story by Emma Cameron , illustrated by Andrew Joyner

Learning Intention:

I am learning how to represent characters in interesting ways so that I can discuss how authors use characterisation to create an engaging story.

Success Criteria:

  • I can define characterisation.
  • I understand how an author uses the technique of ‘show don’t tell’ when developing a character.
  • I can apply the principle of ‘show don’t tell’ in my own writing.

Essential Knowledge:

More information about how the representation of a character is determined by the composer can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Representation.

An explanation of the principle of ‘show don’t tell’ and a series of activities to introduce inferential thinking can be found on the NSW Education Page Stage 3 reading – Inference.

Before reading the story as a class, define the term characterisation (taken from the NSW Curriculum Glossary):

The technical construction and representation of any personality or person-like figure in text, including features such as their appearance, actions, words or thoughts.

Ensure that students understand that a character is constructed by an author who makes deliberate choices to represent them in certain ways. Then explain that the author of this story has deliberately represented the sister of the narrator as very emotional and boy-crazy, stereotypical teenage traits.

Read through the story, ensuring that students pay particular attention to the characterisation of Annabel. After reading, ask students to share their initial impression of Annabel’s character traits (how they look, act and feel). Students might include words such as bossy, grumpy or moody.

Explain that the way successful authors construct a character is through the writing principle of ‘show don’t tell’. This means that writers use sensory details to construct their characters, rather than just telling us what their characters are like. The reader then has to make inferences to understand the characters.

Use a think aloud strategy to demonstrate how ‘show don’t tell’ works. A sample think aloud script is below:

‘Good writers don’t ‘tell us’ all the information about characters, they ‘show us’. When I read the excerpt:

‘When Ben’s sister was unhappy her face drooped like saggy old underwear. If Annabel was sad, it made Ben feel like everything happened in slow motion.’

I can make some inferences about Annabel. We can see that she has very strong emotions. We can infer this from the description that compares her to saggy underwear. This suggests that when she is unhappy, she shows it very clearly on her frowning face. The author also hints that Annabel’s emotions are so strong that other people can feel them, such as Ben who says that Annabel’s unhappiness makes things feel like slow motion.’

Next, explain to students that they will make more specific judgements on the representation of Annabel through identifying evidence in the text. Provide students with the following table:

Character name Evidence from the text Visual representation of the evidence Inferred character traits
Annabel “The air around her would spark and crackle”
“Her eyes sparkled as she watched a boy strolling along.”
“Annabel’s eyes trawled the beach.”
“Annabel’s eyes blazed black.”
“Annabel snarled and stormed to her room.”

If you have a digital subscription, you may want to supplement this activity with an interactive sequencing task in which students place visual representations of Annabel’s mood in the order they appear in the story.

Finally, ask students to think about how the character of Matty Hansom would be represented if the story was written from Annabel’s point of view. Ask students what language the author has deliberately used to represent Matty as a popular guy (his last name Hansom sounds the same as handsome). The author would need to choose words that make him seem cool and attractive. He should also be compared to favourable things.

Students should write a paragraph from the point of view of Annabel. This paragraph should show the reader that Matty is the most popular boy in town and receives lots of attention from the teenage girls. It should use a combination of language with positive connotations and favourable comparisons.

For example:

It was like the clouds parted and the sun blazed down on the beach. Matty Hansom had arrived. He was our very own Ken, with his perfect hair and teeth. His clothing looked like it was from an Instagram influencer’s page. I wish I could be his Barbie, but every time he looked my way it was as if his eyes turned to stone, and he didn’t see me.

Assessment as/of learning:

Imaginative Text Rubrics can be found on The School Magazine website. Students can use these rubrics as success criteria in the crafting of their imaginative texts via anchor charts. The rubrics can also be used to provide structure for peer or teacher assessment.