Analyzing Plot with "Thank You, M'am"

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Students will be able to analyze how elements of a story (conflict, characters, plot, theme) interact by working in groups to cite evidence on a plot diagram.

Big Idea

Students work in collaborative groups to determine the how a conflict is resolved through character's actions.

Directions: How to Analyze Plot

5 minutes

I told students that today they would embarking on a wonderful journey.  A journey into Mrs. Jones' and Roger's world, where they would delve deeply into the conflict to determine who was really the protagonist and who was really the antagonist and how in the world did that character solve their conflict?

They would be responsible for working together in groups to fill out a complete plot diagram.  I gave them some tips to help them be successful.

  1. Start by identifying the conflict.  What is the problem?  Who is having that problem and who is causing it?
  2. Identifying who is causing the conflict leads right into identifying the protagonist and antagonist.  If you can figure out who wants what (protagonist) you can then figure out which character is getting in the way (antagonist).  This is quite helpful in stories like "Thank You, M'am" where the protagonist is the kid who does something wrong.
  3. You can either jump to the exposition or climax.  I like to get the exposition out of the way because it's rather simple.
  4. I would certainly identify the climax before getting too far.  Otherwise, students will choose the most exciting part of the story because isn't the most excitement the climax? NO! The climax is the turning point, the point where the plot turns from having no solution to a possible solution.  Yes, there's great suspense, but that suspenseExposition is not always physical, it could be emotional suspense. 
  5. After students have identified the climax, then they should go back and fill in the events that lead up to the climax in the rising action.
  6. Finally, finally! Students can fill out the falling action and resolution, remembering that the resolution is when most of the loose ends are wrapped up. 


Working Collaboratively to Analyze Plot

30 minutes

I used a fishbowl discussion approach to help students analyze the plot of "Thank You, M'am."  I had three separate groups for conflict, climax, and theme.

Using my cherished group generator, I split students up into groups. Seriously, I love my group generator.  There was about two weeks where I couldn't find the original file, and I'd deleted last year's file, and, well, there were tears.  Oh glorious day when the file was found and I could use it whenever I want.  Or at least, whenever I want to divide students up into groups of three or more.  I have another technique for splitting them up into pairs, which I'll share later.

I kept the plot line guidelines up so students could refer back to them. I asked each group to nominate a leader, a scribe, evidence person and a timekeeper. The leader is responsible for keeping the group on task and asking students who haven't spoken what they think. The scribe is responsible for recording important points so we don't forget. The time keeper is responsible for keeping track of time to minimize the," What? We have two minutes? Ahhhh!" factor. The evidence person is responsible for asking people what the evidence for their comments is.

I gave each group eight minutes to discuss their assigned topic. I didn't assign a group for exposition (setting, basic situation, characters) because most students are easily able to identify that on their own. The rising action ended up being talked about in both conflict and climax groups.  In thinking of the groups, I thought of which elements students have the most difficulty with, and those became the subjects of each group.

By the end of the discussions, students saw that the climax, where there's a solution to the problem, was when Mrs. Jones gave Roger the ten dollars.  That's the turning point.  That means that the falling and resolution are super short. The falling action would be when Mrs. Jones walks Roger to the door, says she needs sleep, and tells him to be good. The resolution is when Roger stands at the door, trying to think of something to say besides thank you before she shuts the door.

When students discussed theme, multiple ideas were brought up. The best were as follows:

  • Crime isn't worth it.
  • Don't underestimate the kindness of strangers. 
  • Everyone is responsible for everyone.

Responding in Writing with a Plot Diagram

10 minutes

Once the discussions were over, I gave students ten minutes to record the findings on a plot diagram.  In my co-taught classes, I gave the groups time between each group because otherwise, there was too much time between hearing and recording and they would forget. Either one would work.

And of course, theme was the hardest part to record.  My students have really struggled with theme in the past.  They still wanted to identify the subject [Roger tries to steal a purse to get blue suede shoes] or even just the topic [a boy steals shoes].  I had to remind students that in order to correctly and precisely describe the theme it must do two things.

  • It must be a complete sentence.
  • It must describe what we as readers, as humans, are supposed to learn from the story.

Essentially, to describe the theme, you must have a sentence with a subject and a claim. The ultimate topic sentence.