Lesson Ideas for Teaching Story Elements

Story elements include characters, setting, plot and theme. The more students understand about these elements, the better equipped they will be to appreciate literature. Learning about story elements helps students hone their own creativity. They'll also develop better reading comprehension skills such as the ability to make generalizations and inferences based on what they've read.

Freytag's Pyramid

A German novelist, Gustav Freytag, came up with a means of diagramming story elements now referred to as Freytag's Pyramid. Using Freytag's Pyramid, students learn how plot works to propel a story forward. They'll diagram scene-setting, represented by the ground level of the pyramid. Then, they will pinpoint the incident that begins the story by diagramming it as the location where the pyramid starts to rise off the ground. Rising action constitutes a line that leads up to the apex of the pyramid, which represents the climax of the story. Falling action appears as a line that angles down as the other side of the pyramid. The resolution appears at the point where the pyramid again meets the ground. The dénouement, or ending, is represented by a straight line on the other side of the ground that continues on from the pyramid.

Story Map

A more comprehensive means of analyzing story elements involves making a story map. In this method, the teacher reads a short story out loud, and students listening to the story take notes on the story's setting, characters, conflicts, key plot events and resolution. Then the teacher engages the students in a discussion about the story, during which he or she writes student feedback about plot elements on a story map, which delineates the various elements of the story on which the students took notes. The teacher pays particular attention to the chain of events making up the story's plot and how they (together with character and setting) drive the story toward its conclusion.

Creative Writing

A great way for students to learn about story elements is to write their own stories. First, students will develop characters, with an eye toward what roles the characters will play in the stories. Main characters must have goals which will, in turn, help them carry the storyline. Then students will outline plots for their stories. Conflict is essential to plot. In a good story, the main character encounters obstacles and must learn to overcome them. These obstacles may take the form of internal struggles, other characters or forces of nature. Setting, too, must play a role in the story by advancing character development, plot or theme. By developing their own stories, students can better describe and appreciate the elements that make up a good story.