| Plot Structure: A Literary Elements Mini-Lesson
|Estimated Lesson Time
|Two 50-minute sessions
|The simple triangle-shaped graphic organizer shown right is Freytag’s Pyramid, 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. What they need help seeing is 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 the organizer and to the literary element. After completing the lesson, students might work on plot structure in creative writing pieces or use the tool to analyze pieces of literature.
| 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 term “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.
Jago, Carol. “Stop
Pretending and Think about Plot.” Voices
from the Middle 11.4 (May 2004): 50-51.
- review the characteristics of the literary element of plot.
- demonstrate an understanding of plot structure by applying the term in
- use a plot diagram graphic organizer to present their analysis of plot
Instruction and Activities
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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?
- 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 to 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
- 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 Interactive 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
- 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.
Elements of Plot Development
- This site explains basic types of literary plot.
|Informal assessment works best for this activity. Review students’ plot
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.
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).