I’m always looking for ways to incorporate my personal nerdy interests into my lessons. The reason for this is twofold – I enjoy talking about it, and if I enjoy talking about it students enjoy hearing about it. Do you remember any classes where the teacher seemed utterly uninterested in the course material? Did that make you interested in the course material? Probably not. Now how about the biology teacher that talked breathlessly about their favorite aspects of amphibian evolution? Still probably not, but you have to admit you were a lot more engaged than in the previous example.
I wanted to introduce a class of Grade 7’s on my practicum to aspects of character, specifically character traits. Dungeons and Dragons is much more than just a nerdy activity. In essence, you use dice to roll a character, then play out a sort of fantasy or video game plot role playing as that character with your friends (who are also role-playing their characters) while the most responsible friend sets up the story and challenges you face. One of the great things about Dungeons and Dragons is the randomness – because of the element of dice rolling, neither the players nor the dungeon master know how the story is going to play out. Many DnD players will tell you that rolling a character, creating a backstory, and role-playing the hodge-podge of random attributes is what makes DnD the greatest game ever made (*citation needed).
I created a simplified template of a character sheet, using the emotions from Pixar’s Inside Out (Anger, Joy, Fear, Sadness) as the emotional dimension of a character (scored from 1-6), and the classic DnD attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Fortitude, Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom, scored from 1-6) for the physical dimension of the character. I explained each of these attributes in detail and then told students they were to roll a 6-sided dice for each of these. Interestingly, students were easily able to grasp that a character who scored 1,1,6,5 in the emotional aspect was really a depressed and anxious person whereas a character who rolled 6, 6, 1, 1 was a fearless, brash, and bold person. Likewise a character who rolled 1, 1, 2, 6, 6 was more of a nerd who would use brains over brawn to solve problems, and a character who rolled 6, 6, 6, 1, 1 was a brawny meathead who would use their superior strength to solve problems. I also wrote up 20 random backstory attributes to be rolled with a 20-sided die (they love rolling the D20). I included alignment as well, whether or not the character was good or evil. I explained it fairly simply using comic book heroes and villains.
The first half of the lesson was devoted to rolling and generating the character while the secodn half of the lesson involved me providing three writing prompts on the board. The students would then choose a writing prompt and explore their character. I used the character’s birthday, daily routine, or how they would deal with someone cutting in line at the supermarket, but you can pick one that tickles your fancy. I found that students needed to be told how to “roll” an attribute, but they had no problem connecting numerical stats to qualitative personality traits. The stories were pretty fantastic. Keep in mind this is a creative writing activity, not a mechanics writing, so don’t assess too heavily on their spelling and grammar. It’s more about the story and how they can explore a character they generated randomly.
While optional, I included a space for the students to draw a crude version of their character. I let them have as much space as they wanted to try to visually represent their character’s attributes.
Link to Googledoc with worksheet: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1f1NYvZfDYxUxCIWYHtJY_1n3IFZj0-0bSmF8JwnUwjI/edit?usp=sharing