Standard Lesson

Using Picture Books to Teach Setting Development in Writing Workshop

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
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After reading Water Hole Waiting by Jane Kurtz and Christopher Kurtz, or another book that has a well-developed setting, students work as a class to chart the use of the three elements of setting in the story, using specific words and examples from the text. Students then discuss the techniques that the book's author used to develop the setting, making observations and drawing conclusions about how authors make the setting they write about vivid and believable. Next, students work in small groups to analyze the setting in another picture book, using an online graphic organizer. Finally, students apply what they have learned about how authors develop good settings to a piece of their own writing

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From Theory to Practice

When they are exposed to multiple texts that illustrate effective writing, students naturally begin to think about how that the techniques can be applied to their own writing. By modeling the process of reading like writers, teachers demonstrate the kind of thinking that will help students improve their own literacy skills. As Katie Wood Ray states, "the inquiry structures in writing workshops do simply this-they slow down and make more deliberate the reading like writers that happens vicariously when any writer reads. Slowing down lets writers apprentice themselves very deliberately to other writers" (16).

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

  • 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).
  • 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



  • Use this activity when you observe students who are interested in revising their writing but need specific guidance. Instead of multiple writing conferences on developing setting, you can hold a focus-lesson with a group or all students invited to attend.

  • Before beginning this activity, students should write a piece of writing, which will be the object of their revisions.

  • Review Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Settings and collect texts that will be used for the lesson. This lesson uses the book Water Hole Waiting by Jane Kurtz and Christopher Kurtz (Greenwillow, 2002) as an example, but you can use any book from the list.

  • Make copies or an overhead transparency of the Three Elements of Setting Development handout.

  • Test the Story Map student interactive 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.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • identify elements of setting development within multiple texts.

  • recognize picture books as model texts that exemplify multiple literary elements.

  • apply the elements of setting development to revisions of their own writing.

Session One

  1. In focus-lesson or minilesson format, invite students to join you for a lesson on how they might revise a piece of their writing.

  2. Read a text from the Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Settings list, such as Water Hole Waiting by Jane Kurtz and Christopher Kurtz, aloud to the class.

  3. After reading the picture book together, pass out copies of the Three Elements of Setting Development handout or display a copy of the information using an overhead projector.

  4. If desired, have students copy or tape the setting development information in their writer's notebooks.

  5. Review the information on the Three Elements of Setting Development handout, and ask students to identify examples in the picture book that illustrate the development of the setting in the story. For the example book, the setting is a water hole on an African savanna.

  6. Draw a three-column chart on the board, and label each column with one of the elements on the Three Elements of Setting Development handout.

  7. For the first column, ask students to describe where the story happens. In the case of Water Hole Waiting, students will probably mention almost immediately that the story takes place at a watering hole in Africa.

  8. Encourage students to use words and examples from the text. For instance, the watering hole in Water Hole Waiting is in a savanna. As they provide details, note them on the chart on the board.

  9. If students need additional structure, use questions such as these:

    • How can you tell the watering hole is in Africa?

    • How can you tell where in Africa the watering hole is? (e.g., it is not in an African city)

    • What can you tell about where the watering hole is from the book's illustrations?
  10. As students provide examples, refer to the words in the book, and reread the word or phrases so that they see and hear them within the context of the story. For instance, the authors of Water Hole Waiting repeatedly mention the savanna, beginning with the first sentence of the book, "Morning slinks onto the savanna and licks up the night shadows one by one."

  11. Once students have gathered adequate details for the first question, move on to the second element, when the story takes place. For Water Hole Waiting, return to the first sentence of the book, which indicates that the story begins in the morning.

  12. Page through the book with students looking for additional details that indicate when the story takes place, such as the sun rising and falling in the sky. Record observations on the chart.

  13. Finally, move to the third column and ask students how they would describe the place. For the book Water Hole Waiting, ask students what the day is like on the savanna. They should quickly point out that it is very hot and dry.

  14. Note their observations on the chart, and use the book to find reinforcing quotations and illustrations.

  15. Once students have completed the chart, review the information and ask students if they want to add or change any of the details.

  16. Ask students to identify the techniques that the book's author used to develop the setting, using discussion questions such as the following:

    • What words and phrases does the author use to help you learn where and when the story takes place?

    • What plot events does the author use to help you learn more about the setting?

    • How do the illustrations help you learn about the setting?
  17. Invite students to make observations and draw conclusions about how authors make the setting they write about vivid and believable. Take notes on their observations on the board. Save these notes for students to refer to when they are revising their own writing independently.

  18. Before the next session, gather five to six additional Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Settings for students to explore in small groups.

Session Two

  1. Arrange the class in groups of two or three students each, depending on the number of texts available.

  2. Pass out a picture book from the list of Picture Books that Illustrate Well-Developed Settings to each group.

  3. Ask group members to read the book together and find examples of setting development.

  4. Remind students to refer to the Three Elements of Setting Development handout for support as they work.

  5. Once groups have completed their preliminary exploration, demonstrate how to use the Story Map student interactive. Ensure that students understand how to find the "Setting Map" in the interactive.

  6. Ask groups to complete the "Setting Map" in the Story Map student interactive to record their findings about the setting in the book they analyzed. If computers are not available, pass out copies of the Three Elements of Setting Development handout and ask students to complete the graphic organizer in the middle of the page.

  7. While student groups work, circulate through the class providing encouragement and feedback.

  8. Once students seem confident in identifying the three elements of setting development, ask them to select a piece of their own writing that they think would benefit from more work on setting. Students can work on their revisions for homework, during additional sessions, or during independent writing time.


  • Extend the study of setting by adapting the 6-8 ReadWriteThink lesson plan Travel Brochures: Highlighting the Setting of a Story for the class. Choose a novel that is appropriate for the reading level of the class, and use the handouts and other resources in the lesson plan to have students create travel brochures that fit the place(s) in the novel. You can use a book from the list of Novels with Strong Settings or any age-appropriate novel that has been awarded the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

  • As students read, ask them to gather details from the text that refer to the locations in the story. Using these details, students can then create a physical map of the places in the text. The activity can be completed with picture books, novels, or even students' own writing.

  • Take a field trip to a location similar to the setting in students' own writing. For instance, if students have written stories about a trip to a park, take a field trip to a nearby park. When you reach the location, ask students to work as detectives by gathering details about the setting. To provide more structure for their detail gathering, ask students to use each of their senses: What do they see? What do they hear? What do they smell? When you return to the classroom, encourage students to use the information they have gathered to improve the details in their writing.

  • Have students chart how the setting changes over the course of a story using this Setting Graphic Organizer from Educator's Desk Reference.

  • Have students compare where they currently live to the setting in a story using the Setting Comparison graphic organizer from Scholastic.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Analyze the details included on the “Setting Map” from the Story Map student interactive (or the graphic organizer from the Three Elements of Setting Development handout) to determine how well students understand the three elements of setting development. If a group needs additional support, explore an additional picture book with group members to provide more experience with identifying setting development techniques.

  • Once students have had an opportunity to revise and enhance the setting development in their writing, have them complete the Setting Development Self-Assessment to identify the effectiveness of the changes in their revisions and suggest topics for additional focus lessons.

  • Compare original and revised versions of students’ work will demonstrate how much they were able to apply the elements of setting development to their own writing.