Identity Charts

Analyzing the Characters
Ongoing Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History
Large Group, Small Group, Individual


  • Students will gain a deeper understanding of the characters in the book.
  • Students will understand how Steinbeck’s descriptions of people shape the reader’s understanding of those characters.
  • Students will create a stronger personal connection to characters in the book.


An identity chart is a graphic tool. It is meant to help students to understand the motivations of characters – the factors that have shaped characters. Identity charts can also be done autobiographically; that is, a student can chart him/herself.

This activity is meant to be done on an ongoing basis throughout the reading of the book.

Travels with Charley has only two characters who are present throughout the book, Steinbeck himself and his dog Charley. Although there is limited description, dialogue, and interaction with other people in the book, students can still learn a great deal about the character through Steinbeck’s descriptions.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Large pieces of butcher paper to post the work where students can see and interact with it
  • Brief introduction to the Identity Chart process
  • Travels with Charley notebooks

Estimated Time

  • 15 – 45 minutes to introduce and begin the process for the first time
  • 3 – 5 minutes per class period


  • Open with a discussion about what makes someone who they are. Another way to phrase this is to ask students, “How do you define who you are?”
  • ~Answers may include:
  • ~~Place in family, classroom, or community
    e.g.: a daughter, a son, a student, an altar boy, etc.
  • ~~Things about a student’s background
    e.g.: Buddhist, Muslim, female, place of birth, ethnicity, nationality, etc.
  • ~~Physical characteristics
  • Explain how an Identity Chart works (see example below).
Identity Chart example with John Steinbeck's name in a center oval with descriptions and characteristics branching off the oval.
  • Assign or take volunteers for each of the characters who have appeared in the book. (This will vary depending on how far into the book this activity is first begun.)
  • ~This can be done as a large group or in small groups.
  • ~Have student(s) complete the chart as thoroughly as they can.
  • Allow time during the period to discuss how the characteristics and facts listed on the chart may be important.
  • ~How have some of the characteristics shaped a character’s actions, relationships, fears, etc.?
  • Allow students to add to the chart on a daily basis (when possible).

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post activity

  • Have students complete an identity chart on themselves.
  • Have students complete an identity chart on someone in the family.
  • Since the characters in the book are never seen or heard from again, have predict what those characters do after meeting Steinbeck.


  • Students should begin to see what shapes the actions, emotions, beliefs, and so on, of characters in the book.
  • Students should be more familiar with the characters in the book.


  • Use the chart as a discussion starter, or have students add things to a character’s chart after other activities, discussions, etc.


  • Quiz on the characters (based on the student findings in the Identity Charts).
  • ~The quiz could be to create an identity chart for a character or characters.
  • ~The quiz could be strictly factual (e.g. “who are the Cheerleaders” and so on.)
  • When a new character appears in the book, have students individually create an Identity Chart for that character.
  • ~Assess how well individual students are understanding the process and the book.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1
  • ~Craft and Structure: 6
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
  • ~Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 4
  • Language Standards 6-12
  • ~Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 5
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Craft and Structure: 6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8

Related Lesson Plans for this Work