What You'll Need
Begin by referencing your favorite stories. Identify and summarize the plots. Include all relevant events and conflicts and note the effects of these actions on the stories' characters. This practice will help you when students ask for the plot summaries of well-known works.
A summary on plot construction.
A powerpoint presentation on plot. Prior Student Knowledge
Basic vocabulary and concepts of fiction writing.
Definition of fiction
Categories within fiction (short story, novel, novella, etc.)
Familiarity with terms used within and to describe fiction (character, plot, setting, dialogue, etc.)
If students need a refresher:
Small Group Instruction
Arrange handouts in the order the class will address them. Post content vocabulary words for easy reference.
Arrange seating so that deaf/hard of hearing students are close to where instruction will be delivered. Blind/Low Vision students will benefit from handouts with large print or braille. English Language Learners may benefit from supplemental vocabulary sheets that define literary terms and difficult words. An adjusted workload (simpler plot summaries, shorter stories) will help struggling/striving readers. A chart outlining the progression of the story (noting the rising action, climax, and resolution) will benefit logical-mathematical students. Musically-intelligent students can be asked to reference the plot patterns in popular songs to help grasp the concept of plot. Interpersonal and Intrapersonal learners should be directed to characters/1st person narrators and their motivations when explaining plot development. Naturalist learners may benefit from plot summaries and stories that have animals for characters.
Resources in Reach
Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.
There is a diverse body of literary criticism dedicated to defining literary elements and their purpose in crafting a story. To account for these different outlooks, include references to a wide variety of authors from various artistic and cultural backgrounds.
Give students a firm foundation by explicitly demonstrating the definition of plot.
1. Post the following statements on the board. Students should have copies of Plot vs Narrative worksheets:
The wife died. The husband died.
The wife died, and then the husband died from grief.
2. Ask students to distinguish between the statements. Note that statement A is simply the relaying of events and that statement B not only relays a sequence of events but notes the effects of those events on the people involved. Have students write these ideas on their Plot vs Narrative worksheets.
3. Summarize the class discussion by explaining that statement A is an example of a narrative and statement B is an example of a plot. Reiterate that plot not only spells out a story's sequence of events but reveals the impact of those events on the story's characters.
4. Have students come up with a few plot lines of their own following the established rules. They can write their plot lines on the Plot vs Narrative worksheet. Discuss the effectiveness of the plot lines with the class.
5. As a class, come up with a firm definition of plot.
Use the ideas explored in class to develop a student-made definition of plot. Be sure to include ideas about significant events and actions, conflict, and the effect of these elements on a story’s characters.
Now that students have a firm grasp of the definition of plot, explain that it is a literary element that depends on several other literary elements for its success. (For the elements of fiction, see the ReadWriteThink lesson,
Book Report Alternative: The Elements of Fiction.)
1. Review the following terms.
Conflict—a struggle between opposing forces. Conflict creates tension and suspense in a story. Sometimes there may be only one main conflict. Sometimes characters may be involved in several conflicts.
External Conflict: In this type of conflict, a character struggles with some outside person or force. One character may oppose another character. Sometimes a character struggles against a natural force such as a blizzard or condition such as poverty.
Internal Conflict: In this type of conflict, a struggle takes place within the mind or heart of a character. For example, a character might struggle with the idea of going to college to pursue his or her dreams or staying home to run the family business.
Climax—the turning point. The climax of a story is the point of greatest intensity, when the crisis comes to a head. It is the high point of interest or suspense in a story and elicits the biggest emotional response to a character’s problem. Generally, the situation is such that the conflict must be resolved one way or another (the character is back into a corner), or the character starts to take a decisive action to end the conflict.
Resolution—the conclusion of the plot’s conflicts. It is the point at which the story’s loose ends are tied up. The problems are resolved and closure occurs.
Each of these elements works together to form a strong plot.
2. Discuss what some authors have to say about plot.
“I have studied it often, but I never could discover the plot.” – Mark Twain (Perhaps Twain was saying it is hard to “pin down” the effects of a set of actions in his or others’ work; or perhaps he was saying the actions weren’t clear. It seems that Twain believes plot is either a difficult concept or an unimportant one).
“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is—full of surprises.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer (Singer believes it is important that a story excite the reader.)
“Essentially and most simply put, plot is what the characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters.” – Elizabeth George (George illustrates the proximity of plot and characters. Have students discuss how and why the two elements are so closely related.)
“I have a plot, but not much happens.” – Howard Nemerov (Nemerov may be saying a story’s importance stems from its characters, language, or element other than plot. Explain that stories that are “pure plot” and stories that lack an identifiable plot are often criticized for these extremes.)
3. Point out some popular plot patterns.
A plot moves a story from point A to point Z. Some commonly used plot patterns that move stories include the following:
From problem to solution
From mystery to solution
From strife to peace
From danger to safety
From confusion to order
From dilemma to decision
From ignorance to knowledge
From questions to answers
Remind students that these plot patterns are outlines for actual plots and not plots themselves. They can be used to help guide the development of plots and stories.
4. Ask students the following discussion questions:
Think about the plots of some of your favorite books. Can you pick out which plot pattern or patterns are at work in each of them? Do your favorite books tend to have similar plot patterns or a wide variety of them? Which plot pattern do you think is most effective? Explain.
1. Place students in small groups. Have each group work together to identify a conflict they’d like to see resolved in a story. Remind students that a conflict does not have to exist between two characters. Ask them to choose a conflict with “high stakes” or a conflict that presents significant difficulty for the characters. A poor example of a “high stakes” conflict might be a character who is unable to decide between wearing a red and a blue shirt (though such a harmless gesture might mask a more serious conflict.) A stronger example of a “high stakes” conflict might be a character who must decide between keeping a secret and divulging it.
2. Have students review the plot patterns worksheet and identify the pattern that best reflects their conflict.
Encourage students to create plot patterns of their own if they’d like.
3. Within their groups, students should write a plot summary.
Plot summaries should include key events in the story and express how those events impact the characters. Tell students they will not be bound to these plot summaries and that the creative process is always open to change. The summaries are simply a foundation for building a successful plot.
4. Tell students that they will be using their group-made plot summaries to draft individual stories of their own. Students in a given group will create individual stories with the same plot. Stories will be distinguished by each student's approach to the writing. Characters, setting, dialogue, and styles will all vary.
5. Allow students independent class time to create their stories. Provide students with the Plot Checklist so that they are sure to include all necessary elements. It may be helpful to have students complete the stories at home.
Elements of a Plot Diagram
1. Have students share their plot summaries with the class. A representative from each group can read and explain the plot summaries. Encourage speakers to talk about how the summaries were developed and to support their choices with explanations.
2. Using what has been learned about narrative vs. plot, conflict, resolution, and plot patterns, ask students to critique the plot summaries of their classmates. Establish a set of rules for the critique. Ask students to point out at least one positive characteristic of each summary, to note at least one interesting characteristic, and to point out an area in need of improvement. Remind students that summaries are to be judged based on what has been learned in class.
3. Ask for volunteers to share their stories with the class. It may be helpful to determine who would like to share their work beforehand. This way, a method for sharing can be established. Copies can be made for each member of the class or stories can be presented with PowerPoint or even through oral storytelling sessions.
4. As a class, critique the stories. Follow the pre-established rules for constructive criticism. If time permits, allow the class discussion to include criticism of the work of well-known authors. Excerpts of well-known authors' work.
A successful plot summary will include the following elements: Key events, the impact of those events on the story's characters, and evidence of a high stakes conflict.
A story's plot is not always easy to identify. Unlike a story's characters or setting, the plot is often neither immediately apparent nor directly stated. Some might even argue that a story's plot is open to interpretation. Allow students some space for creative explanations of the plots you explore.
Extending the Learning
1. Have students complete one of the writing activities on the accompanying Developing a Story handout. Instruct students to share their stories with the class. The students can select one story to turn into a small play. (You may want to divide the class into small groups and let them work on adapting different stories.) Allow students to create simple costumes and props to support the production. This can be done in class or at home. If possible, arrange for the students to perform the play for a kindergarten or lower-grade class within the school.
2. Create a literary magazine that includes each student's story and distribute it to the class, their family members, and school community.
The National Standards For Arts Education:
Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 1
Script writing through improvising, writing, and refining scripts based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history
Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 2
Acting by developing, communicating, and sustaining characters in improvisations and informal or formal productions
Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 3
Designing and producing by conceptualizing and realizing artistic interpretations for informal or formal productions
Language Arts Standard 1
Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Language Arts Standard 6
Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts
Common Core/State Standards
Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.