following:  Raking Leaves (With a smiling face, quick movements, “spotting more leaves and rushing to rake them up as well)
  • Tell students that you just played a “character” as an actor.  After thinking about what they watched, tell them you would like them to think about your occupation (not the job or action you are doing. (Gardener.) Ask them to think about your mood, a quality of your personality (conscientious, hard working), your physical appearance and/or health….all based on your movements, gestures and expressions.
  • Chart the responses of the students, and delve for more!
  • Explain that students will be learning about how to “become” a character, and to do that, they need to understand the character in order to make him or her believable.  Actors use physical movements and gestures to develop a character in a specific way.  Look at all you learned about the character I just played!


In pairs, A and B.  A begins and acts out (through movement only), their occupation.  Without it becoming a “guessing game”, the one watching must be able to 1) state the occupation,  2) mood,  3) quality of the personality, and 4) physical appearance and/or health.  Now “B takes a turn.


Slide 3:  Ask if they know what “Dialogue” means (the words the actors speak).  Just as movement tells a lot about the character in the story, dialogue does the same and also advances the plot of the story – moves the story along!  Good dialogue must “belong” to the character, both in what they say and how they say it. Good dialogue must “belong” to the character, both in what they say and how they say it.  The words of the character tell the story, or the plot.   In addition, Character is developed by strong dialogue, with good interaction between actors, and also voices that speak clearly (clarity) and loud enough to be heard without yelling, and changing the tone of the dialogue.  In theatre this is referred to as “projecting”.  To be successful, actors must warm up their voices.

  • Students stand, take a few deep breaths, and then are asked to warm-up their voices by repeating the vowels with you.  This is to be exaggerated; facial muscles are stretched and articulation is very clear.  “A  E  I  O  U ”  Ask them to repeat the vowels slowly again but with a softer voice, a whisper voice, and finally a voice loud enough that someone in the back of the room could hear them (not shouting, but “projecting”.
  • The entire group continues, using the word “terrific” with a happy voice, sad voice, mad voice, sarcastic (smart alecky) voice.  Reiterate, that the way the character uses the dialogue really gives meaning ~ along with the movements.


Slide 4:  Students get in pairs again, A and B.  “A” says the first statement in character, and “B” responds to the first character.

Students trade off, each time using the dialogue with the emotion required.  If students can add the movements and gestures at the same time, that is terrific!

A: “I came to California to find gold”  (excited young man)

B: “I came to California to find gold.” (tired old man)

Slide 5:

A:  “On our way here the sea was really rough and lots of people got sick.”  (young girl or boy who had been seasick)

B:  “On our way here the sea was really rough and lots of people got sick.”  (older boy, who thinks it was funny)

Slide 6:

A:  “I found one small gold nugget just yesterday.”  (any age – sad, discouraged)

B:  “I found one small gold nugget just yesterday.”  (any age, encouraged and excited)


After finishing the last partner dialogue: Call up a couple of the pairs and have them show one of their “dialogues”.  Using the rubric as a guide for valuing the work, the class can describe what they observed the pair demonstrate in terms of movement, gestures, expression, speech (clarity), projection and interaction.  Students analyze how the pair has made their character believable.