Creative Writing Exercise: Character Swap n' Sketch
If you teach creative writing, then you’re probably looking for ways to incorporate fun, creative exercises into your lesson plans. In this creative writing exercise, students work together to create funny character sketches that they use later in writing a short story.
The purpose of this creative writing exercise is brainstorming, because it can be hard to start with a blank sheet of paper and jump right into a short story. So I like to give my students the opportunity to use exercises like this one to generate several ideas about characters, settings, and plots before they begin writing a story.
One of the benefits of this lesson is that students work in small groups, so they don't have to come up with ideas all on their own. It can be fun to see what one student does with another student's idea, and how they differ in their visions for their characters. It gives students an opportunity to share creative writing tips with one another. This is always a fun lesson to do, because I end up laughing my way out of the classroom at the end of the period.
Setting Up the Activity
Have students take a sheet of notebook paper and tear it into six pieces. On three of those pieces, they should write down physical traits that a person might possess (examples: peg leg, pot belly, balding, tall & skinny, athletic build, crazy eyes, etc.). Tell them to be as unique and specific as possible – this activity won’t be any fun if people write generalities such as “blue eyes” or “short.” On the other three pieces of paper, have them write down personality traits (such as kleptomaniac, obsessed with “Grey’s Anatomy,” or superiority complex).
Now put students into groups of four. In each group, students should make two piles: one for their collective physical traits, and one for their collective personality traits. Ask one student per group to shuffle each pile.
Every student in the group should draw three sheets from each pile, so that they will all end up with three physical characteristics and three personality traits. Tell students they are going to create a character sketch using these traits.
For the character sketch, students must write a paragraph describing the person who would hold all six of their traits. They should include more details about the traits themselves, and then add information they think would go with a person who has those traits. (For example, if someone has an eye patch, WHY do they have it?)
Using the Information
Once students have their character sketches, they should share them with their groups and/or the class as a whole. Students can use these sketches for inspiration in creating their next short stories.
If time permits, I like to have students put their papers back in the pile, shuffle, and re-draw. You can also have them trade piles with another group to make it more interesting for them. This way, every student can write two or three character sketches in one class period.
Evaluation and Assessment
In Creative Writing class, so much of the grading is subjective. I assign "real" grades for finished products (like poems or short stories). For activities such as this one, I consider it to be a practice toward a goal, and I don't assess it the same way I would if the students had been given a chance to refine and polish their work.
I generally don’t grade this assignment, because it’s more for fun and inspiration than it is to demonstrate a skill. However, if you don't want to ask your students to do an assignment without receiving credit for it, you can always collect the character sketches and comment/grade; you can also grade as the students present their sketches to their classmates.