Teaching Plot & Setting to Middle & High School Students

January 24, 2021

Use these ideas for teaching plot and setting to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

It is easy to teach students literary vocabulary and assess them on the meaning of those terms, but for students to truly understand literary elements, students need to practice using that vocabulary in ways that deepen their understanding of how stories work. Students need multiple opportunities to read and write about the vocabulary related to plot and setting. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce plot and setting in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Build Up From The “SWBST” Strategy To A Plot Diagram
The “Somebody Wanted But So Then” strategy is one way to summarize a text by identifying and describing key story elements. You can find an example of a "SWBST" chart in this blog post. Once students are comfortable summarizing a story this way, introduce them to the more sophisticated parts of the plot diagram: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Use can find a free plot diagram graphic organizer here. You can have some groups use a "SWBST" chart and other groups use a plot diagram, and then compare how each breaks down the story.

Analyze Through Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers are the perfect tool to dive deeper into a story's meeting. With a variety of graphic organizers for setting, each student can choose the best way to showcase their understanding of a story. Plus, graphic organizers naturally provide scaffolding. Often, I use graphic organizers as a form of prewriting for larger literary analysis. 

Use these ideas for teaching plot and setting to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Make It Visual With Color Coding
In this blog post from Teaching in Room 6, one of the strategies she uses to help students differentiate the parts of plot is to have students highlight each part of a short story with different colors. You can find several short (one page) stories here that would be perfect for that. Similarly, you could have students use different color sticky notes to mark the different parts of plot in children's books. 

Reinforce Skills With An Escape Room
One way to introduce, teach, or review plot and setting with students is through an engaging, hands-on escape room activity. This resource works best in the middle school or lower-level high school English classroom, and it is an ideal way to review various elements of fiction -including plot and setting. In this escape room, students work their way through a series of elements of fiction tasks, including plot and setting. Once they emerge from the escape room activity, they are ready for any short story or fiction teaching unit.

Use these ideas for teaching plot and setting to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Examine The Overall Impact Of Changing One Plot Element
This lesson from Flocabulary includes a great introductory video with accompanying notes, a handout with a short story to diagram, and other suggestions for practice. The best part of the lesson and the higher level thinking activity is when students are asked to change one plot element in a story and then examine how that change would impact the rest of the plot. You could have students decide which element they would change or pick at random from a hat. Once one element has changed, they would have to rewrite the rest of the story as needed. This might work best with fairy tales or other well known stories so that students can share and appreciate each others' rewrites.

You can find all of my resources for teaching plot and setting here.

Use these ideas for teaching plot and setting to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.


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