Completing the Circle: The Craft of Circular Plot Structure
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After exploring a variety of circle plot story books, students identify, explore and apply the elements of circle plot structures to their own stories. "Reading like writers," students will explore the ways that stories are structured; then, "writing like writers," students explore organizational structures in their own writing. Students first examine the attributes of circular shapes and brainstorm things with a circular pattern, such as seasons. After exploring how Cynthia Rylant's Long Night Moon might be a circular story, students listen to a circle story read aloud. Students discuss why the story is called a circular story and make connections to Rylant's book. They then read several more examples and, using circle plot diagrams as their tools, students write their own circular plot stories. Finally, students share their work with peers, revise their work using a checklist for self-evaluation, and compare their self-evaluation to teacher assessment.
Interactive Circle Plot Diagram: Students use this online tool to label and describe the events in a story with a circular plot.
From Theory to Practice
"Writers notice, listen, observe, and think like writers all the time," and this kind of writerly practice is what we need to have our students do according to Lisa Cleaveland and Katie Wood Ray, in About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers (159). In their model of writing workshop, Cleaveland and Ray ask students, "Did you stand on an author's shoulders to write this? If so, whose?" (173). As they answer, students recognize the crafting techniques of the writers who inspire and influence their own work. In this lesson, students explore the craft of authors who have written books that use the circle-plot technique, and then use these books as framing texts that allow them to "apprentice themselves to writers whose work they admire" (172).
This connection between reading works of others and writing their own texts is important for all writers. As Katie Wood Ray reminds us in her Wondrous Words, "None of the other steps [in workshop writing] are worth the effort if they don't end with writers being able to take the crafting techniques back to their own writing when they need them" (126). Every minilesson should end with students envisioning a new possibility for their work, by "stand[ing] on an author's shoulders."
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.
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
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 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).
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 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
Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant
- Gather picture books that use a circular plot structure, including Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant. Rylant’s book explains the names Native Americans have given to the twelve moons of the year. If you do not use Rylant’s book, adjust Session One to fit the book that you have chosen.
- Prepare a sample on the Circle Plot Diagram to demonstrate to the class after sharing one of the books. If computers are not available, make copies of the Circle Plot Graphic Organizer for students, and adjust the instructional plans to fit the printed handout.
- If the computer interactive is used, the computer lab may need to have a link prepared on each student computer for student access.
- Make copies of the Drawing Story Frame or Drawing and Writing Story Frame, Self-Assessment and Teacher Assessment for each student.
- Test the Circle Plot Diagram on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- identify the characteristics of circular plot structures.
- use graphic organizers of the circle plot diagram to preplan a story.
- draw or write and illustrate an original circular story.
- work together with peers during the writing workshop.
- participate in a self-evaluation of their own writing.
- share the story with an audience.
Session One: Introduction to Circle Stories
- Using a wall calendar as a visual, ask students to describe the calendar.
- Flip through the months and allow students to recite the names of the months aloud.
- Ask students what happens when the calendar is used up. Most students will know there will be a new calendar for the next year.
- Next, ask students to describe the new calendar, and whether the characteristics will be the same.
- Prompt the students to describe how a year makes a circle.
- Share with the students the phrase full circle. Explain that when something begins again, it has come full circle.
- Invite the students to name the attributes of circular shapes.
- Lead a brainstorming session on things with a circular pattern, directing their suggestions away from things that are actually circular in shape. They may suggest seasons of the year after the calendar demonstration, for instance. Relate the circular idea to stories the class may have already read or know about.
- Show the cover of Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant. Allow time for students to comment on or discuss the illustration. Invite the students to describe the shape of the moon.
- Flip through the pages of the book, showing students how the book has a moon on each two-page spread.
- Showing Long Night Moon again, ask the students to predict how the book might be a circular story. It is a story with all twelve months of the year, the story begins in January and students should know it will end in December.
- Read the story to the children, stopping for comments and questions along the way.
Session Two: More Practice with Circular Plots
- Before beginning this session, choose a book from the circle plot booklist to share with the students.
- When the session begins, explain that you will again be reading a circle story.
- Invite students to share what they remember about the plots of a circle story: a story that ends almost the same way as it begins.
- Read the first page of the picture book that you’ve chosen for this session.
- Ask, “What happens first in this story?”Have students predict where the story will end.
- Continue reading the story, pausing to ask students to predict what might be on the next page. For example, using questions such as “What will happen next?” and “ How do they know?”
- Ask students to explain why this story is called a circular story.
- Make connections between the story from this session and the story from the first session.
Session Three: Circle Plot Graphic Organizer
- Using texts selected from the booklist, invite the students to explore and read several more examples individually, in pairs, or in small groups.
- As the students are reading, circulate around the room, asking them to predict what is going to happen in the story. Invite students to share the reasons that they think these books have been categorized as having circular plots.
- Choose an additional book for a whole-class read aloud from the booklist. Begin with predictions, and ask prompting questions along the way.
- Working together as a class, diagram the plot of the selected book. You may either use the online Circle Plot Diagram or a print version of that graphic organizer.
- Model the process of using the Circle Plot Diagram, using think-aloud protocols to explain what you are doing as you add your title, and so forth. This step prepares students to use the tool themselves in the next session.
- As you add items to the plot, invite students to comment on what you are doing and perhaps why. Younger students can draw instead of write in the spaces if the print chart is used.
- If the students are ready, ask them to tell you what should be placed in the Circle Plot Diagram.
- When completed, either print out the Circle Plot Diagram or post the print version.
- Ask the students to compare their graphic organizer with the text they were using. Encourage students to focus on whether the diagram matches the text in the book.
Session Four: Circle Plot Assignment
- Begin this session by discussing the circular-plot books that have been read and shared by the class.
- Discuss what makes a good circle plot story, asking students to identify any characteristics that are the common throughout.
- Explain that during the next sessions, students will write their own circle-plot stories, using what they have learned from the the books read in previous sessions.
- Share both the self-assessment checklist and the teacher assessment form with students so they know the targets that they are aiming towards.
- Using the Circle Plot Diagram, have students plot out their own circle stories. If computer access is limited, students can use the printed version of the graphic organizer. Kindergarten students could draw inside boxes around a circle to show their story organization, or draw their stories, and number circles in order.
- Ask students to write their story titles in the title space, and their names in the name space.
- Remind students that a demo pops up after the title and name is entered. Have the students watch the demo and then close it by clicking on the X in the top right corner.
- Next, students write events in their stories in the rectangles on the right side of the screen. Remind students to keep the event label short when using the online Circle Plot Diagram so that they can see the entire label on their printouts.
- Below the event or “what is happening” box, a larger box appears where students write additional details about the event. The information entered in the larger box will be on the printout below the circle plot diagram.
- After each event is entered, drag the rectangles to the circle on the left side of the screen. Explain that other information entered will appear on the printout.
- Focus students’ attention on story events, rather than the number of items. Some may have three story events; others may have twelve if using something like twelve months.
- Remind students to check the first event and last event to make sure that they are similar or match, as this is a key characteristic of a circle story.
- Ask students to print out their diagrams once all the events have been added.
Session Five: Writing Circle Stories
- Using the printout from the Circle Plot Diagram or the printed version of the graphic organizer, students write their circle stories, using a word processor, the Drawing Story Frame, or the Drawing and Writing Story Frame for their drafts and final stories.
- Circulate among students, conducting writing conferences as students work.
- Remind students of the criteria on the self-evaluation checklist so they remember what the targets are.
- If possible, have peers work together to help each other think of ways to add details to their stories and organizers.
- When students believe that their stories are finished, ask them to compare their stories to their graphic organizers to make sure that there are no items or events missing.
- Provide time for editing and revision, if needed.
- Allow time for the students to share their stories, extending the lesson for an additional session if needed.
For additional ideas of working with Circle Plot, see Unwinding A Circular Plot: Prediction Strategies in Reading and Writing.
Student Assessment / Reflections
For informal feedback, use these options:
- Use anecdotal notetaking or kidwatching to track students’ cognitive skills as they explain their thinking in creating their circle plot diagram.
- Encourage students to explain their work using think-aloud techniques. Be sure that students make their thinking visible through rough-draft talk as they explore the connections between the graphic organizer and their writing.
- Make copies of the completed diagrams for students to share with their families or post in the classroom for informal feedback.
For more structured feedback, use these options:
- In teacher or peer writing conferences, ask students to evaluate their finished stories using the checklist.
- Using the teacher assessment sheet, assess students’ stories yourself, sharing the feedback with students and families.
- Encourage students to compare the teacher feedback to their own self-assessment in individual conferences and discuss any discrepancies.