Playwriting Exercise: Clothing Prompt

The following exercise is flexible. It can be completed via distance learning or live in class. If students are completing this exercise online, they do not need to turn on their cameras or microphones. It is a short exercise that can be completed in one class period, but also extended if students complete it quickly or teachers wish to delve further. Finally, the only materials needed are a piece of clothing or an accessory and a writing device. 

Get ready to create a new character, using clothing as a prompt!

1. Each student will take 30 seconds and select a piece of clothing or accessory found in their home (or on their person, if you’re doing this exercise live in class). The item can be as large as a snowsuit or as small as a pair of earrings.

2. Have each student take a photo of their selected clothing item or make a quick sketch of the item, and write a brief description of the item (what the item is, size, material, brand/style, quality). The description should only include characteristics of the item without interpretation or judgment (that will come next!).

3. Students will create an original character outline using that item for inspiration. They can’t write about the actual owner of the item (for example, if they’re using their dad’s fishing hat, they can’t write about their own dad). Here are some character questions to get them started:

  • What is their character’s name?
  • How old is the character?
  • How long has the character possessed their chosen clothing item?
  • Where did they get the item? How did they get it? 
    • Did they buy it at a store? Receive it as a gift? Find it in a lost and found bin? Steal it from their cousin? Win it as a prize?
  • What other items would the character wear when they’re wearing the item? Describe them. 
    • For example, if the item is a black t-shirt, would the character wear it with jeans, a skirt, overalls? What shoes would they wear? What accessories, if any, would they wear?

- Does the item have any flaws or unique characteristics? 

  • For example, a loose thread, a scratch or scuff, a stain, a hole? How did it happen?
    • Is the item meaningful or valuable to the character? 
    • Does the item hold any memories for the character? Is the memory happy, sad, funny, traumatic, or something else?

Students may add any additional details they think are important or interesting. At the end of class, students will submit the photo/sketch, the written description of the item, the original character outline, and their response to the exit slip question found at the end of this article.

4. Extension Activities:

  • Write a monologue of a character using, wearing, or describing the selected item.
  • Write a scene where the character has lost, misplaced, or broken the item. What are the stakes? (Meaning, why is the item and situation important to the character?) What are the consequences if the item is not found/restored? If you wish, have students write two separate endings: one where the item is found/returned/fixed, and one where the item is lost forever/irreparably damaged.
  • If you wish to include a performance aspect, have students wear or use their own chosen item and improvise a brief scene as their character, interacting with the item at some point (“Brrrrr, it’s chilly in here. Better put on my nice, warm sweater.”)

5. Options to keep students on their toes:

  • Have students photograph and submit their chosen clothing item or accessory to the teacher. The teacher will then choose one student’s item for everyone to write about.
  • After they have done so, have students compare and contrast their interpretations. 
    • For example, if the item is a pair of sneakers, one student might write about a basketball player describing their greatest game wearing their lucky sneakers, while another writes about a Nike store employee having to sell the sneakers, and a third might write about someone getting gum stuck on the bottom of their new sneakers on their way to a first date.
  • Or, the teacher may mix up the clothing choices. The items could be distributed randomly to different students in the class, so everyone has a different item — just not the one they originally chose.
  • Or, have students pair up and write about their partner’s item.

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