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Teaching Fictional Text Structure

Whether you are an elementary, middle, or high school teacher, fictional texts play a huge role in your curriculum.

In fact, many ELA teachers I know are not ashamed to admit they became English teachers solely to teach fiction. Imagine that! Haha!

In order to foster our students’ understanding of fiction and their ability to write it, it’s imperative that we teach a plot’s text structure, in the same way we teach nonfiction text structure. They also need to learn the vocabulary necessary to discuss fiction, which I wrote about here. Fortunately,  teaching plot elements are fun. It can mean the difference between our students “kind of “getting it and really knowing their stuff!

Teaching fiction is one of the best parts of being an English teacher! Have some fun teaching fictional text structure with interactive activities!!

Steps to Teaching Fictional Text Structure

 

Step 1: Defining Chronological Order

 

The first thing you want to consider is teaching the text structure that almost EVERY fictional text includes: chronological order.

If you haven’t introduced roots and affixes yet, this is a great place to start. The word part chrono- means “time” and “chronological order” means a logical time order.

One way to teach students the importance of putting things in time order is to mix up a story students haven’t heard before. You can do this by writing your own mixed up story or by moving some paragraphs around in a short story. Once you have the story created follow these steps:

  • Have students read the story.
  • Ask students what the story was about. With any luck, you will get a few different ideas because each student will interpret it differently.
  • In groups, have students REVISE the text in an order that makes more sense.
  • Facilitate a conversation about why these paragraphs needed to be arranged.
  • Post the essential questions:
    • Why is chronological order important when telling a story
    • How can I ensure my story is told in chronological order?

From the first exercise, students should be able to deduce the answer to the first question.They may not know how to fix it and some of them may fix the story in a couple of different ways.

Step 2: Choosing a Text

After you teach fictional text structure, you’ll want to pick out a text to start looking at how to identify different parts of the story. To begin, I would recommend using several short stories and doing some close readings on them. After you see some mastery, I would move into a novel. While reading, make sure to talk about how a short story’s plot will move faster than a novel’s because of the amount of time the author has to tell the story.

Teaching a love of fiction by learning about fictional text structure.

Step 3: Teaching Plot Points

A big part of teaching fictional text structure is understanding there are different plot points in a story and they are all vital to understanding the story being read

Exposition: The background information in the text including information about setting and characters.

Key Vocabulary Words: Exposition, Setting, Protagonist, Antagonist, Foil (if applicable to the story)

To teach setting, talk to students about a time in history that many of them know about; for example, you may talk about Germany in the 1940’s or America in the 1930’s. Discuss how different the world is in comparison to then and how that impacts a story. If I’m reading about Germany in 1940 and I’m Jewish, what I have to say is probably going to be very different than what I would talk about today. The same holds true if we are talking about America in 1930 vs 2019.

When you talk to students about characters, particularly the protagonist and antagonist, try to veer away from “the hero” and “the villain” especially at the secondary level. Instead give the definition for a protagonist as “the main character in any text.” Give the definition for antagonist as “the person, thing, or idea causing problems for the main character.” Kids have to learn the correct terminology because the protagonist is not always good and the antagonist is not always a person.

For example, if you look at Catcher in the Rye I think it’s arguable that Holden is not a good person; he causes a majority of his own problems. In this story, Holden would definitely be the protagonist because he is the main character and the antagonist because he causes his own problems.

Sometimes students will look at me like I’m crazy when I say this. If you help them make a text-to-self connection it becomes clearer. I ask these questions:

  • Are you the main character in your life story? (Yes)
  • Are you always a good person? (No)
  • Do you sometimes cause your own problems? (Yes)

If all of this is true in your life, then it can be true in the life of a character as well.

Inciting Incident: Where the conflict presents itself

Key word: Conflict

To begin, make sure you define what “conflict” means. I usually say “anything that is causing the protagonist emotional, mental, or physical problems.” Then I expand upon those different types of problems.

Finally, we decide what in the text starts the conflict for the protagonist. For example, in The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games become a problem for Katniss when her sister’s name is drawn at the reaping.

Rising Action

Rising action is anything that adds to the conflict of the story or adds another problem for the protagonist. This can be identified by anything that adds more stress to the protagonist’s life. Sometimes pieces of the rising action are resolved before the main conflict is.

When you teach rising action, it’s a good place to discuss determining importance. It can be easy for students to try to tell you every single detail but if you ask the simple question: “How does this add to the conflict?” it can help them determine whether we need to know this or not.

Rising Action: Determine the most important ideas

Climax

Climax is when everything comes crashing together and when we are teaching fictional text structures students are usually overly eager to get to this part. What some students might not realize is we sometimes I have to read the whole book to figure out what the climax is.

Falling Action

What comes up must come down. When you are teaching fictional text structure, it’s important to talk about the reason things are happening the way they are. The falling action tells us why Mr. Murray in A Wrinkle In Time went away for so long or why Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird never came out. Understanding the “why” of things is usually where we learn and can be a good place to start searching for a theme.

Resolution

Finally, everything must come to a close and that is where the resolution comes into play. The resolution tells us where everyone ends up in a fictional text structure. This usually discusses how the protagonist changes.

This becomes a perfect opportunity to talk about static and dynamic characters. To teach character types, I typically use a character t-shirt.

To make a character t-shirt you will need a basic outline of a t-shirt, colored pencils, and construction paper.Studying characterization? Make a character t-shirt!

The directions are as follows:

  • In the middle of the shirt draw a picture of the character and write his/her name.
  • On the right-hand sleeve write three strengths, and on the left-hand sleeve write three weaknesses.
  • On the belly write two goals.
  • Color the t-shirt
  • Cut out the t-shirt
  • Glue it on construction paper
  • On the bottom of the construction paper write a paragraph describing this character and give examples from the text to support your ideas.

String up a group plot line! Teaching fiction is one of the best parts of being an English teacher! Have some fun teaching fictional text structure with interactive activities!

Step 4: Putting Your Ideas Together

 One of the best ways to put your ideas together is by making a plot map. In the plot map, you would make a mountain out of the above plot points. A great way to start this is by making an anchor chart on the wall. I take colorful note cards, cut them in half, fold them in half, and then write the plot points on there for the short story we are reading. From there, I hang each plot point on the wall creating a mountain with the climax being the highest point.

Once you have done this with your students, they can practice in groups on a different short story. I like to string up a plotline and give each group a set of notecards. They write the plot element on the outside and the details on the inside. Then they hand the cards up on our plotline. We read them aloud and look for common elements.

After that, kids can do one on their own with a new story. They need plenty of practice all year long!

If you want to take the plot map even further, you can ask students to plan their own fictional story using their knowledge of chronological order. Then teach students to edit and revise paying special attention to the various plot points.

Teaching the plot of fictional texts is so much fun! When you dive into them, make sure you use the language of fictional text structure, so kids will be accustomed to using the terms accurately. Teaching this text structure will help your students comprehend fictional texts they read in the future, making reading more enjoyable. It will help them become better writers, as well.