Elements of Literature

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SWBAT identify and describe the elements of literature in "Gaston."

Big Idea

How do the elements of literature work together to create a story?

Starting the Tree Map

25 minutes

As soon as the calendar turned to December, it seems like I have to stand on my head to get my students to pay attention to me.  I am trying out different gimics to keep my students interested.  Today I am going to have them do their work on a large piece of colored butcher paper and write with markers.  I know it doesn't sound overly exciting, but with sixth graders, sometimes the little things keep them interested.  

I am going to keep the students in their table groups of 3 or 4 for this activity.  I do have a couple of tables with 5 students that I will break up into smaller groups. Each group will receive a large piece of butcher paper where they will draw a tree map for the story "Gaston."

 This map has 6 branches:  Ideas, Key Words,  Structure, Feelings, Images/Symbols, and Theme.  

This is a lesson where I will need to start and stop the class often, basically between every new branch, so I will warn them that they will need to stop as soon as they hear my quiet signal.  I will also make sure to tell them how much time they have to do each branch, usually 5 minutes is enough.  

The purpose of this activity is for students to dig deeper beneath the surface of the story in order to understand it's theme.  I have grouped students because I know it is a difficult task and story, so I am hoping that they will support each other.  


First I will have students think about the ideas presented in this story.  This is really tricky for them in general.  I plan on telling them that the ideas are the issues that the author touches on directly or indirectly.  We can often find the ideas by looking at the "why" behind the plot events.  For example, the dad went out and got his daughter a kilo of peaches.  Why did he do this?  Because he loves her?  Family relationships is an idea in the story.  Other ideas students might come up with include divorce, different social classes, or loneliness.  The students will generate their ideas and record them on the tree map.  

Key Words:

Next, I will tell the students that the writer of this story agonized over every last word.  No word is in the text by accident.  I will challenge them to find at least 5 key words that really define the story.  These words should be important to the ideas and elements of literature we've discussed as we read.  They will need to search through there stories in order to find these.  


We haven't spent much time this year talking about the way writing is structured, so I will likely do this part as a whole class.  I will ask them to think about the design of the story, and what techniques the author used to build it.  How are the events presented?  How are the characters built?  How is the story told?  We will generate a class list for them to write on their individual maps.  

Student Example 1

Students Working

Student Defending her Work


Working Toward the Theme

15 minutes

The next 3 branches of the tree map will lead students to discover the theme.  


I will emphasize that we are looking for feelings that the author presents through the characters and description rather than their own feelings about the story.  I will ask each group to come up with at least 3 different feelings that surface in the text and add them to the tree map.



To get the students to start thinking about images in the story, I will ask them to close their eyes and think about the story.  What image, related to the story, pops into your mind?  They will share with their group and record on the tree map.  Typical images might include:  peach, white plate, caterpillar, dad and daughter.  We will share these out with the class, and I will record them on the tree map I have on the smart board.  Now, I will review the idea of a symbol by asking them what a symbol is.  I will follow up with, what does a heart stand for?  What about a white dove?  Skull and cross bones?  I will now challenge them to take one of their images and find out what it might stand for.  This is really tough, but I think a few of the students will be able to make some connections between the bug and the father.  We will share out what the groups have come up with, so that everyone can benefit.


Finally, we will review theme.  I will remind the students that a theme is a central idea or big picture of the story that can often be a life lesson.  We will discuss what the author wants us to take away after reading the story.  I will challenge each group to come up with a theme, and share it with the group.  I will list the themes up on the board.  

Students Working

Finished Product



10 minutes

I will have students take some time to review all of the components of their tree map, especially the last 3:  feelings, images/symbols, and theme.

My question is, "How did the images, symbols, and feelings in the story help you to come up with a theme? Describe how these images, symbols, and feelings support the theme you have chosen."  

I realize that not all students will come up with an accurate theme, and that is ok with me right now.  It is an abstract and difficult concept, and this is a start.  My hope is that they will be able to use their tree map as evidence to come up with a theme that makes sense.  

I will have my students write their themes right there on their tree map paper, and share with their group when they are finished.  

This activity promotes the CCSS RL 6.2 where students will determine the theme of a piece based on details from the story.  

Student Work 

Student Work