The Internet TESL Journal

Critical Thinking: What a Character

Brent A. Jones
bjones_jp [at]
Kwansei Gakuin University (Japan)


This learner-centered task chain is designed to exercise all four language-skills and encourage both critical thinking and self-reflection. Learners brainstorm for language related to personality traits and characteristics, watch a short video segment that involves some type of dilemma and includes characters with various personalities, discuss the dilemma and attractive/unattractive characters, write a short essay about a character they like/dislike, and read and respond to each other's essays. This activity was designed for first-year non-English majors enrolled in a required university EFL course, but could be used in other learning contexts.


VCR and short video excerpt of movie, television drama, cartoon, etc. (should include a dilemma or controversial topic and interaction among several characters, all having various personalities or characteristics), English or bilingual dictionaries.


Outcomes or Productions

The main outcome will be student prepared essays describing characteristics or personality traits they hope to emulate or avoid. Again, these will be posted around the room for public viewing and eventually bound together as a class resource. At the same time, the discussions should also help students see multiple perspectives and force them to explain their ideas and opinions more fully. This task chain should provide opportunities to practice each of the four language skills and begin thinking more deeply about their own personalities and characteristics as well as those that they would like to emulate. I also hope students will listen carefully to their partners and begin developing public speaking skills such as organization and persuasion.


Evaluation of students will be based mainly on observation notes and the finished essay together with all drafts. Ideally, the instructor can use this activity to build on earlier lessons and follow it up periodically to take advantage of feeding functions.


The success of this task chain depends largely on the video clip and how well learners connect with the characters. Instructors should experiment with different clips, some with issues and characters that are familiar to the learners and some that are new or distant. Stronger reactions will most likely encourage deeper reflection, so instructors may want to focus on negative characteristics or require learners to write two essays. Finally, for classrooms that don't have access to a VCR, teachers can collect short stories or Aesop's fables as a springboard for discussions and writing.


This task chain should provide learners with the opportunity to develop not only language skills but also critical thinking and reasoning skills they will need in their other studies and after graduation. The following concepts and strategies were taken into consideration.

Major Concepts

Main Teaching Strategies

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X, No. 9, September 2004