5 min read

How To Teach Elements of a Story to Kids

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Developing the structure of stories is important for children to learn and comprehend what they are reading in the classroom setting.

Before children can utilize the key elements of a story, they need to be able to identify the sections confidently. 

So, what are the components of a story? I work very closely with English teachers at my job and we find the most success when we break up the components into two different groups. The first group comprises the basic components of a story and is generally taught to elementary and middle school students, while the second group consists of more complex elements taught to more advanced students. 

Even though I work with high school students, they haven’t been taught the first key elements of a story and need a basic introduction in order to complete essays and writing assignments. 

Five Elements of a Story

  1. Setting – The setting refers to not only the physical location of where the story takes place, but also the time period. It is basically the where and when of the story. 
  2. Characters – Depending on the type of story you are reading, characters are typically people or animals. They are the ones that drive the story forward and are the who of the plot. 
  3. Plot – The plot refers to the events that happen in a story. The plot consists of an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. It is the what of the story. In most stories, there is a problem in the beginning and it ends with a resolution. 
  4. Conflict – The conflict is the problem in the story. No conflict = no story. Even children’s books have a problem that needs to be solved by the characters. Setting up the conflict gives characters their why. 
  5. Theme – This is probably the most complicated element of a story and is hard for most students to identify. The theme is the overall message of the story. It’s what the author wants you to learn. 

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More Advanced Elements of a Story

Once students have grasped the concepts of the previously mentioned elements of a story, they can move on to the more advanced components. These concepts can be addressed at any age, however, most children cannot understand these elements until at least 5th grade. These elements are:

  1. Point of View – The POV is who is telling the story. This can be 1st, 2nd or 3rd person. Does it switch back and forth? In the novel, Frankenstein, the POV switches between three different characters in the story.
  2. Tone – The tone is the mood of the story. Is it dark and ominous or happy and joyful? A writing’s tone is established through word choices, use of literary devices, grammar, rhythm, and rhyme. 
  3. Style – Related to tone in many regards, style is the individual author’s unique voice and it is again evidenced in their word choices, plot patterns, sentence structures etc. The writer’s personal style is a strong contributor to a writing’s tone.
  4. Mood – This is about the effect the writer creates in the reader and how they evoke it through their use of language.

Why Are Story Elements Important?

There are many reasons students need to be well-versed in identifying the elements of a story, not least of which is the deeper levels of comprehension and enhanced appreciation this brings. Understanding how a story is organized is necessary for students to access the highest levels of comprehension of that story. Understanding how a story is organized also provides students with a frame of reference that greatly assists with recall. Often important, especially where exams are concerned, the implications here for subjects outside the English classroom are obvious too. 

Being familiar with the various elements that combine together in good storytelling also helps students in their own writing. It helps students to organise their thoughts and to competently weave together the various threads of their own stories. No small feat for an experienced writer, let alone a novice!

How to Teach Story Structure

Graphic Organizers

I love graphic organizers! I have a whole binder of different types that I can distribute to my students and teachers. This is an easy way to help kids keep information organized, but also make sure they have all the necessary components when they go to write an essay.

Graphic Organizer to explain the elements of a story.
This simple graphic organizer can help your child to learn more about the story.

Story Maps

Story maps help students to organize the elements of the story in a visual manner that assists in gaining that fuller comprehension. Students examine the assigned text and extract the information related to each element. They can then record this information on their copy of the story map. Story maps easily lend themselves to being differentiated, as the teacher can select the elements most appropriate for the age and ability of the students. In the beginning, students should gain experience identifying the basic elements in simple stories – fairy tales for example – before moving on to more sophisticated stories employing a wider range of elements.

Read, Roll and Retell

This simple activity is a fun way for students in a group to review material they have recently read. It begins with a student rolling a die or dice. The number they roll corresponds to a list of questions on each story element. For example, the student rolls a 3 which corresponds to a question on setting, such as Where and when did this story take place? The student then answers in as much detail as possible with reference to the text. This activity can easily be differentiated by increasing the number and complexity of the questions, as well as by broadening the range of elements included. More than one question about each element can be included too.

Pick a part

This activity works well with students working in pairs. Each student has a copy of the story. The various story elements are written on pieces of card: character, setting, mood, tone etc. Students take turns picking out a piece of card, making sure their partner does not know which element they have selected. They must then read a brief extract from the story that corresponds to that element. Their partner must attempt to identify the element. When their partner has successfully identified the story element, it is then their turn to pick a card.

Story Graph

This activity works best for recording the sub-elements of plot, such as: exposition, rising action, conflict, falling action, climax and resolution. The storygraph works as a straightforward graph with the various elements above listed on the x axis, according to their chronological appearance in the text. The y axis represents excitement, with the most dramatic points plotted higher. Students plot these points for each element. For example, the exposition of the story (usually corresponding to the setting of the scene, introduction of the characters etc.) will be plotted quite low in the excitement stakes, with the excitement gradually rising to the crescendo of the climax before dipping slightly for the resolution.

Here you can find more on importance of reading and books for preschoolers!

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