Classroom activities to explore character and motive

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An important part of reading and writing is exploring characters and the role they play in a story. Empathy is a key word here – children have to be able to put themselves in a character’s shoes and think about their motives and emotions.

This can be difficult, especially for younger children, but empathising with book characters and considering why they chose this course of action, or what the consequences would be if they chose another, is a great way to develop a wide range of thinking and communication skills.

Below you’ll find 5 classroom activities which will help your students explore and empathise with the characters they're reading about. They work best with primary age pupils but there’s no reason why older students won’t enjoy them too.

The activities are all adapted from Ros Wilson’s fantastic Ideas for Big Talk (Andrell Education). Download the full booklet here.

Activity 1: Thought tracking

This technique supports children in examining the private thoughts of characters at certain points in a story (particularly tense moments work well here).

Have a group of students recreate a scene from a book as a freeze frame. The rest of the class make a circle around the frozen character(s) and each student says what he/she thinks one of the characters in the freeze frame is thinking at this moment in the story.

To keep a permanent record: Photograph the freeze frame, print out the photo and stick it in the centre of a large piece of paper. The children can draw thought bubbles from their chosen character and write down their imagined thoughts.

Activity 2: Interior monologue

The purpose of this activity is to encourage children to think on their feet about continuity of thought, in role as a specific character.

First, ensure students know what a monologue is – a prolonged talk by one person, usually written as if they are talking to themselves. Next, students either talk through the illustrations of a book as a character, or talk over a film clip where a character is not saying anything.

This activity can be quite intimidating. Have students work in pairs at first and then let the more confident kids perform their monologues.

Activity 3: Book gossip

We all like a good gossip! In this activity, children are given a situation from a story and work in pairs to role play as two minor characters talking about what they think of the main characters and what they are up to.

This is a great way to explore less prominent characters and also develop a rounder picture of the main characters.


Activity 4: Who said what?

Give children examples of dialogue from a story. Can the children decide who said what?

For example, who would say, ‘I want the kingdom for myself rather than for my brother and sisters!’? Is it Bob the Builder, Harry Potter or Edmund?

Children have to explain why they think that character is the one who said it. Pick more ambiguous quotes and characters from the same book or film to increase the difficulty of this activity.

Activity 5: Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Have students work in pairs. One plays the magic mirror, the other plays a character from a film or book. The character asks the mirror what it thinks the consequences of an action the character is considering taking may be. For example, Edmund from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe may ask: ‘What will happen if I take my brother and sisters to the White Witch?’

Remind the students that the enchanted mirror in the story of Snow White NEVER lies. It tells the truth, whether that’s what the characters want to hear or not. It also doesn't give yes or no answers. Students playing the mirror should give an explanation of what they think may occur should the character choose that certain path and why.

This activity is a great way to encourage kids to ask open-ended questions and to consider the alternative directions a story could have taken. If the children haven’t read the end of the story yet, it can also be a good prediction exercise.

You might need to initially model the role of the mirror yourself, before splitting your class into pairs and/or larger groups to ask and answer their own questions.


This article was originally posted to Creative Teaching and Learning Blog on 12/08/2014.

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