Reading and Exploring Texts Part 2: Exploring Characters, Setting, and Plot in Literary Analysis

This series of posts goes through the Key Knowledge and Skills for the new Area of Study 1: Reading and Exploring Texts for VCE English and EAL. Each post has a brief discussion of the Key Knowledge and Skills covered, some suggestions for resources, and five lesson activities. Even if you’re not an English teacher in Victoria, I hope you find the suggestions for activities and resources useful.

Characters, settings, and plot

The study of characters, settings, and plot is central to English, so much so that we can all – teachers and students alike – get a little bogged down here. A surface-level discussion of these elements can lead students to write descriptive or summarising responses, taking them away from the analytical purpose of this outcome.

Character, setting, and plot can be taught in ways that go beyond simple recount and description by encouraging students to analyse and interpret their significance in the text. You can do this in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Asking higher-order thinking questions: Encourage students to think critically about the characters, setting, and plot by asking questions that go beyond surface-level details. For example, “What motivates the main character to make the decisions they do?” or “How does the setting influence the events of the story?”
  2. Analysing character development: Help students understand how characters change and grow over the course of a story by asking them to identify specific moments or events that contribute to this development. Encourage them to consider how these changes relate to the themes and meanings of the text.
  3. Examining the function of setting: Have students consider how the setting of a story contributes to its atmosphere and mood. Ask them to identify specific elements of the setting (e.g. weather, location, time period) and consider how these contribute to the overall meaning of the text.
  4. Analysing cause and effect in plot: Encourage students to consider the causes and effects of events in the plot and how they contribute to the overall story arc. Ask them to identify specific turning points in the plot and consider their significance in relation to the characters and themes of the story.

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For resources and PL on the new study design, visit the VCE Hub

Activities

Here are five suggestions for lesson activities which can target this Key Knowledge and Skill:

  • Character Analysis Gallery Walk: Create a gallery of quotes from the set text that highlight different aspects of a character’s personality. Have students walk around the room and read the quotes, making inferences about the character’s traits and motivations.
  • Setting Scavenger Hunt: Provide students with a list of descriptive words and have them search for examples of these words (or synonyms) being used to describe the setting in the set text. Have them write down the word and the evidence from the text that led them to identify it.
  • Plot Diagramming: Have students create a plot diagram for the set text, including the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Have them use evidence from the text to support their analysis of the plot.
  • Character Interviews: Divide the class into small groups and have each group choose a different character from the set text. Have the groups create a list of interview questions for their character and then role-play the interview, using evidence from the text to support their responses.
  • Setting Visualisations: Have students choose a specific setting from the set text and draw a detailed picture of it, using sensory language and evidence from the text as annotations to support their descriptions. Have them share their pictures with the class and discuss the impact of the setting on the characters and plot.

Have a question about this post, or anything else related to Reading, Writing, or Digital? Get in touch below:

AI Disclaimer: I used ChatGPT to construct parts of this series. I’ll be making a full post later outlining exactly what prompts I used and going through the entire process.

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