Plotting a Plan to Improve Writing: Using Plot Scaffolds

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Eight 45-minute sessions
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To facilitate students' thinking and problem-solving skills, this lesson tasks students with turning a plot scaffold into a written narrative. Students learn kinesthetically by acting out the scaffold "script" while collaborating with others to determine character motivations and dialogue. Students transition from actors to writers by having mental conversations with the characters they have created and letting their characters dictate how the story will evolve. Students are also prompted to insert imagery and use proper grammar in their written narrative.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Plot scaffolding involves turning a narrative plot into an open-ended play script in which students write their own dialogue and imagery in order to learn style and create a new story.

  • Plot scaffolds improve students' narrative writing because, as they complete the scaffold and physically act it out, students learn to write affective dialogue and imagery that drives the story, making the plot more active and engaging to the reader. Students "see" and "feel" what may otherwise be abstract or unfamiliar concepts in print.

  • Plot scaffolding provides a temporary linguistic tool to assist students in moving to levels of language performance that they might be unable to obtain without scaffolding. Because it is constructivist, scaffolding is especially useful for English-language learners as it builds from their individual language level.

  • Plot scaffolding enables English-language learners to practice reading fluently and aids transition into English. Play is a very powerful tool in second-language learning. Physically acting out a story uses nonverbal communication, and repeating lines in a script allows English-language learners to "rehearse" or practice English in a formative way.


  • Creative drama promotes problem solving, characterization, and imagery.

  • Drama enables participants to look at reality through fantasy and to see below the surface of actions to their meaning.

  • Drama is powerful because its unique balance of thought and feeling makes learning exciting, challenging, relevant to real-life concerns, and enjoyable.

  • Children bring to the classroom the universal human ability to play, to behave "as if," and to think spontaneously and learn kinesthetically.

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.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
  • 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

Computers with Internet access




1. If you are not familiar with plot scaffolds, you can learn more in the book Setting the Stage for Creative Writing: Plot Scaffolds for Beginning and Intermediate Writers. The second chapter from this book, "Plot Scaffolds for Beginning Writers," is freely available online.

2. Read the sample plot scaffold Wolf Kids, which is based upon the founding of Rome. Note the formatting-this is an example of a legend that can be written as historical fiction.

3. Choose a story, genre, or historical event and use the Tips for Writing a Plot Scaffold to write a simple scaffold or plan to use the Wolf Kids sample provided. Print one copy for each student.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Develop a range of writing strategies to engage the reader by creating an organized structure, excluding extraneous information, using sensory images, establishing a plot, creating relevant dialogue, developing complex characters, and providing a sense of closure

  • Apply a range of reading strategies by reading fluently, making predictions, recognizing multiple word meanings, identifying motives, and increasing vocabulary

  • Participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a literacy community by working collaboratively and actively soliciting peer and teacher comments and opinions

  • Use spoken, written, and visual language to write and act out a plot scaffold script

  • Create dialogue in their first language or transition into English

Session 1: Introduction to the Plot Scaffold

1. Introduce the prepared scaffold (see Preparation, Step 3). Ask students questions about the scaffold to determine prior knowledge on the subject. Discuss with students the following three questions as they pertain to plot and the scaffold you created:

  • What if?

  • What is the catch?

  • What then?
2. Hand out copies of the plot scaffold and have students read it aloud as if it were a play script. Do not read aloud the stage or plot directions. Assign students parts for the first reading, and tell them that some of the lines are blank and will be supplied by them. They will also have to supply ideas for the resolution, as the plot scaffold is open ended.

Allow students ample time to think about and reflect on what they might say when they come to the blank lines. Students can help each other with ideas. If there are not enough parts to go around, students may add more characters or take turns reading the existing parts. Animals or inanimate objects, such as doors or windows, may also be added as parts to play (providing an excellent opportunity for a minilesson on personification).

English-language learners (ELLs) may say lines in their first language so long as these lines fit the story plot. If the rest of the class is using English, then allowing ELLs to use their first language gives them a "voice" and justification for using their own first language until they feel comfortable using English. Language does not become a barrier to their participation with the class. If an ELL feels comfortable using and practicing English, then those lines created by the students in their first language may be translated into English.

3. Discuss the seven elements of plot that should be present and ask students to cite examples of each in the plot scaffold they just read.

  • Hook: Element found at the beginning of the story to grab the reader's attention

  • Problem: Dilemma or issue to be solved

  • Backfill: Relevant background information in the story

  • Complication: An intrinsic or extrinsic condition that challenges the main character

  • Action-Reaction: Main character tries to solve the problem, but it gets worse

  • Dark Moment: Climax of story

  • Resolution: Problem is solved


Note: The original plot scaffold is open ended, so remind students that they will have to solve the problem and add the ending to the story.

4. After reading through the scaffold, allow students to switch parts and read the scaffold again. They must provide the ending and add new lines that make sense with the story's ending. It is not necessary to write the lines at this point, but it is natural for some students to want to do so because they want to "remember" their lines or make the story run smoother without long pauses between characters talking.

Session 2: Acting Out the Scaffold

1. Assign parts and have students read the plot scaffold again, this time allowing them to get up and act out the script. Encourage them to change their voices, become the characters, and discuss the setting or props that would be necessary. If classroom computers are available, students may wish to use the Character Trading Cards tool to develop their characters in the plot scaffold.

2. Students may now begin to fill in the blank lines in the scaffold by writing the characters' lines. If they have been acting out the play, this writing step is very natural as the "play" runs smoother (without long pauses) when students know what they are going to say. ELLs may write lines in their own language or in English. If a second language is used, it should make sense with the rest of the story, especially if used in a mixed context with English.

3. Students may now begin to add images to the scaffold. Images are often the "scenery" in a story. Discuss how imagery shows a picture rather than tells about it, and can appeal to the five senses. Remind students to avoid cliché or tired phrases such as "blue as the sky" or "white as the snow." To further spice up their writing, students may also want to use phrases or clauses to begin some sentences rather than pronouns or dull-sounding words such as "the."

Sessions 3 and 4: Completing the Scaffold

1. As a group, have students read the plot scaffold aloud two more times to share their possible lines and discuss the images they have chosen. For example, with a scaffold like Wolf Kids, have several students read the lines they wrote for King Amulius when Romulus and Remus first returned to take the throne.

2. Have students finish filling in their scripts individually (or assign this as homework). Students should write their own lines for each character on the plot scaffold, which will subsequently become the student's rough draft in this writing project. Students need to complete images on the lines provided on the plot scaffold. These images should reflect what scenery is needed in the story. Students need to remember that unlike a play on stage, the reader cannot "see" the scenery in a written story unless it is described.

Sessions 5 and 6: Expanding the Scaffold Into a Narrative

1. Distribute the sheet How to Turn Flat Dialogue Into an Exciting Story. Discuss with students how to expand their dialogue into a story by adding costumes and movement to the characters. Once students realize that creating a story in this way is not intimidating, they become eager to participate and to continually revise and rewrite the story's ending until they are satisfied that the plot says what they want it to say. Remind students that because the characters in written text cannot be physically seen, this step is necessary for writing a clear, descriptive story.

2. Review the rules of punctuation and dialogue as well. Students can practice placing quotation marks around the dialogue on the hard copies of their plot scaffold to remind them to put the same marks around dialogue when they write their stories for the next draft.

3. Encourage students to change the original scaffold dialogue if they wish. Students should also convert the narrator's lines to background and imagery statements, since the narrator of the play is now the writer of the story. Where the plot scaffold may say something like, "The narrator said, ‘The kingdom of Alba Longa, King Amulius is sitting on the throne, talking to his guards,'" students' stories should simply say, "King Amulius of Alba Longa, trying to keep the throne, is plotting with his guards." (No quotation marks are needed around this statement when used in the story.)

4. Students should avoid the use of nondescript words such as said and brainstorm a list of more dynamic verbs for the dialogue such as exclaimed, muttered, or insinuated. In addition, adverbs give degree to the dialogue as in loudly exclaimed. Encourage students to write descriptive words directly on their scaffolds next to the appropriate characters. Unlike an audience watching a play, the reader cannot "see" the characters, so students need to describe how the characters look as they say the lines. The Character Trading Cards created during Session 2 (Step 1) may be used as sources for physical features and "costumes."

Sessions 7 and 8: Polishing Student Narratives

1. Have students share their plot scaffolds for peer review and editing. Act as a second editor and check all plot scaffolds to make sure they have been completed and the lines make sense. The following questions might be asked:

  • Is there a hook to the story? Does it grab the reader's attention?

  • Does the story have backfill that adds to the plot?

  • Does the story have a recognizable, interesting problem?

  • Are the seven elements of plot present?
2. Work with students to check that images start with phrases, clauses, or prepositions. If necessary, flip sentences so that they start with a phrase or clause. Grammar should be used to improve style.

3. Have students rewrite their rough drafts into finished products. Remind students to space the dialogue in their stories by moving to the next line and indenting.

4. If time is an issue, or to differentiate for learning abilities or styles, students can choose to summarize the ending of their story rather than write out the entire narrative.

5. Distribute the Plot Scaffold Rubric and ask students to assess their writing. These student assessments can be used in conjunction with the teacher evaluations.


1. Students may choose to act out the original scaffold by making it a play. Together, as a class, choose the best lines to complete the scaffold. Alternately, you may allow the class to pick one student's individual scaffold to use or have small groups act out two or three scaffolds.

2. To help students improve their oral language skills, tape record the class reading of the plot scaffold and play it back so that students can hear how they sound. Record a second reading of the play and let them compare and note improvements. This is especially helpful to ELLs as they practice speaking English. The rehearsal process allows them to practice speaking English and repeat lines to improve pronunciation.

3. Videotape the play and give students an opportunity to view their performance to learn how body language (nonverbal literacy) can be used to convey meaning.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Observe students’ participation in the initial discussions of the plot scaffold and how they add to their ideas as they progress through the lesson. Address any errors or misconceptions about how dialogue should be consistent with the character. Check to see that all seven elements of plot are present.

  • Observe students as they act out the scaffold and provide a safe environment where students will want to take risks in exploring ideas. Offer feedback and guidance to those who need encouragement or require assistance in learning group cooperation and tolerance.

  • Involve students in helping to create a rubric for final evaluation. (See the Plot Scaffold Rubric as a possible rubric or a guide to making one.) Apply the rubric.

  • If the project includes acting out the scaffold as a play, then triangulate the evaluation by assessing student achievement in listening, writing, and reading as well as including elements of nonverbal communication.


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