Commonly identified elements of a story include plot, character, setting, and theme. The plot usually revolves around a problem or conflict that is presented at the beginning of the story and resolved at the end. The ability to identify the elements of a story aids in comprehension, leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of stories, and helps students learn to write stories of their own.
A graphic organizer, such as a story map, can help students visually organize a story's elements, increasing their ability to retell, summarize, and comprehend the story.
Discerning the way reading material is organized is important to comprehension. According to Dickson, et al. (1998), teaching narrative text organization, using characters, a setting, problems, solutions to the problems, and so on, gives students a frame of reference for processing and storing information. Irvin (1998) identifies "awareness of text structures" as an important metacognitive skill.
Begin talking with students about story elements as early as preschool, and continue through middle and high school. The experiences and background of the students should determine the depth of the discussion and the detail of the graphic organizer that you use, should you choose to use one. Organizers can be quite sophisticated. Some story elements for older students can include: plot, conflict, resolution, theme, atmosphere, rising action, climax, and turning point.
For emergent readers, introduce the elements of a story that students are familiar with, such as a favorite fairy tale, and define each element.
Characters: Who is in the story?
Setting/Place: Where does the story take place?
Time: When does the story happen?
Problem: What is it that one or more characters wants to do or wants to happen by the end of the story?
Events: What happens in the story that helps the characters solve the problem?
Tell students that all stories have the same elements, and identifying these elements can help to increase their understanding of the story. For students new to this strategy, choose stories with clear problems and solutions. As students' comprehension increases, introduce more complex stories to promote critical-thinking skills.
For emergent readers, read the text aloud to them, stopping at key points to discuss the information and ask and answer questions. Complete the graphic organizer as a collaborative classroom activity by thinking aloud to help students identify each element.
Once students are familiar with the process, either read the text aloud to them, or have them read on their own. Ask guiding questions related to story elements in addition to specific content questions.
Who are the main characters in the story? How would you describe them?
What is the setting of the story (where and when does it take place)?
What is the central problem of the story? How is it solved?
How does the author want us to feel after reading the story?
Students may complete the graphic organizer in groups, independently, or as a class. The graphic organizer can be used to make predictions or as a discussion tool.
As students become more competent with identifying story elements, increase the sophistication of the graphic organizer or add components such as the theme or resolution.
Challenge students' ability to define and limit the main events of the story by choosing stories that include multiple characters and events that have varying degrees of importance.
Students can also use the story elements graphic organizer as a prewriting activity. Another idea is to have students create 4 x 6 cards containing information about a variety of characters, settings, and conflicts for a possible story. Then, students in groups can pool their cards and choose different elements to write a story. They can write and illustrate their newly created tale and present it to the class.
At the upper-grade levels, you should help students analyze stories on multiple levels, including decoding symbolism. For example, on one level, Huckleberry Finn is a story about two boys and their adventures growing up in a small town on the Mississippi River. On another level, it is a story about racism and the conflicts between freedom and civilization.
As students talk and write about stories, they should be challenged to ground their statements about the story in evidence from the text—for example, citing actions in the story that demonstrate a character's courage.
Use this strategy to identify parts of a story, prepare for book talks, retell or summarize a story, or show a story's sequence of events.
Students may use the graphic organizer as a prewriting tool to plan the beginning, middle, and end of a story. In addition, students can create illustrations for each story element instead of writing. These can be used for wordless picture books, or students can then write stories to accompany the illustrations.
Story Elements, Danny and the Dinosaur
This lesson introduces primary students to the elements of a story that is read aloud. Students begin by identifying the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and then use a story map to organize the story elements.
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