I love seeing my students connect and grow with characters as they face and overcome challenges together. I love watching them learn tough lessons and gain new perspectives. And I love helping them understand how the plot develops and sucks them into the book.
Having a complete understanding of plot structure helps readers analyze, discuss, and appreciate fiction texts. Here are six simple ways to help your students master identifying the plot’s main events, sequencing main events in the story, and understanding how events influence future events and help develop the plot structure.
THINK ABOUT THE SHAPE OF YOUR MENTAL MODEL
Stop using the witch’s hat! Mental models are great for helping students understand and remember important skills and topics, but they can do harm if they send the wrong message. The symmetrical witch’s hat and/or roller coaster shape gives students the wrong picture for how the plot develops throughout the story. The climax is almost never in the middle. Rather, the author spends a great deal of time developing rich characters and building their problem(s) with mounting tension, leading to the inevitable moment when the tension breaks and a resolution is born. Shaping the mental model correctly helps students understand how the main events work together to develop the plot.
USE INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS
Engaging the students in creating their own interactive mini-anchor chart strengthens their understanding and increases the likelihood that they will remember the lesson. Another reason I love using interactive notebooks for reading strategies and skills is that this resource is always at their fingertips.
Using interactive notebooks to practice and reinforce the skills and strategies you teach during reading workshop and/or shared reading gives the students a central place to store valuable materials and work. When a student is confused by a skill, he/she has multiple sources of information at his/her fingertips to refresh his/her memory. Sometimes looking back at a previous activity clarifies the topic better than an anchor chart.
TEACH YOUR STUDENTS TO ANTICIPATE THE STRUCTURE OF THE TEXT
Kids like to know what to expect. You can reinforce the parts of the plot structure by preparing the students for their reading.
After you teach the plot structure and that (most) fiction texts follow this same structure, you can begin teaching the students to mentally prepare to read this genre. Before we read anything in our classroom, we preview the text and predict the genre. Once we identify that the text is a fiction story, we “prepare a space in our brains” for the story. I ask the students what kinds of things they can expect to find when reading the story. I usually hear a few plot elements shouted out and use those pieces to lead them to the plot structure. We then physically move our hands in front of our brains to form the (realistic) shape of the plot structure. This helps the students prepare to analyze how the author develops the story.
SEQUENCING – GO BEYOND PUTTING THE EVENTS IN ORDER
Sequencing the plot’s main events should be the first step in our sequencing lessons. Then we need to help our students dig deeper by analyzing how the events influence and help develop the plot.
My favorite way to introduce the concept that the plot’s main events influence each other is by removing an event from a sequencing graphic organizer and asking, “How would the story be different if this event never happened?” This gets the kids thinking and discussing how that event led to the problem, resolution, lesson, etc. Once students grasp the basic understanding of why particular events are important to the story, you can have analytical discussions of how the events work together to develop the plot structure of the story.
PRACTICE DURING INDEPENDENT READING & BOOK CLUBS
Students can practice identifying main plot points from the books they read during independent reading with coded post-it notes. They can then discuss the significance of these events and how they help shape the story with their book club, book buddy, or the class after independent reading is over.
You can teach them to code the post-it notes themselves or print precoded ones. (Ex: C – character, S – setting, RA – main event in the rising action, P/C – problem/conflict, CL – climax, FA – main event in the falling action, R – resolutions, CN – conclusion) See how to print on post-it notes in this video from We Are Teachers. I want to note, however, that these are best placed AFTER the students have read the entire text.
CONNECT IT TO WRITING
Help students develop a deeper understanding of plot structure by having them write their own fiction stories. You can even have them use the same graphic organizer that you used while teaching plot structure during reading as their planning sheet.
Looking for a shortcut in planning? Check these out! Click the picture to see more about it.
This week long TEKS and Common Core aligned plot structure unit will help you each your students to identify, sequence and understand how the main plot points work together and influence each other to develop the plot structure of the story. This plot unit covers several components of your ELA instruction: read aloud, detailed reading lessons, vocabulary, and grammar (using mentor sentences). There is also a connection to writing with response to text and writing station prompts!