Teaching Literary Elements to Middle School Students Using Cinderella

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Start the lesson by reviewing the literary elements you want students to concentrate on for the day. Even if you studied them the day before, at least one student looks at you like they’ve never heard the term literary element before. Start with basic elements like setting, character, theme, conflict and plot. By middle school, most students have studied some of these terms.

Ask students to keep a running list of literary elements in their notebook. Tell students to write the word, definition and an example of the literary element. I give students recognizable examples and refer back to these examples throughout the year, helping students make the connection. After reading, students add more examples of literary elements during warm-up exercises. This provides a quick review and an easy warm-up for teachers to check for understanding.

Another review idea is to create a simple memory matching game with the literary element on one card and the definition on the other card. Students play in groups of three or four, matching the correct term and definition. Consider letting students use their notes the first few games, and then ask them to play without extra assistance. Add more cards as more terms are discussed in class.

Using Examples from Cinderella

Select a children’s story such as Cinderella to provide students with examples of literary elements. Almost every student has heard this story, and can identify the literary elements as we discuss them.

  • Setting: The time and place of the story.

Example: long ago, the palace, the ball, a far away kingdom, the home of Cinderella’s step-mother.

  • Characterization: A person or an animal in a story, a play or other literary work.

Example: Cinderella: loving, kind, works hard, pretty, innocent, hero, cheerful, smart, happy.

Step-mother & step-sisters: jealous, mean, ugly, self-absorbed, villain, lazy, nasty.

  • Theme: Message about life or human nature communicated by the author through a literary work. Life lesson!

Example: Work hard and good things come. What goes around comes around.

  • Conflict: A struggle between opposing characters or forces.

Example: Man vs. Man (Cinderella vs. step-mother and step-sisters).

Man vs. Supernatural (Cinderella vs. the stroke of midnight).

  • Plot: The sequence of events, making up a story.

Exposition: The beginning of the story, introducing characters, setting and main conflict.

Rising Action: The conflict develops and suspense builds.

Climax: The most exciting point in the story.

Resolution: The story concludes and loose ends are tied up.

Example: Exposition: As a child, Cinderella was happy. After her mother died, her father re-married a mean woman with two daughters. The step-mother gave her daughters everything and Cinderella nothing.

Rising Action: A messenger delivers an invitation to the ball. The step-mother tells Cinderella she can go if she finishes her chores. The Fairy Godmother gives Cinderella a dress and coach. Cinderella arrives at the ball and dances with the Prince. On the way out she drops her shoe.

Climax: The Prince finds Cinderella and puts the glass slipper on her foot. It fits!

Resolution: Cinderella and the Prince get married.