Grade level:


Approximate Lesson Duration:

90 minutes

Unit/Lesson New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS):

NJSLSA.R1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences and relevant connections from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

NJSLSA.R3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

NJSLSA.R6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

NJSLSA.R7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

NJSLSA.R9. Analyze and reflect on how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take

Brief Summary of Cultural Competencies Related to the Unit/Lesson:

Ideally, this lesson would be for a creative writing course, a drama or script writing course, or used during a story writing unit.

What makes this lesson culturally relevant?

Pop culture, theater, films, and literature often can consciously and subconsciously shape our views of different groups of people. Whether they are “positive” or “negative,” tropes commonly used to depict characters of certain races, religions, sexual orientations, genders, ages, or with disabilities can have negative impacts on both people in marginalized groups and outside of them. Often, people internalize negative portrayals of characters they identify with or do not see themselves as capable of “being the hero” in a story. In addition, audiences that do not identify with a marginalized group risk internalizing negative beliefs about others if they are only presented with negative tropes.

Specifically, in LGBTQ+ representation, this has been seen through tropes where characters who are LGBTQ must experience some form of “punishment” in a story or not be seen at all. An example of this can be seen in the play The Children’s Hour, which led to the Hays code modifying its ban on depictions of homosexuality altogether to “tasteful treatments of homosexual themes” (Smith 188). When looking at 20th century censorship in pop culture, often the only LGBTQ+ representation in popular media is negative stereotypes. Even as recently as the show Glee, examples of harmful portrayals mixed in with positives can be found.

By exploring a few examples of common tropes, and examples of subverted tropes, students will be able to analyze the impact media has on their lives. It will culminate in an opportunity to write a creative project with a goal to subvert at least one negative trope that targets a group in its plot and/or characterization. This is an opportunity to empower students not only to see themselves as creators but to be a source of positive change in how they write to entertain and encourage audiences.

Lesson Overview:

Essential Question(s)
  • How have tropes in media and entertainment affected the way audiences see themselves and others?
  • What effect can subverting harmful tropes have on audiences?
  • Do current examples of pop culture subvert or contribute to long lists of tropes? Do some groups get more positive representation than others?
Enduring Understanding(s)
  • Tropes can sometimes send messages, especially to younger audiences, of what some people can and cannot do
  • Legitimately positive and honest representation empowers viewers to see not only themselves in a positive light, but it also helps them understand that others can be seen in that way, too
  • While the media is changing, nothing is perfect. What was groundbreaking ten years ago that might seem “harmful” or like it is “not enough” by today’s standards, and what is groundbreaking today could be out of date in the future.
Potential Misconceptions

Students might be concerned that there is only one way to “do representation right” when creating a character from a different background than their own, or feel that they shouldn’t enjoy media that has these tropes in them. They might also feel that they always have to subvert a trope or make a character the opposite of a stereotype.

Learning plan, experiences, intstruction and learning activities:

What is Expected?
  • List the intentional learning objectives on the board.

Students will be able to:

  • Analyze the role and impact that tropes in characterization have on both a story and the audience
  • Identify examples outside of class of either tropes or subverted tropes in a TV show of their choice
  • Apply an understanding of the role tropes play in character and plot development to a future writing project

Today we will be working on…

What is expected?
How will we hook (Introduce this to) the students?
  • Activate thinking
  • Consider the language you will use to introduce the lesson (See example in the table)

Link to Engagement

Recently, we learned about elements of storytelling such as characterization and plot. Today, we are going to explore common tropes that have appeared in popular stories in a variety of formats and how characters in certain groups sometimes are treated by them. This is going to help us as we move forward to plan our own characters and plots in our next project.

What equipment, resources, or materials are needed?

Packets for each jigsaw activity station, Chromebooks opened to YouTube clips at some stations, a projector hooked up to a computer that can access YouTube, flip chart paper, markers, student journals/notebooks

How will we rethink or revise our thinking throughout the lesson?
  • What learning is confirmed?
  • What misconceptions are uncovered?
  • What is your new thinking?

Students will be challenged to explore both negative tropes and “positive” tropes and the impacts they can have on audiences.

How will students self-evaluate and reflect on their learning?

Students will self evaluate through journal entries at the end of the lesson, and through future writing projects where they are challenged to explore and subvert tropes commonly seen in the media.

How will we tailor learning to varied needs, interests, and learning styles?

This lesson will incorporate multimodal texts. Students will read short texts, watch video clips, and even look at comic book excerpts, making the concepts accessible through different formats. The jigsaw activity will also allow for interpersonal connections and teamwork, and classroom discussion will add additional opportunities for students to learn outside of looking at texts.

How will we organize the sequence of learning during the lesson?

Scaffold the Instruction

  1. Do Now/Warm Up Activity: Journal about a favorite character you have in a TV show, play, movie, or book. What is it that you love about them? (5 minutes)
  2. Have students share a few thoughts from their Do Now. Use that to bridge the discussion into today’s topic (see Hook for suggested lines). (I notice that we’re talking a lot about character traits. Has anyone thought about how writers treat certain characters before?) (2-3 minutes)
  3. Explain to students what a trope is. You can also project a definition on the board for students. Provide a few generic examples, such as the reluctant hero. Prompt students to share others that they can think of. (5-10 minutes max)
  4. Share that today, students will be exploring tropes that tend to target specific groups, and ways to subvert tropes. Then, model what they will be doing with the Smurfette Principle trope. (10-15 minutes)
    1. Project a definition of the Smurfette Principle trope.
    2. Then, project a series of TV and movie stills that show this in action.
    3. Follow up with projecting the questions (see resources below) students will be answering, and modeling your thoughts on those questions aloud for them.
    4. Ask students to then share their own thoughts on the trope and questions.
  5. Split students into groups. Each group will be given a different trope to look over resources and examples, and fill out a reflection sheet about. Give groups about 15 minutes to explore the resources and fill out reflection sheets together. (15-20 minutes)
  6. Have students then split up into new sets of groups with one person staying put and every other student moving to a new group. In these new groups, have students report to their classmates on finings their group had about their assigned trope. (7-10 minutes)
  7. Give students a few minutes to discuss in those groups reactions to the tropes, or time to quietly journal about the reactions they have. (4-5 minutes)
  8. Discuss as a class initial reactions to tropes. Then, prompt them with questions such as:
    1. Can we think of shows, movies, or books that subvert (go against) these tropes? Offer examples if needed (for example, Brooklyn 99 or Legend of Korra).
    2. What impact do these tropes have on audiences?
    3. How can being aware of tropes affect our writing and storytelling?
  9. Closure: Have students do a whip-around share with a one word summary of the class, or leave Post Its on the board on the way out with final thoughts.

Optional, based on district/school homework policies- For homework, have students watch a TV show of their  choice and look for tropes. Have them write a reflection on the following questions: Did any (or subverted versions) of them appear? What are your thoughts on how they were handled?

Check for understanding:

(Formative evidence such as conferencing, group Q/A, teacher observation, exit-slip, etc.)
  • Class discussions and Q/A
  • Group reflection sheets
  • Teacher observation throughout the jigsaw activity
  • Student journaling
  • Exit slip/closure activity
Quiz/Test (optional):
(attach copy of assessment)


Performance Task/Project:
(attach rubric)

Group handouts, including links to videos and articles to explore


Supplemental Resources:

Works Cited

“Abled in the Adaptation – TV Tropes.” TV Tropes, 2014,

“Asian and Nerdy – TV Tropes.” TV Tropes, 2011,

Beedie. “The Bury Your Gays Trope: Why Representation Matters.” YouTube, 26 Apr. 2017,

“Black Best Friend – TV Tropes.” TV Tropes, 2016,

“Bury Your Gays – TV Tropes.” TV Tropes, 2015,

Charitie Ropati. “Finally, Representation: Molly of Denali.” IndianCountryToday.Com, Indian Country Today, 15 July 2019,

CNN. “Actor on Native American Roles: ’They like Us in The…” YouTube, 9 May 2017,

Conrad, Jeremy. “Did Marvel Studios ‘Erase’ Hawkeye’s Disability? – MCU Cosmic.” MCU Cosmic, 12 June 2018,

Devarajan, Kumari. “NPR Choice Page.” Npr.Org, 2019,

“Disabled Means Helpless – TV Tropes.” TV Tropes, 2019,

“Fin de Zoisite: Sub vs. DiC Dub.” YouTube, 25 Oct. 2016,

Gabe (Ava Jae. “The Problem with Superpowered Disabled Characters.” Blogspot.Com, 2015,

Garcia, Lizzy. “HeroesCon 2019: On Hawkeye and Disability with Matt Fraction.” But Why Tho?, 17 June 2019, Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.

Gonzalez, Irina. “Stop Fetishizing My Anger By Calling Me a ‘Spicy’ Latina.” HipLatina, 31 Jan. 2018,

“Hide Your Lesbians – TV Tropes.” TV Tropes, 2017,

How Stuff Works. “Stereotypology: Nerdy Asian Guys.” YouTube, 14 July 2016,

—. “Stereotypology: Spicy Latinas.” YouTube, 20 Oct. 2015,

Mcleod, Maurice. “Why the Black Best Friend Has Had Its Day | Maurice Mcleod.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 11 Aug. 2016,

MTV Decoded. “3 Black Female Stereotypes That Need to Die | Decoded | MTV News.” YouTube, 11 May 2016,

“Noble Savage – TV Tropes.” TV Tropes, 2019,

Ozdemir, Mehmet. “How Does Toph See? ( Avatar:The Last Airbender).” YouTube, 28 Aug. 2014,

POPSUGAR Entertainment. “What Hollywood Still Gets Wrong About Native Americans.” YouTube, 30 Nov. 2016,

Smith, Patricia Juliana, editor. The Queer Sixties. Routledge, 1999, Google Books,’s%20hour%20hays%20code&f=false.

Snarker, Dorothy. “Bury Your Gays: Why ‘The 100,’ ‘Walking Dead’ Deaths Are Problematic (Guest Column).” The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Mar. 2016,

Vox. “Why so Many Queer Female Characters Die on TV.” YouTube, 13 July 2016,

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