Analyzing Story Elements
Lesson ideas to teach students how to analyze story elements through visual representation.
By Dawn Dodson
Story element instruction, at the middle school level, is focused on the analysis of the various plot elements and their development over the course of a story. Accomplishing these objectives in a creative and unique manner can be a challenge. Most students that walk into the middle school language arts classroom have at least a few years of experience in identifying story elements. They also have practice completing various plot diagram graphic organizers and their accompanying responses. Incorporating art into story element instruction builds upon and develops students’ ability to view the elements individually and examine their significance in the overall story. The following are two lesson ideas that incorporate students’ creative art skills into story element analysis.
Write Your Own Comic Strip
This is an introductory lesson that allows students to demonstrate prior knowledge as well as depicting relationships between plot events and character development. After reading a well-known story, normally a folk tale, students identify the different plot events as a whole class. They are then led into a discussion about how the story events give rise to one another. In a small group of three or four, students are given a short story to read, identify plot elements, and then choose a pivotal scene in the story that makes way for the resolution. Then, they are instructed to identify the scene and break it down into a four panel comic strip. Students write captions to go with each panel. I’ve found this activity helps them to begin analyzing individual events of stories and its significance in the overall plot line.
Create Story Trees in Your Classroom
Of all the story element lessons I have taught, this is a favorite. I always tell students that analyzing story elements is simply looking at individual plot events and pinpointing their importance in the overall story. In years past, this has been a difficult concept for my sixth graders to master.
I began by reading a story to the whole class. Through discussion, we identified each story element. On the Smart Board, students placed individual plot events on an outline of a tree. Then, they chose one event to address in their analysis. This is a journal response where students draw conclusions, make inferences, and discuss how their chosen event is significant to the story. My students then went on to share their responses in small groups. Individually, I provided students with a story, construction paper, and colored pencils. The assignment was to read the story, create a tree with the events marked in sequential order (I have students section off their trees into different plot elements), and then choose one event to analyze. I encourage students to choose what they feel is the most important event in the book, and then write their analysis in the trunk of the tree. The visual representation of the tree helps students to view plot events individually and focus their written response.
There are numerous story element lesson ideas to help students begin to identify and analyze. Art projects are one way to help students to focus on individual events of the story.
The following are more lesson ideas:
Students create story element posters after a study in their identification. Students also review other active reading strategies over the course of this lesson.
Using their knowledge of story elements, students create a PowerPoint slideshow. The lesson is geared toward primary students, however, modifications could allow older students to benefit from the same activity.
Turn a wordless picture book into a short story. Story element knowledge is required for students to complete the writing activity.
Students apply knowledge of story elements and characterization in order to create a narrative comic book based on a class book. This lesson could also be easily modified to fit older grade levels.