Plot Structure: A Literary Elements Mini-Lesson
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Freytag's Pyramid is a tool for mapping plot structure, which allows readers to visualize the key features of stories. Students whose experience with text is limited have internalized the pattern described by Freytag's Pyramid through oral storytelling and television viewing. They need help seeing that the patterns they are familiar with are the same ones writers use to construct a short story, play, or novel. This lesson plan provides a basic introduction to Freytag's Pyramid and to the literary element of plot. After viewing a brief presentation about plot structure, students brainstorm the significant events in a story with which they are all familiar and place those events on Freytag's Pyramid. They work in small groups to map the plot of another story. For homework, they map the plot of a favorite television show. Finally, they apply their knowledge of Freytag's Pyramid to map the plot of a narrative poem.
Plot PowerPoint Presentation: Use this presentation as an introduction to Freytag's Pyramid and the literary element of plot.
Plot Diagram: Students can use this online tool to map the plot of any story, play, movie, or other text.
From Theory to Practice
As Carol Jago explains, "It's easy to ‘teach' literary terminology and devise quizzes on the terms, but to make the language of literature useful to readers, students need to practice using academic vocabulary in ways that deepen their understanding of how stories work" (51). Jago proposes using Freytag's Pyramid to present and explore plot because the graphic organizer "allows readers to visualize key features of stories" (51). This lesson, which is adapted from Jago's "Stop Pretending and Think about Plot," asks students to practice using the literary element "in familiar contexts" (51). Through this process, students gain a deeper comprehension of the literary element's meaning and the ways that it contributes to a writer's craft.
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.
- 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).
Materials and Technology
- Preview the Plot PowerPoint Presentation and download a copy to your machine if desired to share with your class. If a computer and LCD projector are not available in your classroom, make overheads and/or copies of the Plot Presentation Handouts.
- If desired, make copies of the Family Letter for students to take home.
- Review the Web resources and choose any that can be used to supplement or reinforce the lesson plan. Decide when and how to use these sites.
- Test the Plot Diagram Tool on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- Review background information on The Elements of Plot Development (optional).
- review the characteristics of the literary element of plot.
- demonstrate an understanding of plot structure by applying the term in familiar contexts.
- use a plot diagram graphic organizer to present their analysis of plot structure.
- Introduce students to plot structure, using the Plot PowerPoint Presentation (see notes on the slides). Alternately, display overheads or pass out handouts to accompany your introduction to plot structure.
- Explain that plot structure is used for more than just the literature that they read in class. It is used in oral storytelling, television, movies, and more.
- Choose a story that all students are familiar with and ask the class to brainstorm the significant events in the story. As students make suggestions, write the events on the board.
- When students finish making suggestions, review the list. Ask students to look for any items which have been omitted or items which should be combined.
- Discuss the difference between significant events and the other events in the story.
- Demonstrate how to use the Plot Diagram interactive, using the relevant events from students' brainstormed list.
- Answer any questions that students have about the process.
- Arrange students in small groups, and ask each group to chart the course of a story they have recently read, using the Plot Diagram interactive. (If computers are not available, students can draw pyramids in their notebooks.) Assign each group a different story so that you can make comparisons later in the session.
- To guide students' discussion, you can share key questions that they must negotiate as they complete their pyramids, such as the following:
- What did the author need to explain to readers in the exposition section?
- What inciting event causes the action to begin to "rise"?
- Where does the story peak? Is there a clear climax?
- Which events lead up to the conclusion?
- How is the story resolved?
- What did the author need to explain to readers in the exposition section?
- As students work, you will likely overhear them arguing over where the story turns, where its climax is. Encourage students to point to evidence from the story to support their choices.
- Once students have completed their work, ask groups to share the plot diagrams with the class.
- Draw comparisons among the different diagrams. In particular, point out how the plot structure compares to overall text-are the plot sections of equal length? how and when are they different?
- Explain that the shape of the pyramid suggests that the climax always occurs in the middle of the story. This is often not the case. Particularly in short stories and situation comedies, the climax can occur relatively close to the end. Falling action leads swiftly to a resolution.
- Use the slider underneath the pyramid diagram in the Plot Diagram interactive to demonstrate how the climax of the plot can shift on the organizer.
- For homework, ask students to watch their favorite situation comedy, and chart the key events using the Plot Diagram interactive. If students do not have computer access at home, have them complete pyramids for their shows in their notebooks.
- Pass out the Family Letter, which explains the project that students will complete as homework.
- Ask students to share their completed plot diagrams informally with others as class begins.
- Draw students together for a class discussion. Ask students to share their observations of the plots for the situation comedies that they watched, using literary terms (e.g., exposition, climax).
- Allow enough time for a thorough discussion of the shows to give students adequate practice using literary terminology in a familiar context.
- Once students have all shared details on their plot analysis, turn the attention to narrative poetry, explaining that the backbone of most narrative poems is their plot, which can also be charted on a plot diagram.
- Read "Life is Fine" by Langston Hughes, "Landscape With The Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams, or another narrative poem. If you'd prefer a longer poem, Robert Frost's "Home Burial" or "Mending Wall" will work for this activity.
- After reading the poem you have chosen, ask students to use the Plot Diagram interactive, independently or in small groups, to outline the plot of the story that the poem tells. Ask students to point to specific details from the poem that support their interpretation of the plot.
- Once students have worked through the poem, ask them to share their diagrams with one another.
- Encourage students to discuss how the plot of the poem contributes to the poem as a whole.
- Move to one of the extension activities once students have demonstrated an understanding of plot and seem familiar with the literary terminology of plot structure.
- Have students use the Plot Diagram interactive to plan or analyze narratives that they are writing. Based on their analysis, ask students to ensure that their writing pays enough attention to the plot features.
- Ask students to use the Plot Diagram to analyze longer pieces of literature that they have read, such as a novella or novel. Because students will look for evidence throughout these longer works, this activity can serve as a review of the entire work. Encourage students to discuss the different events from the work and to compare the events in order to choose those that are significant to the plot's structure.
- As a review at the end of a term, divide the works that the class has covered among individuals or small groups. Have students return to the pieces and create plot diagrams to share with the rest of the class as a review of the works. Encourage students to compare the plots of the many works, looking for ways that different authors vary the structure in their works. The range of works that the class has covered can provide an opportunity to discuss the many different ways that plot structures can be varied in narrative works.
- Have students extend their analysis of popular cultural texts by analyzing the plot in a comedic movie that they have viewed recently or a longer television comedy, such as an hour-long situation comedy. After analyzing the shows, ask students to draw comparisons between shorter situation comedies and these longer texts. Ask students to discuss how the length of the text affects the plot structure of its narrative.
- Challenge students by asking them to analyze a dramatic television show, such as a mystery or crime drama. Once they have completed their diagrams, ask students to compare the plot structures of situation comedies to the shows that they have viewed. Ask students to draw conclusions about the plot structures of different genres based on their observations.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Informal assessment works best for this activity. Review students’ plot diagrams to gauge their understanding of plot structures. Read both for specific details that indicate that students understand and can define the literary terms and for students’ tone as an indication of their confidence in their knowledge.
thanks again! :))
thanks again! :))
thanks again! :))