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Paging Dr. Novel: Character Autopsies

Subject: English Language - Literature

Grade: 6 (You can adapt the plan for older students)

Lesson Objective: To learn how to analyze fictional characters.

Common Core StandardCCSS ELA-Literacy RL. 6.1

Materials: Apart from the text, no additional materials are necessary.

Note: We will use “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis as our example. You can hold a character autopsy at any point in the book. 

Here, we will assume that your students have read that the four siblings, Edmund, Lucy, Peter, and Susan, have left their home and family in wartime London and have gone to live in the home of Professor Kirke. The day after their arrival, the children explore the house because the weather is too bad to go outside. Your students have reached the point where Lucy opens a wardrobe door and finds that it is an entrance into the mysterious world of Narnia.

Reasons for Holding a Character Autopsy

The main advantage of a character autopsy is that it enables the reader to identify with the character. This identification makes the character more “real” and engages the reader. Your students will better understand the character’s motivation and what is driving the plot. They may be able to anticipate what the character will do in the future and explain why.

A character autopsy demands that the student pays close attention to the text. It is an exercise in logic that allows your students to develop their abilities to argue, debate, and support their opinions.

When teaching literature, there are often no right or wrong answers. A reader’s appreciation of a text is, generally speaking, subjective. So you should expect and welcome differences of opinion.


  1. Ask your students if they are enjoying the book so far. Allow them to answer. Let them explain why they do or don’t like it.
  2. Ask a student to sum up the plot so far. 


Tell your class that you will first look at Professor Kirke’s character. Ask your students the following questions about him:

  • How old is he?
  • What does his appearance tell you?
  • What do the children think of him? Do they like him or not?
  • Do the children all have the same opinion.
  • Ask your class to find evidence in the text that supports their answers.
  • You might like to ask your class to speculate about Professor Kirke. If so, ask them:
    • Does he live alone? Why?
    • Is he rich? Why do they think so?
    • Why does he live in such a large, almost empty house?
    • Why does he live so far away from other people? 

Such questions can help students engage with the character and storyline. All opinions are valid if a student can find supporting evidence in the text.

Split your class into four groups. Give each group one of the children to analyze:

  1. Edmund
  2. Lucy
  3. Peter
  4. Susan

Instruct each group to find out as much as they can about their character. Tell them that you are especially interested in the children’s different personalities.

This will be a quick exercise if your students have only read as far as Lucy entering the wardrobe. Again, tell your students that they must find evidence for their answers in the text.

Ask your groups to report back to the class.

As groups present their findings, encourage your students to ask each other questions.

Ask the class if they agree with each group’s character autopsy.


You can ask your students to choose their favorite character and get them to explain their reasons. Most of them will probably choose Lucy because the author gives her more attention. (The real Lucy was C.S. Lewis’s goddaughter, and the book is dedicated to her.)

Ask your students to speculate about what will happen next in the story. 

Future Character Autopsies

If you run a character autopsy while students are part-way through the text, you might like to repeat the process later and see if your students have changed their ideas. You can then ask if anything has surprised them. Keeping a character autopsy journal or notebook is ideal for older students. 


This is a simple lesson plan that you can adapt to any text. It requires very little preparation and no extra materials. Here, we have looked at the 6th grade. However, you can use it at any grade level. 

If you wish to include a written assignment or project, let students pick a character and create a visual or written character autopsy.

Written by Stephen Tomkinson
Education World Contributor
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