Years ago I was required to teach The Odyssey to ninth graders. While the story itself is pretty great, the epic poem can be a real challenge to read. I knew if I wanted them to engage, it was important they connect to the characters, find interest, and get curious about what was going to happen to Odysseus. We read sections of the poem, watched The Odyssey, and tapped into the text in a variety of ways. One of the activities that engaged my students the most was the Body Biography.
Spread out on the floor with large pieces of paper and markers, my big kids, many reluctant or struggling readers, got creative tracing themselves, drawing, and perfecting the look of the chiton and peplos. They combed the text for clues. Who were these gods, goddesses, monsters, and tragic heroes? What did they look like? What symbols represented the characters? What setting held their stories? Not only did they learn, but they might have told you they enjoyed it.
Fast forward a few years. After finishing up another book on Greek Mythology, I mentioned this project to my children.
Once again, spread across the floor, I watched children play with characterization. They had to think about how Poseidon might stand, what Athena would be holding, what each character would wear, and what objects or symbols best represented them. We did some research, recalled what we’d learned in the different books and movies we recently experienced and spent a good part of the day immersed in our character’s body biography.
My eleven-year-old worked on his god for hours. He has plans to create a couple more and proudly hung the giant sea god in his room. My daughter’s Medusa head was an important part of her Athena biography. Drawing snake hair is pretty fun.
A body biography is a project a child or teen can create for any character in any story. It invites students to recall all the clues they have about a character. Maybe add in a little research or more books and movies, and watch their findings come together life-sized.
Want to give it a try?
How to Create a Body Biography ~
A Body Biography is a life-sized representation of a fictional or nonfictional character. Use it as a post-reading activity, group project, or create one just for fun.
Materials: • Long, wide paper (taping two pieces together works fine) • Pencil, eraser, markers, crayons (work well for big areas) • Someone to trace • Books or websites to gather facts
1. Choose a character
2. Talk about the character- what symbols represent them, what could they be holding, wearing, what expression might be on their face?
3. Do a little research, if needed, to find out more about the character.
4. Lay down a piece of paper a little longer than the person who is going to be traced. Tape two pieces together, if necessary, so the paper is wide enough.
5. Have the person being traced gently lie down (shoes get the paper really dirty so be careful) and decide how they want to position their body.
6. Trace in pencil. Once the person is traced, you’ll probably need to use the pencil to fix a few parts of the body.
7. Now begin to create the character! Add- objects, symbols, words, other characters, a setting, think about colors, what clothes and weapons might be appropriate. Anything that helps make the character come to life.
*Note- these are a little addicting. Be sure to have lots of paper on hand!
The Resource Library has a free printable version of this activity. Not a subscriber? No worries. At the end of this post, subscribe, and you’ll have access to this activity AND every free printable I create. You’ll also be able to download my e-book, Create a Family Rhythm, and you’ll receive the Curiosity Encouraged monthly newsletter.
If you’re interested in facilitating a unit study on The Odyssey, I’ve also put my favorite activities together. Filled with pre, during, and post activities, links, and resources, I think you’ll find everything you need to help your children or students engage and learn.
I’d love to see how your children’s characters turn out! Be sure to take a picture and tag me on Instagram or leave a comment below to let me know what character they chose.