How to Teach Plot Structure

Identifying and understanding plot structure is a key skill for elementary students to become good readers. Identifying main story elements is a building block to be able to eventually retell and summarize fiction. Plot structure may also be referred to as story structure or literature structure, but they are the same general skill. In this blog post, I provide a step-by-step on how to teach plot structure skills. I also share my favorite tips and resources that will help you and your students succeed.

What Students Need to Know:

In order to learn plot structure, students need to know the main story elements.

Character: The main character is introduced at the beginning of the story. It is important to notice character traits and how the character acts.

Setting: The setting is where and when the story takes place. The setting is introduced at the beginning of the story, but remember that the setting may change throughout.

Plot: The plot includes the major events that occur in the beginning, middle, and end of the story.

How to Teach Plot Structure

One of the most effective ways to teach plot structure is through visuals and graphic organizers. Therefore, I recommend using a graphic organizer where students explicitly identify the plot elements and write out the major events in the story. This is a stepping-stone for teaching students to write a retelling or summary in the future.

I recommend spending at least two full weeks focusing on this skill. Here is the recommended lesson layout and schedule for teaching plot structure:

Teaching plot stucture anchor chart on clipboard with flatlay background

Teaching Plot Structure: Week 1


Week 1 is focused on using genuine mentor texts and picture books. Students will learn about key elements of plot structure and learn to identify these elements in engaging and relatable picture books. Students will also focus on practicing this key skill in their independent reading. Applying strategies where students learn through independent reading should be a large focus of not only this unit, but weeks to come. Here is the typical layout of what this week could look like. Lessons may vary depending on the grade.

Day 1:

Digital Mini Lesson image showing snapshot of introduction video that covers how to teach story structure and plot structure skills

Introduce key vocabulary surrounding this skill. Vocabulary should include plot, characters, setting, and events. On day one, walk students through the process of how to identify plot elements. If you are using my digital mini-lessons, this is also the time to watch the video that introduces this skill. On day 1, review a simple mentor text, such as a common fairytale. Practice sorting key plot elements into a graphic organizer.

Days 2-4:

Review the plot elements anchor charts and videos. Then, read aloud a new mentor text each day. Using a graphic organizer, identify the plot elements.

Day 5:

Display the anchor chart with key words and vocabulary blocked out. Have students help you fill in the blanks. Students work on using a graphic organizer to identify plot elements in their own independent reading book. Then, invite a few students to share their book and review the plot.

Image of a digital mini lesson focused on how to teach plot structure and story structure skills
Mentor texts are the heart of this week’s lessons. The goal is to help students apply this skill to their independent reading.

Resources for Week 1:

Teaching Plot Structure: Week 2


Week two is focused on using leveled passages to practice identifying plot structure. Throughout the week, you will be teaching your students to use text evidence to support their answers. You will also be scaffolding the assignments and increasing text difficulty with the goal of helping students read passages throughout the entire grade level band. During this week, the focus will also be on answering plot structure questions that align with standards and state assessments. 

Day 1:

Introduce the plot structure anchor chart. Then, read aloud a printable text (you can use one of the passages included in my Core Comprehension packs). Model identifying the plot structure elements using the graphic organizer and questions. Emphasize that understanding the plot structure helps readers monitor their comprehension. Continue to reinforce plot structure through picture book read alouds daily.

Day 2:

Select a story in the mid-range of the text complexity band. Make the story and question set poster size or project the text and questions. Read the story as a class, and then work together to answer the questions.

Day 3:

Students complete a passage and question set in partners. I recommend choosing a text in the mid-range of the text complexity band. Always review work as a class or in groups.

Day 4:

Students complete a passage at the low range of the text complexity band independently. Be sure to review student work. If students did not get answers correct, then make time to review with students independently or in small groups.

Days 5-6:

Assign increasingly complex passages, and continue to assess and review work.

Day 7:

By the end of the unit, most of your class should be showing mastery of plot structure. This is the time to give the assessment. I recommend giving both assessment passages together, but you can also separate the passages and use the different levels to differentiate.

*Follow your students’ lead. These lessons may take more or less time. Do not move on to subsequent lessons until your students are showing progress.

Use an anchor chart to introduce the skill. The anchor chart should be referred to throughout the unit.
Practice identifying plot elements in leveled passages.

Resources for Week 2:

How to Differentiate When Teaching Plot Structure

For differentiating while teaching plot structure, continue to use graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts while identifying plot elements. If you have students who struggle writing the story elements or plot events, you can have them draw pictures. To differentiate even further, you can have students sequence printed illustrations.

Growth by Grade

 Kindergarten1st Grade2nd Grade3rd Grade4th Grade5th Grade
With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.
Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.
Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.5 Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.5 Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.5 Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Florida B.E.S.T.ELA.K.R.1.1 Describe the main character(s), setting, and important events in a story.  ELA.1.R.1.1 Identify and describe the main story elements in a story.  ELA.2.R.1.1 Identify plot structure and describe main story elements in a literary text.  ELA.3.R.1.1 Explain how one or more characters develop throughout the plot in a literary text.ELA.4.R.1.1 Explain how setting, events, conflict, and character development contribute to the plot in a literary text.  ELA.5.R.1.1 Analyze how setting, events, conflict, and characterization contribute to the plot in a literary text.  

Strategies for Reinforcing Plot Structure by Grade:


Use picture cards to have students orally identify story elements such as characters, setting, and major events.

First Grade:

Use pictures to have students write out basic details about characters, setting, and major events. Orally retell the basic plot elements.

Second Grade:

Use a graphic organizer to identify plot elements including characters, setting, and major events. Then, use this graphic organizer to retell the story plot in order.

Third Grade:

Use a graphic organizer to identify plot events, and then use the graphic organizer to write a descriptive paragraph about a character and how their actions contribute to the events.

Fourth Grade:

Write in-depth about plot elements and how they develop. Use specific details from the text to support the analysis. Summarize the plot.

Fifth Grade:

Write in-depth responses comparing plot elements. Then, summarize the plot of a story.

For more support on plot structure, check out these resources that can be used in small groups and centers:

1st Grade

2nd Grade

3rd Grade

4th Grade

5th Grade

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