Contributed by Libby Mislan
To invite students to fully inhabit and take full ownership of their developing characters before continuing the writing process.
- As students walk in, they each find a post-it note on their desk. They look up to the SMARTBoard to see the prompt for the week’s opening ritual exercise (which always involves writing on a post-it note.) They respond to the prompt: On your post-it, write a question you might ask someone to get to know them better.
- Introduce students to the idea of a character grill. Define the verb “To Grill”–To subject someone to intense questioning–as a group. Let students know that for the character grill, they are going to become their main character from the short stories they are writing, and answer questions from their classmates as their characters.
- Pick a student volunteer and ask them to share the name of their main character. Write their character’s name on the board. Spin them around three times and say, “This is no longer ___(student name), they are now ____(character’s name.)” Then have the student sit in a chair in front of the classroom.
- To begin the activity, encourage students to start with the questions they wrote on their post-it notes during their opening ritual. As time goes on, encourage students to ask questions that have more depth to reveal more about the character. Give 2.5 minutes for each “grill” session. Allow several students to take a turn in the “hot seat”.
- Reflection: Students can reflect on how it felt to answer questions on the spot, how it felt to formulate interesting questions, and why this activity might help us as authors.
Transition into Activity
Ask students how they would go about getting to know a new classmate, teacher, or friend. Highlight the role of questions in learning more about a person.
Transition out of Activity
Connect the activity to the upcoming writing assignment: “Remember, you don’t need to include every detail about your character in your story, but as the author, you have the authority to know everything about your character. Think and write about your character as a complicated, unique individual.”
Students seated in an audience formation, with one student at the front of the room. (Could also be in half circle, whole circle, or with audience at their desks.)
- Model the activity first. Ask a classroom teacher or paraprofessional to take the hot seat, or do it yourself.
- Throughout the character grilling, model asking compelling questions that get at deeper information about the character.
- To provide added structure, time the activity: set a timer for 2.5 minutes, and let students know that is the amount of time they’ll have to ask questions. (i.e. “2.5 minutes are on the clock, okay…go!”)
- If the classroom includes students with mobility challenges, have all the characters sit at the front of the room when grilled.
- For students who are shy or more hesitant and would do better with a lower-focus option, allow them try out being “grilled” as their character for just one minute.
Role of the Teachers and Paraprofessionals
- If the students are hesitant to volunteer to be “grilled,” a teacher or paraprofessional may volunteer to go first.
- Teachers and paraprofessionals may participate by writing their own questions on post-it notes, and actively asking questions during the character grill exercise.
Share the prompt on a slide or in the chat. Students may still write their questions on paper at home or could share them in the chat. To keep each grill session running smoothly, the Teaching Artist may need to take a more active role in calling on students to ask their questions.