How to Get Your Students to Empathise with Characters from Novels

Being able to empathise with the characters in a novel is vital if you want to be able to fully enjoy and analyse that work. Unfortunately, this is something that many students experience trouble with, especially when they are not particularly strong readers.

Follow these tips to help them out.

Pick Relatable Characters or Traits

Readers of all ages tend to be better able to connect with characters with whom they can relate. This is why The Catcher in the Rye is such a perennial favourite among teenage boys. If you’re still deciding on the right book, keep this in mind and look for characters who are like your students. If you already have a book set, try to consider how their driving motivations can be related to the issues dealt with by young people.

Ask Students How They Would Solve a Problem

Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, another GCSE and A-level favourite, famously said you need “to climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it” before you can come to understand them. One of the best ways to make your students do so is by asking them how they would solve the problem a character faces. This can be a particularly fun activity before the whole book has been read.

Have Your Students Act for Each Character

Some of the most interesting literary debate occurs when you take a character commonly viewed as evil and consider whether his actions might hold merit or be understandable under certain circumstances. Teaching your students to empathise with antagonists is the key to such discussion, so try asking them to play devil’s advocate. You can even divide the class into teams to argue the point of one character over another.

Ask How Characters Would Approach Everyday Tasks

Sometimes you can get to the heart of a character by considering how they might perform everyday acts. Asking students to think about how a character might sign their name, for example, is an easy but interesting way to make them reflect on how that character thinks. Would they write large or small? Would they use any flourishes? Would their handwriting be any good? You can make this into a kind of game, seeing which student comes up with the answer with which most of the class agrees.