Setting: Once upon a time in a land far far away

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SWBAT notice the Setting in books from their browsing boxes.

Big Idea

Introducing the concept of Setting as a strategy to enhance comprehension.


Setting is an integral part of storytelling. It sets the scene for the characters and plays a significant role in every event. Most students think that Setting is only about where the story takes place but the time aspect is also important. In this unit, students will learn to identify both where and when a story takes place and discuss how the Setting impacts the story.


I like to spend a sufficient amount of time on each strategy to allow for an introduction, modeling, scaffolding, independent practice, assessment, and reflection. Therefore, I spend approximately 1 week on each strategy and follow a similar instructional routine. This is day 1 of Setting Week – Introducing the Strategy. 


10 minutes

Connection: I always start by connecting today’s lesson to something kids have previously learned so that it triggers their schema and background knowledge. Since this is the first they are learning about Setting this year, I start by asking students to play a game similar to Mad Libs, which they love. I fold a piece of paper in half and one side I write “where” and on the other side “when.” I ask kids to (quietly) call out places that can be real or fake. I hope to get answers like a house, school, outer space, the grocery store, the wild west, a land far far away, etc, and I write their suggestions on the “where” side of the paper. Next, they get to call out times that can be very general or very specific. Kids will often say things like today, 7:55 this morning, a hundred years ago, the year 2075, and once upon a time, etc. and I write their suggestions on the “when” side. Once we have a good list, I tell kids I am going to randomly match one side with another to come up with a Setting for a new story. For example, if I draw a line from school to a hundred years ago, I could write a new story about a character in school a century ago. Or if I pair up the wild west with the year 2075, I can tell a story about a futuristic cowboy. The students really enjoy this exercise because it is a little silly, and not only does it introduce the concept of Setting, but it also helps them brainstorm new ideas for Writer’s Workshop.


Teaching Point: This is when I tell kids explicitly what we will be working on. I say, “This week, we will be focusing on Setting, which is where and when a story takes place. Show them the Setting anchor chart, which includes different examples for both aspects. I tell them that our minds should be identifying Setting elements while we are reading because it will help us understand the story better.   


Active Engagement: This is where students get to try out the strategy that I just taught them. I give them a few minutes of thinking time to reflect on their all-time favorite story and remember where and when that story took place. Then I ask them to turn and talk to their partners to share.  


Link to Ongoing Work: During this portion of the mini-lesson, I give the students a task that they will focus on during Independent Reading time. Now that I’ve introduced Setting, I tell them that when they are reading today, their job is just to notice the Setting while reading one of the books in their browsing boxes. I explain that the Setting is often introduced right at the beginning of a story but can change many times, especially the where component so they need to pay close attention. At the end of Reader’s Workshop, they will meet with their assigned reading partner to discuss what they noticed. I remind them that I will randomly choose a few students to share so that they make sure to complete their task. 

Guided Practice

45 minutes

Transition Time: Every day after the mini-lesson, students get 5 minutes of Prep Time to choose new books (if needed), find a comfy spot, use the bathroom, and anything else they might need to do to prepare for 40 minutes of uninterrupted Independent Reading. I set it up that way so that students have no reason to get out of their spots. They are expected to have 5 books in their browsing box at all times so if they finish a book they have others to choose from without moving around the room. They are also expected to have a pencil and sticky notes in their browsing boxes in case they need them for the day’s task. I strongly encourage them to use the bathroom so they do not need to go during reading time. At the end of the 5 minute Prep Time, I do a countdown, 5 4 3 2 1, Level 0 (referring to volume level). By the end of countdown, students must be in their spots and silent with all of the materials they need to sustain their reading. They must follow the distance rule of arm’s length apart from any other student.  They are not to get out of their spots for any reason so that they can focus on their book and their task. Because I use Independent Reading time to work with students one-on-one or in small groups, I really stress to the students that the teacher is not available to everyone during this time. I encourage them to problem solve on their own and hold all questions or comments until the end of Independent Reading time. All of this takes practice but once it is all in place, Independent Reading becomes a magical time when students are engrossed in their books and the teacher is free to meet individual needs of students through conferencing, strategy groups, or guided reading.


Guided Practice: Today, I would be conferencing with students right at their comfy spots and asking them to share examples of Setting from the book they are reading. This is also when I could pull students for assessments, one-on-one reading, strategy groups, or guided reading groups.



5 minutes

At the end of 40 minutes, I remind students that their job during reading time was to notice the Setting of their books. I ask them to repeat the term, Setting. Then I tell them to meet with their reading partner to share examples. Were they able to identify both where and when the story took place? Did the Setting change while they were reading? After partners have had a chance to share with each other, I ask a few students to share with the class. I then tell the class that we will focus on Setting for the rest of the week. Reader’s Workshop has come to an end so students put their browsing boxes away and make sure the library is neat and organized.