Characterization and Culture – Lesson Plan

Students analyze a storytelling performance and create their own.

  • Length: about 90 minutes
  • Grades: 5-8


  • Students recognize the elements of performance in their own and others’ performances.
  • Students understand how the story is connected to African culture.
  • Students apply the elements of performance to their own characters.

Resource Used:

The Buzzard and the Monkey

Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts

elements of performance: body alignment, breath control, control of isolated body parts, diction, characterization

TV/VCR or DVD player, chart paper and markers (or overhead projector), list of stories to be acted out, variety of children’s storybooks, variety of simple props/costumes (e.g., basket, scarf, hat, cane, etc.)

Optional: graphic organizers for critical vocabulary, Essential Questions, characters from story

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Instructional Strategies and Activities

Who Is Junebug Jabbo Jones?
“The Buzzard and the Monkey” is told by storyteller John O’Neal. However, O’Neal performs it as Junebug Jabbo Jones. According to O’Neal, “Junebug Jabbo Jones is a genuine folk character, a legend in his own time.” There are a number of stories about his origins, but one thing for certain is that he came out of the civil rights movement.
O’Neal says that Junebug “is heir to a long tradition of trickster characters found in the folklore of African and other oppressed peoples who have been obliged by history and circumstance to oppose power with wit. While he is always concerned with important, ‘serious’ problems, Junebug wields humor and guile as indispensable weapons in his arsenal.” Today O’Neal passes down stories, values, and useful historical information as Junebug Jabbo Jones.

Pre-Video Activities

  1. Open the lesson by having students think-pair-share their favorite actors/actresses. Each student should identify a favorite character that particular actor/actress has portrayed. Ask them to share what the actor/actress did to make the performance memorable and then create a short summary of thoughts to use for a chart. Make a list of their responses so that you can add to it after watching “The Buzzard and the Monkey.”
  2. Introduce the critical vocabulary for this lesson. Have students discuss each word or concept in a small group and then write each vocabulary word down, followed by a brief explanation in their own words. (For ECE students or students who write slowly, you may want to create a typed list of the vocabulary words with a brief explanation of each that your students can easily remember and understand.)
  3. Share the Essential Questions with students so they will know what they are expected to learn from this lesson. You may want to have them write the questions down in their notes or post them somewhere in the room so students can refer to them as they watch.
  4. Identify the characters John O’Neal, the performer in “The Buzzard and the Monkey,” will be creating as he tells the story [storyteller, buzzard, rabbit, turtle, and monkey]. Divide the class into five groups and assign each group a particular character to analyze as they watch the video. As the students are watching, they should take notes that identify how the performer addresses each of the elements of performance. Now watch “The Buzzard and the Monkey.”

‘Why’ Stories

“The Buzzard and the Monkey” is an example of a “why” story. Another example of a “why” story in the Drama Arts Toolkit is “Anansi’s Rescue from the River.” Have students find other examples, perhaps from other cultures, or create one of their own. A good place to start might be Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. “Why” stories might be an interesting source for students to use when they are selecting stories to perform.

Post-Viewing Discussion

  1. Have students meet in their groups to compare notes on what they saw. They will then create a chart and share it with the class.
  2. Lead the students in a discussion of what they saw. When they have identifed all they saw, add things you might have noticed that they did not. Refer to the actor/actress list at the top of the lesson and ask whether students can add anything else to it using proper vocabulary words learned in today’s lesson. Some students may be willing to demonstrate or re-create parts of the performance during the discussion.
  3. Ask students how this story relates to African culture. Their responses should include things like animal characters, drought, etc. Discuss with them the oral tradition of storytelling and ask them how this story might have been changed from the original version (e.g., the use of such terms as “dive bombing,” “speed limit,” “buzzard dance,” etc.). Other questions to ask during this discussion:
    • Was there a lesson to be learned from this story?
    • What other cultures tell stories that teach lessons or entertain? (They should identify “Native American cultures,” among others.)
    • What stories have been passed down to you that can be associated with your cultural heritage?
  4. Depending on the length of your classes, this should be the last activity of the first day. Go back to the Essential Questions and, for homework, have students respond in writing to each question. You may have time to accomplish this at the end of class, or you may want to complete it as an oral review along with the Multiple-Choice Questions.

Elements of Performance Application

  1. Begin by reviewing the elements of performance. You may want to watch “The Buzzard and the Monkey” again or refer to the actor/actress chart made during the previous lesson. If activity #8 was completed as homework, you will need to review it orally or have students turn in the assignment.
  2. Tell the students that they are now going to create performances based on childhood stories and fairy tales and will apply what they have learned about the elements of performance. Explain to the class that actors/actresses develop a character part when they perform. They make specific choices about how to walk, talk, move, etc. At this point, introduce the concept of “characterization.” Discuss internal motivation, external circumstances, characters’ reactions to others and situations, etc.
  3. Have students continue to work in the same groups they were assigned to in the previous lesson. In groups, they should rehearse a story and select a character from the story to analyze and perform. You may want to have a list of familiar stories posted on the wall (e.g., “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Bears,” etc.); choose one story that all groups will re-create; extend to include stories from various cultures, brainstorming possibilities with the class; or simply allow students to decide on the story they would like to perform. As the students rehearse their performances of the stories they have chosen, walk around to each group and ask them questions about their choices, giving them input on their characterizations and answering their questions. Remind them that they are not expected to be professional actors, but they are to show evidence of understanding the elements of performance in their characterizations. Allow 15-20 minutes of rehearsal time, depending on how students are working. (If this is the first time students have attempted such a task, you may want to direct one group in the process before allowing students to work on their own or select a few willing students to model the process first.)
  4. Performance time: Have each group perform its story. After each performance, discuss with the class what they saw in terms of elements of performance. Have students be tactful in their analysis and offer suggestions on how to improve for the next time around. Suggest some ways to offer positive criticism:

    • “This might have worked better if …”

    • “There was evidence of …”

    • “I liked the way you did …”

    (Teachers can use the “three pluses and one wish” method for this kind of critique. Students point out three things they liked about the performance first and then one thing they would like to change. The elements of performance are what they will address in this procedure.)

  5. To close the lesson, review the Essential Questions, the Multiple-Choice Questions, and new vocabulary words.

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Extensions for Diverse Learners

  • Group students with different abilities together (place students with peers they feel comfortable working with).
  • Create graphic organizers.
  • On the written portion of the activity, allow students to show instead of tell or communicate information orally. (Students can also draw, create an audio recording, or use a variety of multiple intelligences approaches.)
  • Offer encouraging words as often as needed (very important for reluctant performers).
  • Create flash cards for critical vocabulary, with one word and its definition on each.
  • Have students perform scenes, monologues, etc. for an audience, creating characters and using the technical elements.
  • Have students write monologues about themselves and perform them.
  • Take students to a public place (somewhere where there are a lot of people) and have them do a character study of different people they observe.

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Writing To Communicate

  • Personal-Expressive: Write a memoir about the significance of a story told to you that has been passed down in your family for generations, or write a personal essay reflecting a story about yourself that your parents or grandparents tell over and over to anyone who will listen (this may be a story that embarrasses you or where you learned a lesson).
  • Literary: Turn a children’s story into a play by writing dialogue for the characters and employing the elements of drama.
  • Transactive: Watch your favorite movie or go see a play and write a review of the event including a character review of the actors, analyzing their performance based on the elements of performance.

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Applications Across the Curriculum

Language Arts

  • Have students become storytellers to younger children and perform familiar stories for them.


  • Explore the animals and/or climate of Africa.

Social Studies

  • Study one of the African cultures. Explore the importance of storytelling to the transmission of culture from generation to generation.

Practical Living

  • Create a story illustrating an element of a healthy lifestyle.

Vocational Studies

  • Invite a storyteller to the classroom to perform. Have the students prepare a list of questions they would like to ask the storyteller. Then have them interview him/her and write a feature article for the school newspaper.


  • Develop a special lesson, unit, or event focused on exploring African culture, having students research African music, dance, and visual arts as well as storytelling. For resources in developing this special event, take a look at these KET programs (and accompanying teacher’s guides and web sites):
    • Old Music for New Ears, especially performances by Paula Larke, Taj Mahal, Sparky Rucker, and Odetta
    • Dancing Threads: Community Dances from Africa to Zuni for instructions to the dance “Little Johnny Brown”
    • DanceSense, especially the first three programs on why people dance and cultural connections
    • “Celebrating Ancestors,” Program 10 from Art On-Air, for instructions on making masks
    • Telling Tales for other examples of African storytelling such as Mama Yaa’s version of “Anansi’s Rescue from the River” (Program 10)

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Open Response Assessment

You have been cast in the school play and now you have to create a character.


  1. Identify the character you will be portraying.
  2. Using the elements of performance, describe what you will do to make the character believable. You must address three of the four elements in your response.

Open Response Scoring Guide

4 3 2 1 0
Student demonstrates extensive knowledge of the elements of performance and applies these elements consistently and effectively. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding effectively, with insightful use of supporting examples and/or details. Student demonstrates broad knowledge of the elements of performance and applies these elements effectively. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding effectively, using supporting examples and/or details. Student demonstrates basic knowledge of the elements of performance and makes some correct application of this knowledge. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding using some supporting examples and/or details. Student demonstrates limited knowledge of the elements of performance and makes inappropriate or underdeveloped application of this knowledge. Student communicates this knowledge ineffectively, with few or no supporting examples and/or details. Student offers blank or irrelevant response.

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Performance Assessment

Performance Event:
Student will perform a monologue, short scene, or story re-creation focusing on a particular character.

Student will create the character by using the following elements of performance in his/her characterization:

  • breath control
  • diction
  • body alignment
  • control of isolated parts of the body

Performance Scoring Guide

4 3 2 1 0
Student portrays character, exhibiting extensive understanding of the elements of performance. Student demonstrates extensive critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student employs all the elements of performance in an incisive and thorough manner. Student portrays character, effectively exhibiting broad understanding of the elements of performance. Student demonstrates broad critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student successfully employs all the elements of performance. Student portrays character, exhibiting basic understanding of the elements of performance. Student demonstrates basic use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student partially employs all the elements of performance and/or is unsuccessful in using all the elements of performance. Student portrays character, exhibiting minimal understanding of the elements of performance. Student makes little or no use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student minimally uses the elements of performance, showing very little interest or enthusiasm. Student shows little or no effort of having attempted to complete the task.

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K-12English Language Arts and LiteracyScienceThe Arts