Teach High School English Students the Elements of a Short Story

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Teach Your Students to Become Organized

Help students create an outline that will help them write a short story that is well organized, contains an interesting plot and events, and provides characters that are richly developed. Teach students to make an outline before starting a draft of a short story and their writing will dramatically improve. When one takes the time to set out the plot a story via an outline, the story is stronger, contains more vivid details, and has plot events that keep the reader interested in the story.

Outlining is not a waste of time; it helps the writer organize the plan for the story and then stay on track as he is writing. Have the class sit in groups so they may brainstorm ideas as a group before they start writing their own outlines. Students may either work independently or do the outline (and follow-up story) as a team.

Lesson Plan

Character Development

Create a name for each character. List where each one lives and their age, and list four words to describe their appearance. Also, list four words to describe their personality. List a few hobbies of the character and their career or career goal.


Tell students to list 4-5 plot events for the story. Create unique plot events. Avoid mundane events that are too common in everyday life. If they want to use a surprise twist in the story list that as a plot event.

Describe the setting for each plot event and list which characters will be involved in that event.


Teach the student to summarize the theme of the story he wants to create in one or two sentences.Writing down the theme of the story before writing keeps the writer focused and helps to shape events to help the story tell the idea of the theme with clarity.


List at least 10 details about the setting of the story.

For example:The month and year the story takes place, the climate, the name of the town, the name of the street the main character lives on, the atmosphere in the town (occupants are happy? Sad? Why?) and describe the home of the protagonist and other details.


The student should list five examples of imagery he will use in the story.

Imagery is very effective at the start of the story.


The student will list the overall mood of the story. Is it bleak, joyful, dramatic, suspenseful, scary, energetic? Give details about the mood and list how it will be portrayed in the story.


List at least one key phrase that the protagonist will use. Does the protagonist have a phrase he or she says often? List any words or phrases the protagonist uses that really show their personality.

Assessment of Student Work

  • As students create their story outline, circulate the room to answer questions.
  • Remind each student to give very specific details about the main character in the outline.
  • Grade the outlines via adherence to the instructions and writing skill.