Or costumes and character. Whichever is your pleasure.
Welcome to my new feature! I’m going to start blogging about teaching here since (a) I hate having two blogs and (b) academia is part of what makes me an Englishist. My plan is to post a lesson plan or assignment idea every other week.
I used this particular activity in my Writing about Literature class the Friday before spring break. My students and I didn’t feel like doing much work, so they (of course) opted for watching something. I told them we don’t just watch stuff for funsies. If we were going to watch something, they had to do some work. This activity could also easily be turned into a paper or short assignment to further explore character or used to discuss visual argument in a non-literature course.
I used the television show Parks & Recreation for this activity, but any TV show or movie will do. Our class meets for 50 minutes, so a 22-minute episode was the perfect length for watching and discussing.
I have three lit classes, so I chose three different episodes of the show (one for each class). I used:
- “Greg Pikitis” (Season 2, Episode 7)
- “Ron & Tammy: Part Two” (Season 3, Episode 4)
- “The Fight” (Season 3, Episode 13)
In order to do this lesson, students should already have a firm grasp on the literary elements, particularly plot, character, and setting. A familiarity with irony is also important.
Before watching the episode, I went over the purpose of costumes in drama. Students were then instructed to watch the episode, paying special attention to the characters’ clothing.
During our discussion we talked about how clothing related to character traits. Since the “Greg Pikitis” episode takes place on Halloween, we were also able to discuss what the Halloween costumes revealed about the characters.
Since Parks & Recreation mostly takes place in an office, we discussed how the characters felt about their jobs, what their duties might be, and how seriously they took their jobs based on their clothing. We were also able to explore what the clothing revealed about a character’s economic status.
We also talked about how clothing was related to the action of the plot (this can be done using the plot pyramid) and to the conflict.
If I do the activity again, I will probably assign students to track a specific character throughout the episode to better focus their analysis. Since some characters feature more prominently than others, assigning specific characters will give students a chance to pay attention to the minor characters as well as the main characters.
A good companion activity would be for students to then take a character from a play and decide on a costume for him or her based on the text.
This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.