How do you help students understand story elements? The plot diagram is a go to classic…but HOW are you using it? I’ll give you a few tips to really knock this one out of the park. Hint: It starts out with a read aloud picture book.
- Read a short picture book to your class (yes a picture book!)
I like to read my class a short little picture book that is interesting and captivates their attention (you will use this book to later teach the concepts of story elements). Read the book before introducing the lesson. It allows students to really enjoy the book and listen to the story without thinking about the lesson and story and getting lost. This also helps to reinforce that reading ANY book is positive. I find this really helps with my struggling readers, as they often attempt to pick up books far beyond their ability level, and spend more time staring at the pages than they do actually reading. When students feel comfortable, they will read and reading helps them become better readers. If you want to learn more about why I love picture books, See my previous blog post
Hint: Here is a list of a few books that I enjoy teaching with along with a link to a youtube read aloud.
– “A Case of the Bad Stripes” by David Shannon. Click here for youtube read aloud link
– “The Rainbow Fish” by Marcus Pfister. Click here for youtube read aloud link.
– “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!” by Jon Scieszka. Click here for youtube read aloud link.
– “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf. Click here for youtube read aloud link.
- Introduce the concepts of story elements
I like to start out by introducing a plot diagram with all of the main story elements labeled and defined. This helps give students a visual understanding of what they are going to learn.
Hint: Click here for a free story elements planner, and click here for a great ELA lapbook for quick student reference, with plot diagram.
- Re-Read the picture book
When you re-read the book, be sure to ask students to keep in mind the story elements they just learned. I like to re-read the book again because students are now able to focus on story elements, rather than the suspense of the book, because they know what to expect. By re-reading they really get to focus their skills on listening for the story elements.
- Discuss the story elements
Have students participate in a small group or partner discussion regarding story elements that they heard during the re-read of the story. Then have a whole class discussion and sharing time. I like to put a blank plot diagram on the board and write in student answers. When students give answers regarding a part of the story and story element it goes with I ask them to explain their reasoning. This helps guide dialogue in the classroom.
- Watch a short film
I also like to reinforce story elements with a short film. It’s another way to get their gears turning, and really helps your students who have a hard time connecting with reading, books, and written language. I find that a video often really helps my struggling readers grasp the concepts, and my students have a BLAST watching a movie in school (all while learning, but shh we’ll keep that our little teacher secret).
Hint: Here are 2 short films that you can find on youtube that would be great to show your class, and have a good message behind them, “Soar” and “The Present”
- Give students book buddy partners and plot diagram a new book
Buddy up students of varying reading levels. I prefer to buddy up my low readers with middle level and my middle level with high level. This allows my students to mentor each other through the process. I encourage students to pick out a second picture book to plot diagram. At this point, students have had 2 chances to diagram out a story, and have improved confidence. They also have a buddy to assist and help fill in the pieces they might be missing. It also allows for a great opportunity for students to lead and guide others who may be struggling.
- Start a novel study
Now that students have a good grasp on how to use a plot diagram and really understand story elements, they are ready to give it a try with a book that’s a little longer and more challenging. Always remember to keep the novel within each students reading ability level to decrease frustration level and help foster the love of reading.
Hint: If you’re looking a good way to start novel studies, check out this resource.