Characterization Lesson Activity: Improv Mini-Theater

Improv Mini-Theater is a quick, effective, and fun activity to help students understand characterization. In groups of 4, students are each given a secret trait, and in one short improvised acting scene, they try to make their secret character trait as obvious and clear to their group members as possible. Then, group members try to guess each others traits. Here’s exactly how to run the activity:


Make up 4 character traits (I chose: You think you are smarter than everyone else, you are overly friendly, you are argumentative, and you over-worry about everything) and write them on small slips of paper. Then, fold the slips of paper so the writing is not visible. Keep these four slips together with a paper clip or notebook page. Make a stack of these four slips of paper for each group in your class.

Set-Up in Class

1. Organize class into groups of 4.

2. Hand out slips of paper to students, directing them not to let their group members see what is written on theirs.

3. Give each group a scenario for their scene. (I used: astronauts of the first moon landing, competitors in the locker room of the world toothbrushing championships, and a family on vacation in New York City)

4. Clearly communicate the goal of the game: Without saying it, try to make your character’s trait so obvious and clear your group members will be able to guess it at the end.

Game Time

I gave groups 3 minutes to improvise their scenes with each other, and it felt like plenty of time for them to get their characters across. Feel free to walk around and interact with groups as a “character” in their scene to make things for interesting. Also, if you have more time, you could have each group perform their scene for the whole class.


While the Improv Mini-Theater game is a lot of fun, the most important part of the activity for learning is when students reflect on what they did and experienced. Ask students for specific examples of what they said or did to make their character trait obvious and clear to others, and connect those specific examples to more universally applicable strategies. Here is what our class came up with: gestures, descriptive language, diction, acting superior, statements, reactions.


Use the Improv Mini-Theater activity to draw a connection between what students experienced and how writers use characterization, enabling students to better understand that writers must make their characters’ traits clear to the reader through description, dialogue, actions, reactions, and thoughts. Model analyzing characterization with the YA lit text you are reading in class (Mine was How I Live Now), and then have students practice, and collect some of their work for assessment.

Improv Mini-Theater Blackboard



To extend students’ new understanding of characterization, have students annotate characterization throughout the YA lit novel. Here is an assignment I created for students to do this:

Characterization Annotations Assignment

Goal: Understand how each character is characterized throughout the novel How I Live Now.

Task: Annotate details that characterize any of the characters in the novel How I Live Now.

Scoring Rubric for Annotations

Level 0 (0 Point) Level 1 (1 Points) Level 2 (2 Points)
Student does not identify the detail their written annotation is referring toORStudent identifies a detail that is not characterizing one of the novel’s characters. Annotation identifies a detail that characterizes one of the novel’s major characters, but it is unclear or inexact, leaving room for confusion or misunderstanding. Annotation uses underlining, circling, highlighting, sticky notes, boxing, or another method to clearly identify a detail that characterizes one of the novel’s major characters.
Student does not explain or inaccurately explains what the detail conveys about a particular character. Annotation explains vaguely or superficially what the detail conveys about a specific character. Annotation explains precisely and insightfully what characteristic the detail conveys about a specific character.
Student does not explain why or how the detail conveys a particular characteristic about. Annotation makes some mention of why or how the detail conveys a particular characteristic about the character. Annotation elaborates clearly on why or how the detail conveys a particular characteristic about the character.

Scoring Process

This assignment will be graded out of total 100 points. Each annotation will receive a score between 0 and 6. This means:

-Your annotations can be a mix of complex and simple ones, long and short ones

-You can choose how much information to include based on each detail you find

-Doing more 6-point annotations means you do not have to do as many annotations throughout the novel to reach the total points you need

-Doing more 1-2 point annotations means you have to do more annotations to reach the total points you need

Additionally, to keep students intellectually engaged throughout the activity and lesson, have them complete a worksheet like this one throughout the activity and the following lesson:

Characterization Notes

Characteristic/trait (n.): a distinguishing quality of a character’s nature

How we conveyed our characters’ traits in our acting:

Characterization (n.): a literary element; the concept of creating and developing characters in a narrative

Types of Characterizing Details Types of Character Traits
DescriptionDialogueActionsThoughts PhysicalPersonalityMotivationsDesiresValuesFears


Can you think of more?

Detail 1: “She made a point of asking me lots of questions about my life and listened very carefully to the answers like she was trying to figure something out about me but not in the way most adults do, pretending to listen while thinking about something else.” –How I Live Now pg. 14


Detail 2: I’m still trying to get my head around all this when instead of following the signs that say Exit he turns the car up onto this grass and then drives across to a sign that says Do Not Enter and of course he Enters and then he jogs left across a ditch and suddenly we’re out on the highway.” –How I Live Now pg. 4


Understanding characterization enriches a student’s reading of any YA lit, and using drama and games in the English classroom to connect to English concepts make learning a lot more fun and engaging for students. The Improv Mini-Theater activity presents a way to enhance students’ comprehension of YA lit through a fun and engaging activity.