The character log is a way for students to catalog a "Who's Who" of any story. Obviously, this can be accomplished without technology, but I have watched this activity blossom into something significantly more meaningful since switching my classes to OneNote. Students keep up with a progressively evolving chart of characters and their traits/actions/information as the story evolves. It forces struggling readers to pick out distinguishing bits of information as they read that might otherwise be brushed to the side, as well as keeping those observations organized and preserved as a reference as they continue reading. (Not to mention an excellent study resource they can use before taking a quiz/test over the text.)
The use of OneNote maintains a "living" document that both teacher and student retain constant access to, from school or home computer or on smart phone. Since the log is an evolving document, students who struggle with disorganization/forgetfulness can never lose their logs or forget to bring them to class. As a digital chart, the teacher is able to make minor modifications/additions for students who may need the assistance, subtly, right in the middle of class. With the collaborative capabilities of OneNote, pairs or groups of students can work together, and classes can share their work easily with each other. The inclusion of web images adds a strong visual aspect to the text of the story, especially for students who may have reading struggles. Here is one approach to using a character log with students and digital notebooks:
- I use the Class Notebook version of OneNote with my students, which makes it easy to share an empty chart with the students. I first create a page in OneNote titled Monster Character Log, then insert a 2 x 20 table. This is the template that each student will use. I leave mine pretty basic and expect them to use color to help divide/organize on their own.
- I then use the Distribute Page feature of Class Notebook to place this page in each of my students' Literature Notes section in his/her personal notebook.
- In the space to the right of each character, students will keep track of noteworthy facts/traits about each. This is a working list, growing as students get deeper into the book. Things written should be important to the story that help distinguish characters from each other. I typically have major characters like Steve and King require a minimum of six to ten facts. Other characters may only need three to five. This is for the teacher to decide. It may be best to help students get started by providing a few examples.
- As students progress through the novel, they are given class time at various stopping points to add to their logs. If you are a 1:1 or BYOD school, then students should be able to add this information as they read. They should keep the log growing until they reach the end of the book.
- After students have had time to get acquainted with the book and the first characters introduced, I have them begin adding photos to their character logs. I typically do not allow any physical descriptions in the Significant Facts section. The photo portion of the character log requires students to pick out those physical traits of characters and express an understanding of them by accurately pasting a photo of each that correctly depicts them. The photos come from search engine image searches. Since there is no movie version of this particular novel, doing the task correctly requires students to pay attention to the text. (Doing a Bing search for character names will not yield useable results.) I do not allow photos of any celebrities, classmates, or illustrations.
- In addition to capturing facts and pictures of the characters, I also have my students add a touch of visual organization to their logs through the use of adding color shading to the table cells.
- I provide a how-to subpage in the class notebook that shows students how to do this.
- The opportunity for collaboration among students is deep with using OneNote. You can allow students to work together in pairs or small groups to review each other's work. Or, if you prefer, students can work through the whole character log process as pairs or groups to build the logs together. Whichever approach you prefer, by the end of the book each of your students should have a thorough and organized resource detailing the characters in the book. This is a great tool to be used for in-class review, open response type essays, class discussion, and obviously for students to access when studying for a final exam over the novel.
- It is also possible to create a class character log in the Collaboration Space in the class notebook, either instead of individual character logs, or as an end-of-the-book follow-up. Each student in the class could be required to contribute one fact for two or three specific characters, the result being a truly collaborative character log built by the entire class. The students could vote from a selection of photos for which is the best to use for each character, and in the process discuss why the winning photo is indeed one that most accurately depicts each character.