This section teaches my students to observe people. Specifically, they have to look at specific details in order to decode thoughts and feelings. As model, I choose a person and teach my students to see various details -- clothing, facial expressions, behavior, tone of voice, attitude, environments (cafeteria, hall, different classrooms) -- I can use to infer this person's thoughts and feelings. Along this observation process, I take notes. In the meantime, I prepare a poster with the details I expect them to observe and describe, and I keep it with the notes of our sharing for the entire duration of the unit. Before concluding this activity, the students discuss how the environment/setting is reflected in the individual's attitude; how the exposure to different teachers and or peers in the various classes affects the behavior; how clothes, choice of colors, and other objects symbolize a specific trait of the individual; or how the tone of the voice explains a state of mind. This preliminary activity ends with the students writing an analytical paper about the individual they have observed. The length varies according to the group of students -- two to three pages for the AP students, two pages for the Honors class, and one page for all the others -- to explain who the person they have observed is. At this point my students are ready to understand what elements or techniques an author might employ to convey characterization: setting, structure, verbal and/or physical imagery, and symbols.
Of course, this pre-reading activity taps into my students' prior-knowledge because many of them have highly-developed skills for reflecting, synthesizing and evaluating a "real person," while it gives them the skills they need to infer and interpret a character in a written text. It also places them in the Vygosky's zone of proximal development since their motivation is aroused to the point they need the teacher's guide to learn. At the same time, the activity is appropriate to all my students in spite of their various learning levels and/or specific needs. Similarly, it is an excellent pre-assessment to inform my future instructional choices because I can collect data about their ability to take notes, describe, draw conclusions, and write reflections. Soon after I have analyzed all this data, I can form appropriate groups that include students at the same or different learning levels, and decide the strategies I want to implement. It is important to underline that the group composition is connected to the student's learning progress and changes continuously during the entire unit.