Learning to differentiate among the elements that go into a good story helps students not only appreciate literature but become better writers themselves. Strategies for teaching story elements include a combination of group work and independent writing.
Teachers use Where the Wild Things Are to teach settings, characters and events in a story. This lesson plan by Deborah Szabo works best with K-2 students.
Prepare the classroom by tacking onto the walls three large pieces of butcher paper. At the top of one, write “Setting.” Write “Characters” and “Events” at the top of the others.
Read the book to the class with feeling and enjoy the book with the class. After the reading, ask the class how they liked the story. Discuss if it was a “good story” or a “well-written story.”
Stand by the “Characters” poster. Ask the children who the characters were. This is the easiest one for the kids to do because a character is concrete; events and settings are sometimes more abstract. Write the characters and character traits that the children remember on the butcher paper. Move on to and do the same for “Settings” and then to “Events.” Under “Events,” include two sub-topics: “Problems” and “Solutions.” For example, a “Problem” is that Max was feeling wild and yelled at his mother. His “Solution” was to go to the place where the wild things are.
Doing this exercise with the class teaches students how to identify the elements that go into good story-telling, including characters and settings, events, problems and solutions.
Using Story Mapping to Teach Story Elements
Incorporate story mapping into book report assignments to teach story elements to students in the 3rd through 6th grades. Start with reading the book and making separate charts for “Setting, “Characters” and such just as in the above lesson plan for younger students.
Older students take this lesson plan a few steps farther. For example, after ascertaining what the settings in the book are, ask them how the story would be different if it were set in a classroom or in an office building. Students may look at the characters chart and change a character or a character’s traits. Then they must think through how the story itself would change with the different elements changing.
To complete this project, consider having the students rewrite the story, either in groups or individually. They must incorporate their changed elements as they affect the story. Consider having the students create comic strips instead of simply rewriting the story. The comic strips will help demonstrate for the students how the story changes. This Story Elements Comic Strip Planning Sheet is an excellent free resource you may use.
Story Element Worksheets
These worksheets are useful before embarking upon individual creative writing activities. Elementary and middle school students fill out questionnaires in which they develop their character’s traits, the setting of their story, and other story elements. This makes it easier for them to then write a creative story and learn what the elements of a good story are at the same time.