High School English (ELA) Lesson Plan, Grades 9-12

High School English (ELA) Lesson Plan, Grades 9-12

By Dr. Summer Pennell

Lesson Overview

In this lesson for grades 9-12 English Language Arts (ELA) and Information Technology, students will learn the difference between direct and indirect characterization by viewing a documentary called Bessie Eldreth: Stories and Songs of a Blue Ridge Life. A documentary can allow students to visually see how characterization works so they can apply this knowledge to written texts. Students will examine and analyze what Bessie says about her life, how she says these things, and what the filmmakers show the audience to get a full picture of her character. To end the lesson, students will create their own mini-documentary videos that demonstrate both direct and indirect characterization. This lesson will work in any unit that teaches literary terms, but will work especially well paired with texts about women’s experiences in general (A Doll House, To The Lighthouse) and women in Appalachia and the rural South in particular (The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bastard Out of Carolina, Cold Mountain, Fair and Tender Ladies). Advanced classes (honors, Advanced Placement [AP], International Baccalaureate [IB]) may use this lesson to discuss characterization of women in particular and tie it to history and Social Studies lessons on women’s rights.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

• Identify examples of indirect and direct characterization

• Analyze Bessie’s character with evidence from the film

• Create a film that includes both direct and indirect characterization

Curriculum Alignment: Common Core State Standards Grades 9-10: English Language Arts

RL.1: Key Ideas and Details

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RL.3: Key Ideas and Details

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Grades 11-12: English Language Arts

RL.1: Key Ideas and Details

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. Grades 9-12: Information and Technology Skills

TT.1: Technology as a Tool

Use technology and other resources for assigned tasks.

Teacher Planning

Time Required

• 60 minutes for the introduction to characterization, showing the film, and completing characterization handout

• At least 1 additional 45-60 minute lesson for creating a short film

• One 30-45 minute lesson to show the films in class. Materials

• Computer with internet access connected to a multimedia projector

• Access to the film Bessie Eldreth: Stories and Songs of a Blue Ridge Life on the folkstreams website

• Flip cams, tablets, or other video cameras that will allow students to create a short film

• Optional: computers with film editing software Handouts

• Characterization handout (for students to use while watching the film) [teacher guide included]

• Filmmaking instructions


Teachers may wish to create a PowerPoint or other presentation showing examples of direct and indirect characterization for step two below. One source of definitions and examples can be found here- http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/characterization.html. There are also many free videos available on YouTube. This lesson does not include specific instruction on using video cameras or editing software. Teachers may wish to partner with their school librarian or Media Specialist for this instruction.


1. Introduce lesson by telling students they will be learning about characterization. Begin by asking if students have heard this literary term and/or asking them to speculate on the definition.

2. Give a mini-lecture on direct and indirect characterization. a. Indirect characterization: (showing), more interesting for the reader, generally used for important character traits. “Showing” is done in five ways: appearance, actions, thoughts, others’ thoughts about the character, and speech

b. Direct characterization: (telling), usually shorter, moves story forward without stopping the action, used for minor character traits. “The lazy teenager stayed in bed until 3 pm.”

3. Ask students to practice characterization with the following task (allow approximately 10 minutes):

a. Think of your best friend, sibling(s), or enemies, & choose 1 to write about

b. Write 1 example about them using indirect characterization (show)

c. Write 1 example about them using direct characterization (tell)

4. When students are finished, ask a few to share to check for understanding.

5. Tell students they will now watch a documentary about an Appalachian woman, Bessie Eldreth. Explain that a documentary is a nonfiction film that attempts to show some aspect of real life. In this case, it is a glimpse into the life of a folksinger from Boone, North Carolina. Rather than telling a traditional story with a clear beginning, middle and end, this film shows us short clips of Bessie’s life from which we learn about her personality, interests, history, etc. This is a folklore film; folklorists are interested in peoples’ everyday lives, and particularly things that tell us about a culture: arts, crafts, food, etc. Explain that even though it is nonfiction, they can still see examples of both indirect and direct characterization. Tell students that while they watch they should fill out the characterization chart on their handout, and that afterward they will complete a short writing prompt.

a. Note: this lesson includes a teacher guide that lists examples of each type of characterization from the film.

6. After students have watched the film, lead a brief discussion on the examples of characterization they observed.

7. Ask students to complete the second part of the handout: writing a paragraph to describe Bessie’s character. If conducted as written on the handout, this activity should take 10-15 minutes. Teachers may wish to specify paragraph length or extend this into a longer writing assignment. A more creative alternative would be for students to write an imaginary documentary scene that shows they understand Bessie.

8. When students finish, lead a brief discussion and ask a few students to share their work. Collect the handout to assess for understanding.

Part 2: Filmmaking

1. Before the lesson, decide which students will work together and create groups of 4-6 students. Teachers should decide beforehand if they want students to turn in a script or other materials, or if the final film is sufficient. Also, teachers should look over the roles on the student handout and decide if they want to take away any roles (for example, the props and costumes role is appropriate for larger groups or if students will have more than one day to create their film but may not be feasible in all situations). Teachers may also wish to alter the “technology guru” role depending on what kind of camera and other devices your students will use.

2. Introduce the lesson by telling students they will take their knowledge of characterization and create their own mini-documentary. At the teacher’s discretion, this film can be about a real person (i.e., one of their group members), a character in a classroom text, or they can create a character. Teachers could also partner with Social Studies or History teachers and ask students to use a historical figure.

3. Pass out (and project) the filmmaking instructions. Go over the directions and make sure students know that each person should have a role. Explain that similar to the documentary they watched about Bessie Eldreth, their film does not need to be a complete story, but can show short clips to tell the audience about their character’s personality.

4. Student roles are:


Lead the discussion on writing the script. Make sure each actor has an acting and speaking role. Write stage directions where appropriate. Work with the director when it is time to rehearse, which may mean assisting actors with their lines.


Communicate with the writer and actors so that the script is performed as planned, suggesting changes if necessary. You are in charge of leading rehearsal. Make sure the staging (where people are on stage), tone, and pacing are all working.


[May have another role] Perform the script, working with the director. Work with the props and costume person as needed. Contribute ideas to the script during the writing process.

Technology guru

It is your job to film the scenes. Make sure the camera is working, that you can transfer the movie to a computer and edit it if necessary.

Props & Costumes

[May have another role] During the writing process, work with the writer and director to create any necessary props and costume items. Create these during early rehearsals, and finish in time for a dress rehearsal. If you finish early, help the actors with their lines.

5. Give instructions as necessary on using cameras or other film equipment.

6. Give students time to work on their projects. This could be a short 30 minute activity, but will likely take at least 60 minutes. Teachers may wish to extend the lesson if you want to give more focus to creating a full character and using technology.

Part 3: Sharing the films

1. Tell students that they will show their films, and their classmates will guess what character traits they were trying to portray. For this reason, students should not give detailed explanations of their film before they are shown.

2. Show one film at a time. After each film, ask the students in the audience to share what they learned about the character from the film. Check with the filmmakers to see if the characterization matches. If it does not match, have the audience suggest possible changes that would have made the characterization more clear. If possible, have students vote on which group did the best and award a small prize.


The video projects serves as the summative assessment, while the shorter writing assignments can be used for formative assessments. Check that the students successfully demonstrated knowledge of indirect and direct characterization. Teachers may wish to use this suggested rubric for the film (teachers may also wish to copy this on the back of the student filmmaking handout):

CHARACTERIZATION FILM RUBRIC 4 3 2 1 Points Evidence of Characterization

The main character’s personality was clear to the audience. Direct (1 ex.) and indirect characterization (3 ex.) were used effectively.

The main character’s personality was mostly clear, though some pieces may have been vague or confusing.

The main character’s personality was semi clear, and/or there was more direct than indirect characterization.

The main character’s personality was unclear, contradictory and/or confusing.


The acting, writing, directing, filming, and costume/props were all excellent and contributed equally to the film. The acting, writing, directing, filming, and costume/props were good, there may have been a few weak moments. The acting, writing, directing, filming, and costume/props were fair. Some pieces were weaker and should have been redone. The acting, writing, directing, filming, and costume/props were mediocre. There were several mistakes.


Dialogue was logical and flowed well in each scene (4 minimum). The separation between scenes was clear through use of props/costumes &/or film locations. The film was between 3-5 minutes.

Dialogue was mostly logical. Scenes (3-4) were clear though there may have been some confusion between them. The film was between 2-3 minutes or 5-6 minutes.

Dialogue was choppy and did not convey the character’s personality; &/or scenes (2-4) were poorly planned and executed; &/or film was between 1-2 minutes or over 6.

Dialogue seemed incomplete; &/or there were little or no scene changes (1-2); &/or the film was less than 1 minute.


Everyone worked together well, contributing equally. No warnings were given.

Everyone worked together well, though there was one teacher warning.

The group worked together fairly well, though there were 2 teacher warnings.

The group did not work together well and there were 3 or more teacher warnings.


Additional Resources

Teachers (and advanced high school students) may be interested in reading Patricia Sawin’s book on Bessie Eldreth, Listening for a Life, which is available as a free download at http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/usupress_pubs/57/.

Extension (especially for honors, AP, and IB classes) Teachers may wish to cater this lesson more directly to a discussion of gender. Ask students questions such as:

1. How does the way Bessie talks about herself reflect conventional American gender roles?

2. How is Bessie characterized by those around her (her family, the newscaster, the scholars who interview her, etc.)? What do you think she thinks of this characterization? Why do you think this?

3. How does Bessie characterize her husband? How do you know?

4. Based on this film, how do you think women living in the Blue Ridge Mountains are expected to act? What is valued and what is not?