Teaching Kids About Story Elements

Think about a story you loved. It can be a piece of fiction or a whole novel. What comes to mind first? Maybe the characters or what happened to them. Where the story took place, maybe. When it took place. Challenges the characters faced. All of these aspects of the story come together to shape the fictional world in your mind as you read. These are the “story elements.”

What are story elements?

Think of story elements like the building contents that go into constructing a home. If you’ve ever driven by a construction site, then you’ve seen the piles of contents nearby: boards, piping, shingles. They’re just heaps of raw contents at first, but a talented craftsman – the carpenter – takes each of these, shapes them to fit the needs of this project, and then uses them to create a solid structure.

The same is true when an author writes a story. Each story starts with the same building blocks from the simplest picture book to a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The author takes the story elements that each story must have and then uses them as scaffolding to hold up the story up.

Children are typically well aware of the characters in their favorite books and the events that happened to them. But, to understand a story, we need to look deeper into each of its nuances and depth. To the many different parts of that house, our carpenter’s  building adds dimension; the story’s elements add dimension.

Story elements let us understand what our favorite characters are going through, help us understand why those characters make their choices, and let us enter the story world, pulling us into its unique place and time.

Activities for teaching story elements

Knowing what story elements are and how to identify them can help your kid get the most out of the stories they read. Here are a 3 activities to help them identify the story elements in some of their favorite books.

Build a story framework – Explain to your kid that they’re going to build a house from what they know about the story they just read. Give them construction paper and let them cut out the house’s building contents, like flooring, windows, and walls. As they build the house, have them label the story elements. The floor can represent the theme, the walls can represent the setting, and the windows, the resolution. After the house is complete, they can even cut out the main characters and place them inside.

Become an investigative reporter – Each reporter knows the 5 W’s of good reporting: who, what, where, when, and why. Let your kid put on a journalist’s hat and “investigate” a story they’ve just read, answering the questions the 5 W’s ask. Once they’ve done that, show them how they translate into story elements. Who did it? The characters. What did they do? That’s the plot. When and where did the story take place? You guessed it, setting. And why? That’s our conflict, and the conflict drives the characters to make the choices they make.

Puzzle it out – a blank puzzle with 5 or six large pieces. Label each part with the story elements you plan to discuss, then explain to your kid that like each good puzzles, the elements of a story fit neatly together to make a whole. Now have them write some details from a story they’ve read on each piece. On the “character” piece, they can put the names of the main characters. On the “setting” piece, they can write a few words to explain where the story took place. Once they have written something on each piece, they can put the puzzle together, and you can emphasize how each of the pieces was needed. If one was missing, the puzzle would not be finished.

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