Characters, plot, setting, theme – these are just a few of the aspects of writing known as the elements of fiction. In stories authors blend these elements to create a cohesive whole, but it is helpful for students to identify them individually in order to analyze their impact on a story. To stimulate prior knowledge and assess current understanding, I ask students to respond to the following question in their journals: What are the elements of fiction? Give examples of how they appear in stories.
Circulating among the students, listening in to conversations and having them share entries, it is easy to see the broad range of knowledge on the topic. Some students have extensive lists while others are quite short. From past years experience in ELA classes, they are likely to quickly identify setting, characters and plot, but much less likely to add the more analytic aspects such as mood, style and author’s purpose.
Use student responses to create a Word Collage (an expensive app) or Wordle (a free website, which is good, but be warned - some of the content posted there is questionable) like the one shown here.
Now that we are more than half way through the novel Maroo of the Winter Caves by Ann Turnbull, it is the perfect time to take a good look at its bones, or structure, meaning the way in which the author has constructed the tale. The first step to understanding how the elements of fiction appear in this story is making sure that we know the meaning of each term. Students are given two copies of a worksheet: one to add the definitions and another to apply this knowledge to the story.
During a class discussion we craft definitions and provide examples that often come from a variety of sources, such as fairy tales, popular movies, and book series. Everyone recognizes the wicked witch and Voldemort as antagonists and Snow White and Harry Potter as protagonists. Probably the ones that cause the most confusion are author’s purpose and theme. The former has to do with the author’s personal motivation for writing and the later with the lesson he hopes will resonant with the reader long after the reading is done.
To end the class students apply the knowledge of the elements of fiction to the book. The worksheet does not need to be completed in order. It is easier to keep the students engaged if they are allowed to skip around to the ones they know. Also, sharing their thinking with a partner or small group allows them to work out misconceptions and problem solve together. I notice that the first five or six on the list are the least challenging and that only a few students go beyond those. Unfortunately, the class ends too quickly so this is what we will start class with next time we meet.
A copy of the Elements of Fiction worksheet with definitions appears here.