Teaching and learning cycle lesson: level 3 - 6, character development

​​​​This sequence of lessons uses the modelling phase of the teaching and learning cycle to focus on a close reading of the description of Roald Dahl’s character Mr Twit. Knowledge about language developed through this detailed reading can later be used to support students’ writing. 

Text details

'The Twits'

Author: Roald Dahl, Published by: Jonathan Cape Ltd & Penguin Books Ltd.

The Twits by Roald Dahl tells the story of Mr Twit and Mrs Twit who do not like each other very much and enjoy playing awful tricks on each other. 

Lesson overview

The focus of this series of lessons is on character development centring on Mr Twit. In his description of Mr Twit, Roald Dahl uses overt evaluative choices in expanded noun groups and prepositional phrases to build a description of his physical appearance and personality.   

Through this sequence, students will examine the description of Mr Twit to understand:

  • how the author describes the physical attributes of Mr Twit 
  • how the author describes the personality of Mr Twit (what he does, how he behaves, what he thinks)
  • the language resources which develop the character.  

The narrative is suitable for Levels 3 to 6.

Learning intention

We will read Roald Dahl’s description of Mr Twit and focus on the language choices which build a picture of Mr Twit and help us understand what kind of character he is. 

Success criteria

I can identify, describe and explain the ways in which the author uses language to help the reader align or not with a character.  

Theory/practice connections

As students move through primary school, they read and write texts which include more complex noun groups. In all kinds of texts, noun groups can be used to package ‘chunks’ of information, quite often in complex ways. Simple sentences can contain a considerable information for students to comprehend.

In narrative texts, noun groups often provide details about things, characters and places.   When reading, it is helpful for students to see noun groups as a ‘chunk’ of information rather than a series of words (Derewianka, 2011, p.42).

Identifying details about a character in a narrative is one way of supporting students to interpret ways in which authors try to make us align, or not align, with characters through details which elaborate on their appearance and disposition. 

Role of the reader

Text decoder, text participant, text user, text analyst.

Lesson 1: Building the context or field: Characters in narrative

Learning intention

We will recall characters from familiar narratives we either like or dislike and provide reasons.

Success criteria

I can distinguish between familiar characters in narratives that appeal and those that do not. I can provide reasons why I like or dislike certain characters. 

Links to curriculum

Level two

Speaking and listening

Compare opinions about characters, events and settings in and between texts. For more information, see: Content description VCELT242

Level three

Speaking and listening

Discuss texts in which characters, events and settings are portrayed in different ways, and speculate on the authors’ reasons. For more information, see: Content description VCELT274

Level four

Reading and viewing

Describe the effects of ideas, text structures and language features of literary texts. For more information, see: Content description VCELT283

Lesson sequence

This lesson will draw on student’s familiarity with narrative texts and characters to explore the ways in which they have responded to different characters.

  1. Ask the students to think about some characters from narratives they are familiar with, distinguishing between those characters they align with and those they don’t.
  2. Allow students time to look through narratives available in books in the classroom to find parts which provide details of the characters, their appearance, their actions, their dispositions which they can record to share later.
  3. Share responses inviting the students to explain why they liked or didn’t like the character. 

Differentiation

Responses can be varied based on students' reading and interest in characters. Students requiring support can be guided to recall characters in narratives that have been read in class or provided with prompts to guide their selection.

Lesson 2: Characterisation and noun groups

This lesson will focus on how noun groups provide considerable detail about Mr Twit’s appearance and character.

Learning intention

We will read Roald Dahl’s description of Mr Twit with a focus on noun groups and how these contribute to building a picture of Mr Twit to help us understand what kind of character he is. 

Success criteria

I can identify, describe and explain the ways in which the author uses noun groups to build understanding of a character.

Links to the curriculum

Level two

Reading and viewing

Analyse how different texts use nouns to represent people, places, things and ideas in particular ways. For more information, see: Content description VCELY223

Level four

Writing

Understand that the meaning of sentences can be enriched through the use of noun groups/phrases and verb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases. For more information, see: Content description VCELA292

Level five

Writing

Understand how noun groups/phrases and adjective groups/phrases can be expanded in a variety of ways to provide a fuller description of the person, place, thing or idea. For more information, see: Content description VCELA324

For the teacher

About noun groups

Noun groups are the main grammatical resource for establishing the ‘who?’ or ‘what?’ in the clause. The head noun is the core part of the noun group.

Noun groups can consist of a single word or can be expanded by adding words before the head noun (pre-modifier) and/ or after the head noun (post- modifier or Qualifier).

Roald Dahl’s narratives have characters which appeal and those that do not. In the first chapter of The Twits, Roald Dahl introduces us to hairy-faced men. Recall this chapter, asking the students about some of the main ideas Roald Dahl introduces – for example, he suggests that hairy faced men might not want you to know what they actually look like, he wonders how they keep themselves clean.

This chapter sets the reader up for the next chapter where Mr Twit is introduced. Prior to reading this extract, a discussion of the meaning of ‘twit’ will have taken place. 

 It is possible to go into further detail about the language resources which make up the noun group. Derewianka and Jones (2016) suggest that questions can be asked to define what each part does, then identifying its function, and later the grammatical form.  That is, using terms like ‘pointer’ or ‘describer’ can help students understand the purpose of the item.  

Noun group

How many?Which one/s?To what degree?What type?What are we talking about?
one ofthesevery hairy-faced men
FunctionQuantifierPointer Intensifier DescriberThing
Grammatical formnumber worddeterminerdegree adverbadjectivenoun

Lesson sequence

  1. Read the chapter ‘Mr Twit’ with the students. Highlight that this our introduction to Mr Twit. Ask students, ‘How is Mr Twit depicted? What are your first impressions?’ List responses, asking students to tell you the words that help them to get these impressions. Here, students might provide examples of the adjectives in the extract, or groups of words which provide descriptive details. At this point, accept all contributions, asking them what their selections tell you about Mr Twit.
  2. We know that Mr Twit is not a very pleasant character, but how does Roald Dahl create this idea with us as readers? Roald Dahl’s description of Mr Twit tells us about:
    • Mr Twit himself - what he is, what he thinks of himself, his actions
    • Mr Twit’s appearance
    • one way in which Dahl does this is through groups of words we call noun groups.
  3. On a copy of the text that all can see, highlight some of the noun groups for the students which help build a picture of Mr Twit:
    • Mr Twit was one of these very hairy-faced men. The whole of his face except for his forehead, his eyes and his nose, was covered with thick hair. The stuff even sprouted in revolting tufts out of his nostrils and ear-holes. Mr Twit felt that this hairiness made him look terrifically wise and grand. But in truth he was neither of these things. Mr Twit was a twit. He was born a twit. And now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than everThe hair on Mr Twit’s face didn’t grow smooth and matted as it does on most hairy-faced men. It grew in spikes that stuck out straight like the bristles of a nailbrush. And how often did Mr Twit wash this bristly nailbrushy face of his? The answer is never, not even on Sundays. He hadn’t washed it for years.   (Roald Dahl, The Twits, Jonathan Cape Ltd & Penguin Books Ltd.)
  4. Discuss the effect of the noun groups in building up details about Mr Twit and his hairy appearance. What do they tell you about the character?
  5. Use some of the bolded examples to highlight the words which form the noun groups by identifying the head noun – and the ways it is this is usually a person or a thing. Look at the examples and ask the students
    • ‘What is the main noun? What words come before the noun? What words come after the noun?’
    • Model how the noun groups can be analysed to show pre- and post- modification. For example: Example 1: one of these very hairy-faced men 
    • The head noun is men – this noun group has a group of words before the noun. Example 2: The whole of his face 
    • The head noun is ‘face’. This noun group has a group of words before the noun. Example 3: The hair on Mr Twit’s face The head noun is ‘hair’.
    • This noun group has groups of words before and after the noun.
    • As you work through the examples, show the ways in which the noun groups are formed. You could use a table like the one below, or use different colours to highlight the parts.
      Words that come before the noun (pre-modifier)Head nounWords that come after the noun (post-modifier – Qualifier)
      one of these very hairy-facedmen
      the whole of hisface
      the hairon Mr Twit’s face
  6. Have students identify the main parts of the remaining noun groups in the Mr Twit extract and share with the group. Again, emphasise the ways in which detail can be added both before and after the noun. Have the students complete a similar analysis of the remaining noun groups and compare responses.
  7. In a discussion with the students, highlight: how these noun groups help to build a vivid image of Mr Twit and his disposition how information can be added after the noun rather than only adding adjectives before the noun.
  8. Ask the students to rewrite parts of the extract, modifying the noun groups by adding their own words before and/or after the noun, for example: 
    Mr Twit was a hairy-faced man with a long beard.
    Only a small part of his face was covered with hair. 

Differentiation

The order of words in the pre-modifier might not be known to all students, especially those from EAL backgrounds. Teachers might familiarise themselves with the composition (as set out below) to help students who are unsure of the order in English. One way to do this is to provide different examples of the components which make up the pre-modifier on cards and allow students to make noun groups using different selections.

Lesson 3 - Characterisation and prepositional phrases using The Twits

This lesson will focus on how prepositional phrases provide more details about Mr Twit’s appearance and character to build on the information examined in the noun groups in the previous lesson.  

Learning intention

We will read Roald Dahl’s description of Mr Twit with a focus on prepositional phrases and how these contribute to building a picture of Mr Twit to help us understand what kind of character he is. 

Success Criteria

I can identify, describe and explain the ways in which the author uses prepositional phrases to build understanding of a character.

Curriculum links

Victorian Curriculum (English) Writing, Language: Expressing and developing ideas

Level four

Understand that the meaning of sentences can be enriched through the use of noun groups/phrases and verb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases (VCELA292)

Level five

Understand how noun groups/phrases and adjective groups/phrases can be expanded in a variety of ways to provide a fuller description of the person, place, thing or idea (VCELA324)

For the Teacher

About prepositional phrases 

Prepositional phrases can provide more information about both the verb group and the noun group. Prepositional phrases about the verb group provide information about the circumstances of what’s going on, for example place (‘where?’), time, (‘when’, ‘how long?’), manner (‘how?’, ‘in what way?’), cause (‘why?’).  Prepositional phrases typically begin with a preposition which are often single words but can be a number of words (for example, at, in, on or in front of). The structure of a prepositional phrase is preposition + noun group (for example ‘on Sundays’). (Learn more about prepositional phrases in narratives) 

Lesson Sequence

  1. Return to the description of Mr Twit to examine the ways in which prepositional phrases also contribute to building the description of him. These phrases give more details about the character by telling us about his face, how and where his hair grows, how old he is and how often he washes his hairy face.
  2. Recall how Roald Dahl used noun groups to help us understand more about Mr Twit.  Recall how noun groups can be made up of words before and/ or after the noun.
  3. Focus on the first paragraph of the description of Mr Twit: 
    • Mr Twit was one of these very hairy-faced men. The whole of his face except for his forehead, his eyes and his nose, was covered with thick hair. The stuff even sprouted in revolting tufts out of his nostrils and ear-holes.
    • Say to the students: This paragraph tells us quite a bit about Mr Twit. Let’s look at each of the sentences to see what information it tells us. 
    • Ask: ‘What does the first sentence tell you about Mr Twit?’ The first sentence tells us what kind of man he is or the group he belongs to. (Here you might highlight the use of the determiner ‘these’ which refers back to the first chapter which introduces ‘hairy-faced men’.) Which words tell you that? What do we call this group of words? Underline the noun group.
    • Mr Twit was one of these very hairy-faced men.
    • What does the second sentence tell you about Mr Twit? The second sentence tells us about his face and how it is covered with thick hair.
    • Ask the students if they can remember the noun group which begins the second sentence and underline it (‘The whole of his face’). Which word tells us more about his face? Underline the prepositional phrase except for his forehead, his eyes and his nose. 
    • Which words tell you in what way his face was covered? Highlight the prepositional phrase ‘with thick hair’. 
    • The whole of his face except for his forehead, his eyes and his nose, was covered with thick hair.
    • What does the third sentence tell you about Mr Twit? The third sentence tells us about Mr Twit’s thick hair and how and where the thick hair sprouted. 
    • Which words begin the sentence? What do we call this group of words? Underline the noun group. (Here explain that ‘the stuff’ refers to the thick hair on Mr Twit’s face in the previous sentence). 
    • Which words tell you about how his thick hair sprouted? Which words tell you about where his thick hair sprouted? Highlight the prepositional phrases ‘in revolting tufts’ and ‘out of his nostrils and ear-holes.
    • The stuff even sprouted in revolting tufts out of his nostrils and ear-holes.
  4. Explain that these groups of words that tell us about more about Mr Twit's face and where and how his hair grows are called prepositional phrases. 
    • Mr Twit was one of these very hairy-faced men. The whole of his face except for his forehead, his eyes and his nose, was covered with thick hair. The stuff even sprouted in revolting tufts out of his nostrils and ear-holes.
    • You could also highlight the adjectives within the noun groups and prepositional phrases (hairy-faced, thick, revolting) and discuss what these choices tell you about Mr Twit. 
    • Discuss how much of the short paragraph is devoted to giving details about Mr Twit’s appearance in simple sentences. (Learn more about simple sentences) 
  5. Other prepositional phrases in the description of Mr Twit tell us about the length of time that Mr Twit had been a twit, and how often he washes his hairy face. Draw their attention to the following parts of the text:
    • Mr Twit was a twit. He was born a twit.
    • And now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than ever
    • And how often did Mr Twit wash this bristly nailbrushy face of his?
    • The answer is never, not even on Sundays. He hadn’t washed it for years.
  6. Ask students to locate the words which tell them:
    • Mr Twit’s age now
    • how often he washes his face
    • Students might highlight all of the adverbials which provide these details, but draw attention to those that are prepositional phrases:
    • Mr Twit was a twit.
    • He was born a twit.
    • And now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than ever.
    • And how often did Mr Twit wash this bristly nailbrushy face of his?
    • The answer is never, not even on Sundays.
    • He hadn’t washed it for years.
  7. Provide students with their own copy of Mr Twit. Ask students to annotate their copy of the text, highlighting choices which have been explicitly taught. It is not necessary for them to highlight all examples, but to be able to identify and describe how the selected choices work individually and in combination to build character description
  8. Students can compare and discuss their annotations in small groups. 

Differentiation

Students are able to select the parts of the texts which appeal and about which they can best communicate. 

Lesson 4: Evaluative language and variation of force using The Twits

This lesson will focus on the vocabulary choices which express attitudes about Mr Twit’s appearance and behaviours and the intensity or strength of these attitudes. Students will return to the description of Mr Twit to respond to the questions ‘What kind of person is Mr Twit? What are his qualities?’ 

Learning intention

We will read Roald Dahl’s description of Mr Twit with a focus on evaluative language which contributes to building a picture of Mr Twit to help us understand what kind of character he is. 

Success criteria

I can identify, describe and explain the ways in which the author uses evaluative language to build understanding of a character.

Curriculum links

Victorian Curriculum (English) Speaking and Listening, Language: Language for interaction

Level three

Examine how evaluative language can be varied to be more or less forceful (VCELA272)

Victorian Curriculum (English) Writing, Language: Expressing and developing ideas

Level six

Investigate how vocabulary choices, including evaluative language can express shades of meaning, feeling and opinion (VCELA352)

For the teacher

Expressing attitudes

A major language resource for narrative is engaging the reader through expressing emotion, evaluation of qualities and the judgement of human behaviours (Derewianka & Jones, 2016). The choices can be positive or negative and can be ‘turned up’ or ‘turned down’. 

In this description of Mr Twit, Roald Dahl uses overt evaluative choices to invite the reader to form an opinion of Mr Twit.  For example, in the noun group ‘one of these very hairy-faced men’, ‘hairy-faced’ carries a negative appreciation of Mr Twit’s appearance, while the adverb ‘very’ increases the intensity. (Read more about expressing attitudes)

Lesson sequence

Provide students with a copy of the description of Mr Twit.  Using a proforma like the one below, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to find ‘evidence’ in the extract about:

  1. Mr Twit’s appearance
    • Mr Twit’s actions/ behaviour
    • Mr Twit’s opinion of himself
    • The narrator’s opinion of Mr Twit.

    Students can write or cut up the description and paste under the heading they think the parts best fit (using whole sentences, or words or groups of words):

    Mr Twit's appearance ​How does this make you feel about Mr Twit? ​Mr Twit's actions/behaviour ​How does this make you feel about Mr Twit?
    ​e.g. The hair on Mr Twit’s face didn’t grow smooth and matted as it does on most hairy-faced men. It grew in spikes that stuck out straight like the bristles of a nailbrush. ​e.g. And how often did Mr Twit wash this bristly nailbrushy face of his? The answer is never, not even on Sundays. He hadn’t washed it for years.
    ​Mr Twit's opinion of himself ​How does this make you feel about Mr Twit? ​The narrator's opinion of Mr Twit ​How does this make you feel about Mr Twit?
    ​e.g. Mr Twit felt that this hairiness made him look terrifically wise and grand. e.g. Mr Twit was a twit. He was born a twit. And now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than ever.

    2. When students have finished, model how they can highlight words, groups of words or sentences which express positive or negative appreciation of Mr Twit’s appearance or judgements about his behaviour or character by adding  a +ve or –ve sign near each, using different colours. For example:

     ‘He hadn’t washed it for years’ –ve judgement 

     ‘Mr Twit was a twit’ –ve judgement

     ‘It grew in spikes that stuck out straight like the bristles of a nailbrush’ –ve, appreciation.

    3. Share responses, inviting students to explain why their selections, drawing out explicit discussion of noun groups, prepositional phrases and evaluative adjectives as appropriate. 

    4. Ask the students to highlight examples of these attitudes which are ‘amplified’ or ‘turned down’, using arrows to show the ‘force’ ↑ or ↓. For example:

    ‘He hadn’t washed it for years’ –ve judgement ↑.  

    ‘he was a bigger twit than ever’ –ve judgement ↑.

    5. Return to the questions: ‘What kind of person is Mr Twit? What are his qualities?’ 

    6. Ask students to respond to the questions, this time providing the ‘evidence’ from the text. Students should be supported to use the metalanguage which they are familiar with in their responses. 

Differentiation

Students needing support can be provided with a carefully chosen set of choices to focus on to highlight.  

Going further

Continuing with the teaching and learning cycle: connections between reading and writing. Having examined the extract in some detail, guided practice (or joint construction) and independent construction could focus on:

  • writing descriptions of their own character in a narrative 
  • innovating on the description of Mr Twit to create a more likable character  
  • supporting students to write a text response – this would involve exploration of how text responses might be written.