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Analyzing Plot, Theme, and Character Traits in Autobiographical Narrative Video
By Aaron Schlaegel



To review standards, see the California Department of Education’s website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ .

English Language Arts: Grade 7

2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics):

2.2 Write responses to literature:
a. Develop interpretations exhibiting careful reading, understanding, and insight.
b. Organize interpretations around several clear ideas, premises, or images from the literary work.
c. Justify interpretations through sustained use of examples and textual evidence.

3.0 Literary Response and Analysis
Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text

3.2 Identify events that advance the plot and determine how each event explains past or present action(s) or foreshadows future action(s).
3.3 Analyze characterization as delineated through a character’s thoughts, words, speech patterns, and actions; the narrator’s description; and the thoughts, words, and actions of other characters.
3.4 Identify and analyze recurring themes across works (e.g., the value of bravery, loyalty, and friendship; the effects of loneliness).

To review standards, see the California Department of Education’s website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ .

English Language Arts: Grade 7

Reading Standards for Literature: Key Ideas and Details:

  1. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  2. Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).

Reading Standards for Informational Text: Key Ideas and Details:

  1. Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

Writing Standards: Text Types and Purposes:

  1. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
    1. Introduce a topic or thesis statement clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/ effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
    2. Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
    3. Use appropriate transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
    4. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
    5. Establish and maintain a formal style.
    6. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.

Speaking and Listening Standards: Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study.

LEARNING CONTEXT: This lesson is designed to be a culminating extension essay at the end of a writing unit before the seventh grade writing test. It assumes that students and teachers regularly revise and analyze student work, eventually giving it a score on a rubric. This revising and analyzing process is good at helping students become familiar with what is required in their own essays. The lesson also assumes that students have completed and understand the textbook chapters on Plot, Characterization/Character Traits, and Theme.

TIME REQUIRED: The lesson will take part of class on at least 3 days, in addition to screening times for the videos. The screening could be done at home via the internet, at the library, or at lunch.



  • Students will be able to display understanding and insight in their analysis of plot, theme, and character traits.
  • Students will make connections between their thesis and supporting evidence and demonstrate strong control of sentence structure.



  • What is redress and what is its importance? 
  • What did the Japanese Americans have to do in order to finally secure redress?


The Time of Remembrance video archives document the lived experiences of Japanese-Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the implementation of Executive Order 9066. Students will be provided with a summary of Japanese Relocation During World War II, the central piece of the writing assignment. This document is from the National Archives.


Give students the sample summary essay that is in response to the “Japanese Relocation During World War II” document. Students should take on the role of a teacher and give the sample essay a grade on the provided rubric, and write some advice on how to improve the summary essay. The entire packet has been formatted to be very similar to the California Writing Test prompts.


  • Day 1
    • Students analyze and give a rubric grade along with feedback to the summary essay. The content of the summary essay covers basic background on WWII and Japanese Internment.
    • Read the student essay in class. Have students explain why it earned the grade they gave it, and offer suggestions.
    • Explain how Setting, Character Traits, and Theme apply to more than just the narrative fiction literature that students have mostly been talking about. Give or solicit ideas of other areas where these terms apply; ie: the setting of your favorite vacation spot,  the setting of your favorite time in history, the character traits of someone in your family, the theme of a coach’s locker room speech to his team.
    • Students learn that each individual will write a five-paragraph 500-word essay. It will be on either setting in an autobiographical narrative, character traits in an autobiographical narrative, or theme in an autobiographical narrative. These essays will parallel Response to Literature essays, but will be based upon video autobiographical narratives instead of literature.
    • The students can either chose to watch the autobiographical narrative videos together at home, or come in during some teacher appointed time to watch the videos at school outside of regular class time. It would be helpful to create and post a schedule of four or five screenings of select videos. Students who need to watch the videos at school would know to choose one of the videos that will be screened at school. For example: Marielle Tsukamoto - Wednesday Lunch, Kiyo Sato - Thursday Lunch, Charles Kobayashi – Friday Lunch. Another option is for students to arrange to meet at the library and watch the videos together there after school or at lunch.
    • Students are grouped into groups of three. Each group must choose one of the autobiographical narrative videos on the TOR website to focus on. Then, in their group they will choose who will do the Setting essay, who will do the Character Traits essay, and who will do the Theme essay. When they have made up their minds, they can sign up on the provided signup sheet.
  • Day 2 (After enough time for students to watch the videos together and prepare a rough draft)
    • In an editing/revising session the members of each group rotate their rough drafts within their groups of three. This will broaden their exposure to the Response to Literature essay topics. Students are to give a grade on the rubric, explain why the rough draft deserves that score, and offer suggestions for improvement.

    If time allows, have the students writing essays on Setting get together and talk about problems and solutions, have the students writing essays on Character Traits get together and talk about problems and solutions, and have the students writing essays on Theme get together and talk about problems and solutions.

  • Day 3 (After sufficient time to write a final draft)
    • Students turn in their final drafts. Students are graded according to the rubric.


WRITING TASK: Students will write a 500-word essay on either setting, character traits or theme in an autobiographical narrative. Directions, scoring, and the Japanese Relocation During World War II document are included in the handout.


Following the writing prompt:

Students are evaluated using the provided rubrics which are from the California Writing 7th Grade Writing Test.

© 2005 Elk Grove Unified School District