Got to Teach!: Teaching Plot with Picture Books

Teaching Plot with Picture Books

I am a huge fan of using picture books with upper grade and middle school students.  These books can cover complex issues and can lead to some pretty thought-provoking discussions.  I also love that they are are short, which makes them the perfect medium for teaching some difficult concepts when time is limited (which it always is).  With my students, I always explicitly taught the elements of plot or story structure using picture books.

My favorite plot lesson used the book Henry's Freedom Box (written by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson).  My ultimate goal for the for these types of lessons was to have students complete a story map on their own for any story they have read  (you can grab the story map for free HERE).  But before this was possible, I modeled the process with a few shared reading lessons similar to what I am about to describe.

Before any writing takes place, a lot of time is just spent on identify the various components of plot (inciting force, rising action events, climax, etc.).  I have found the best way to do this is with post-its or flags.  Students can reposition the post-its as they decided just where in the story these elements of plot take place.  Not every event can be placed on the story map, so students need to be decisive and evaluate which ones are the most important to include and which ones can be left out.  During my shared reading lessons, the students and I would discuss the positioning and reposition of these post-its as we evaluated which events were the most critical to the story's plot.

After a few of these whole-group lessons, my students could then start completing the story maps on their own or with a partner for a short story or novel they had just read.  The process really helped my students understand the "big picture" of what they were reading as well as visualize plot. 

A few other titles I like to use for these lessons are:
Tight Times by Barbara Shook Hazen
Faithful Elephants by YukioTsuchiya (warning: tear jerker)
The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco


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