Standard Lesson

Comics in the Classroom as an Introduction to Narrative Structure

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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A strong plot is a basic requirement of any narrative. Students are sometimes confused, however, by the difference between a series of events that happen in a story and the plot elements, or the events that are significant to the story. In this lesson, students select a topic for a personal narrative and then do the prewriting in comic-strip format to reinforce the plot structure. Finally, they write their own original narratives based on the comic strip prewriting activity, keeping the elements of narrative writing in mind. The lesson uses a version of "The Three Little Pigs" fairy tale to demonstrate the literary element; however, any picture book with a strong plot would work for this lesson.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The plot of a narrative is comprised of a series of "things that characters do, feel, think, or say" (Dibell, p. 6); however, each of the events must be important to the outcome of the story. A list of events or incidents alone is not a plot. The events must be "significant events" rather than a simple series of things that happen. As an example, Ansen Dibell points to the story of Rapunzel. "Braiding one's hair" is simply an "incident" most of the time. Dibell explains, it's one of many events that "happen, but they don't lead to anything much. No important consequences. But if the character is Rapunzel, and the hair is what's going to let the prince climb to her window, braiding her he plot of a narrative is comprised of a series of "things that characters do, feel, think, or say" (Dibell, p. 6); however, each of the events must be important to the outcome of the story. A list of events or incidents alone is not a plot. The events must be "significant events" rather than a simple series of things that happen. As an example, Ansen Dibell points to the story of Rapunzel. "Braiding one's hair" is simply an "incident" most of the time. Dibell explains, it's one of many events that "happen, but they don't lead to anything much. No important consequences. But if the character is Rapunzel, and the hair is what's going to let the prince climb to her window, braiding her hair is a crucial action" (5).

In this lesson, students sketch out the series of events that occur in their stories, using comic strips as traditional storyboards. By consciously structuring the segments of their narratives in this way, students are encouraged to make connections between events so that their significance to the story is obvious.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computer access

  • Overhead or LCD projector

  • General classroom supplies (board or chart paper, markers or chalk, and so on)

  • A picture book version of "The Three Little Pigs" (such as David Wiesner's The Three Pigs) or this online version from Literacy Zone. Alternatively, you could view a video or audio version of the story rather than reading the book.




Student Objectives

Students will

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics of narratives (e.g., sequence, storytelling).

  • Identify significant events in a narrative they read or hear.

  • Explore the differences between random or background events and events that are significant to the story.

  • Compose a series of events for a traditional plot (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution).

  • Write an original narrative that combines a series of plot events.

Session One

  1. Read a version of "The Three Little Pigs" to students. Though the plot is a more sophisticated than in traditional versions, David Wiesner's Caldecott-winning book The Three Pigs is especially appropriate, since the book includes comic-style frames (which represent pages of books) that the pigs break out of in the course of the story. If you prefer, however, any version of the story will work, including this more traditional, online version.

  2. As you read, ask students to listen for the specific events that happen in the story as you read.

  3. Ask students to share the events that they remember from the text, and list the words on the board or overhead.

  4. Introduce the story element plot by writing a basic definition on the board or on chart paper. You can use a definition from your reading text, or use one of these simple definitions:

    • Plot is "a set of events structured to achieve an effect (for example, the use of flashback to create mystery)" (Moon, p. 104)

    • "Plot is build of significant events in a given story—significant because they have important consequences" (Dibell, p. 5)

    • "Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward." (Dibell, p. 6)
  5. Read the story again. Ask students to listen for events that fit the definition of plot that you've shared. Pause as you read to add events to the board or overhead.

  6. Return to the list of events and your definition of plot. Read through the entire list and make any changes necessary (additions, combining similar events, and so forth).

  7. Separate the list into random or background events and those that are significant to the story by circling the significant events listed. Emphasize that the events that are significant to the story comprise the story's plot.

  8. Introduce the traditional narrative plot structure (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). You can use the Plot Structure Graphic Organizer to help clarify the way that the structure works in a story.

  9. Place the significant events you've circled on the Plot Structure Graphic Organizer, enforcing the characteristics of the various terms (rising action, climax, etc.)as you add them items.

Session Two

  1. Review the definition of plot and plot structure from the previous session.

  2. Brainstorm a list of events that students can choose among for their own personal narratives. Any of these areas would work as general topics for which students can create a more specific list of topics:

    • asking for money/a new toy/permission to do something

    • winning or accomplishing something

    • a serious mistake made when you were younger

    • a time when something good happened to you or someone you know

    • making a choice

    • getting injured and getting better

    Alternatively, you can use Rick Walton's Tell Your Own Three Little Pigs Story as a starting place or following the one of the suggestions on Vicki Blackwell's Three Pigs Page, you can have students "write a story about other folktale and fairytale characters that could be rescued by the Three Pigs."

  3. Explain the activity to students: they will choose a topic for a personal narrative, doing the prewriting for their story in comic-strip format. Demonstrate the Comic Creator student interactive so that students can visualize their writing task.

  4. Ask students to follow a series of steps similar to those that you've used to analyze the picture book in the previous session:

    1. Brainstorm a list of events that happened in the story they've chosen to tell.

    2. Identify the significant events that form the plot.

    3. Structure the significant events into a traditional plot, using the Comic Strip Narrative Planning Sheet (and if your students need additional reinforcement of the way the structure works, the Plot Structure Graphic Organizer).

  5. Give students the rest of the session to work on their narratives and planning sheets. Students can work individually or in writing groups. Either way, encourage students to share their ideas with one another. As students work, circulate among individuals or groups, providing supportive feedback and help as needed.

Session Three

  1. Remind students of the goals and elements included in this project. Answer any questions students have.

  2. To make comic strips, have your students follow these basic steps, referring to their planning sheet as they work in the Comic Creator:

    1. For the comic title and subtitle, name the narrative that will be depicted.

    2. Include your name as the author of this comic strip.

    3. Choose the six-frame comic strip.

    4. In the first frame, create a "title page" that begins the story.

    5. In the remaining five frames of the comic strip illustrate the significant events from your narrative that correspond to the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

    6. Under each picture or cartoon, write a caption that summarizes the event(s) that are detailed in the scene.

    7. Print at least three copies of your finished comic strip. (One copy is for you to respond to; one is for students to share with someone else; and one copy is for the students to keep. Since you cannot save files in the Comic Creator, it's useful to have an additional copy printed out just in case the original is misplaced or damaged).

  3. While students work, again encourage them to interact with one another, to share and receive feedback on their plans for comic strips.

  4. After the comic strips are printed out, students can decorate them with markers or other classroom supplies.

  5. As students finish, ask them to turn in a copy of the comic strip. You can respond informally to these comics. Remember that they are prewriting, not finished drafts. If you do comment on this pieces, then, focus on advice that will help students develop their final product. Even if you choose not to respond, having a copy of the comics on hand is useful if you need a replacement for a student as you move to Session Four.

Session Four

  1. Remind students of the project they are working on, writing a narrative based on their comic strip prewriting. Answer any general questions before moving on.

  2. Present the characteristics of narrative writing and the Comic Strip Narrative Rubric to provide students with more information about the essay they will write. You might write the information on a piece of chart paper or on the board so that writers can refer to the list while working on this activity. The following list is a useful starting place:

    A narrative essay

    • Develops plot, character, and setting with specific detail.

    • Focuses on a series of related and significant events.

    • Orders events clearly (often chronologically, but a narrative can also use flashback and flash-forward).

    • Uses description and dialogue as appropriate to develop setting and character.

    • Shows events rather than just telling about them.

    • Uses transitional words and phrases to maintain coherence and establish sequence within and between paragraphs.
  3. Once you're satisfied that students understand the writing task, choose a comic strip to model the tasks that students will complete. You can use a comic strip that you've created, one from a newspaper, or one from a student.

  4. Introduce the idea that the comic strip is an outline for their story. It should help them with the flow and organization of their essay.

  5. Using an overhead projector, show one frame of a comic strip. Explain that students will be changing the comic strip into paragraphs in their essays. To demonstrate the process, ask students "How would you describe what is happening in the comic?"

  6. Take notes on their ideas on the board, on chart paper, or on the bottom of the overhead as the students share details. Once students have brainstormed adequate detail, draft the paragraphs that relate to the comic strip frame collaboratively. Make sure students include description of what is going on in the story as your write these paragraphs.

  7. As you draft, take the opportunity to address specific questions about word choice, grammar, punctuation, and conventions. As the need for guidelines comes up, you can use the following questions to introduce or remind students of the rules for dialogue and narrative writing:

    • What punctuation would you use when you quote someone word for word?

    • Where would you place the punctuation when using direct quotations?

    • What words are usually capitalized?

    • nstead of always using "s/he said" after the quote, how else might you write it?
  8. Show the students the second square of the comic and repeat the procedure until the entire strip has been written into a story.

  9. Once you've demonstrated the process, answer any questions then have students write their own story, using their comic strips as the starting point for their narrative.

  10. Based on student need and experience with writing narratives, you might add one or more minilessons that will help students complete their work. Any of the following items would make excellent minilessons for writers composing narratives:


If you want students to create a more formal piece of writing, allow additional class sessions for them to revise, type, and edit their papers. Alternately, you might have students do simple "first draft" writing, or write in their journals or writer's notebooks.

Student Assessment / Reflections

The results of this activity range from a restatement of the events in the comic strips to a detailed story with fleshed-out characterizations, depending upon the student and his or her abilities; therefore, a variety of finished products may result, each reflecting individual student's efforts.

  • If students write their stories in their journals, you might read and simply note things that stand out as specific and well-detailed.

  • If students complete multiple drafts of this piece, you could use the Peer Review: Narrative lesson plan to give students the chance to do self-assessment and revise their texts. Then use similar guidelines to respond to their writing.

  • Use the Comic Strip Narrative Rubric for assessment of the story itself.

If you'd prefer a more formal assessment of the comics themselves in addition to or instead of evaluation of the written narrative, use the Rubric for Comic Strip Reports which is tied to the elements included in the planning sheet. Be sure to share the rubric with students as they are working on their comics so that they understand the goals for the project.