How to Help Your Students Understand Plot Structure
Fiction is my favorite genre to teach. I love seeing my students connect and grow with the 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 four 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.
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.
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. Click here for your Plot Structure Interactive Notebook Pages and here for your Sequencing Interactive Notebook Pages.
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. Buy the entire Interactive Reading Notebook here.
Kids like to know what to expect. This preference transfers easily to their reading and is the simplest way to reinforce the parts of the plot structure while 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 pieces of the plot 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 the plot’s main events should be the first step in our sequencing lessons. We then need to help our students dig deeper into the text and analyze how the events influence future events 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.
These complete plot structure lesson plans will help you introduce plot structure and teach to the rigor and complexity of STAAR. Teach your students to identify the plot’s main events, sequence main events in the story, and understand how events influence future events and help develop the plot. These lessons are for use with Kat Kong by Dav Pilkey, a high interest text that will keep your students engaged throughout the lesson.