Throwing out the Flat Carboard-Cutout Characters

Something that bugs me about the kinds of characters who appear in language textbooks, almost wherever one goes, is that all of the characters are always the same flat, smiling, sorry excuses for cardboard cut-outs who are completely interchangeable and completely forgettable. It’s no wonder students forget their names and teachers constantly have to ask, “Who is this?” “And who is this?” “And this?” The only difference between Ichiro and Kevin from New Horizon, is that Ichiro’s hair is black and Kevin’s hair is red. Otherwise they are the same person.

This was the inspiration behind the Zombie English cards. I wanted to create characters for students that were memorable and who they could connect with. So I created back-stories for each of the Zombies.

the depth of a character can be demonstrated by the types of adjectives we use to describe them. The adjectives we can use to describe their character, the better. The more adjectives we use to describe their clothes, their hair, and so on, the flatter.

the depth of a character can be demonstrated by the types of adjectives we use to describe them. The adjectives we can use to describe their character, the better. The more adjectives we use to describe their clothes, their hair, and so on, the flatter.

“Frankie” likes cheese and fine wine. “Lazlo” is a would-be sports star who lost his chance to play in the NFL because he was bitten. “Harold” is a sloth and a glutton. He’s chasing after a sandwich he was never able to eat before he was bitten.

After the class where I introduced the cards, I started telling students more about each of the characters. Although I had trouble telling 1st grade students more about these characters, the 3rd graders were really intrigued. They could understand the stories better and they were genuinely happy to hear more about them. Some students even wanted to change their cards after hearing the back-story. They connected with a classroom character possibly for the first time and wanted to have that character with them.

To learn more about the character back-stories of “Frankie,” “Lazlo” and “Harold”, please check out the PDF below. But please feel free to make up your own names and back-stories for these zombies if you wish.

Zombie English” Character Back-stories (PDF download)

As for the other characters from the textbook. I see nothing wrong with inventing back-stories for them as well. These guys are paper thin in terms of character depth, so anything we can add to their story is going to be an improvement. Your students will be grateful and they will probably learn more.

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