I want my students to go beyond understanding just the events from the beginning, middle and end, when thinking about the plot in a story and start to connect these events to what is driving them on a deeper level. Thinking about how events and characters interact will still make them think about retelling the events in sequence, but with deeper analysis of character growth and the events as a series of causes and consequences. In other words, in this lesson, I wanted my students to determine the problems in stories and discuss not only the main problem in the story but also the problems each character had in the story.
To begin the lesson I asked the class what were the elements in a story. They immediately came up with characters and setting, but seemed stuck after that and began talking about periods, capitals and other foundational writing skills. So I asked them what made their favorite story exciting. As I expected, soon they were talking about princesses and superheroes; to each comment I would add something like "Oh, that was a difficult problem ..." or "Wow! How did they fix that problem?..." or "That would be a scary problem to have ..." It worked: soon I was able to guide them to concluding that every story has a problem - whether it be a big or simple one.
Then I told them that today we were going to take a careful look at problems in some stories.
I read The Goat in the Garden, the version of The goat in the Chili Patch that comes with our language arts program. Before I started reading I reminded them that they should pay close attention to the problems that each character has. I find that such reminders for during reading help enormously when there will be a specific task after reading. It helps them pay special attention to certain aspects of the story and do better in the assignment.
After the read aloud, I asked them to list the characters and we each created a table where we were to record the characters and their problems. To complete the table I called on students to tell me a problem a character had.
After it was clear that they understood the task I let them add a couple more by themselves. This gave me the opportunity to walk around seeing how they were doing and helping any students still struggling with the task.
I wanted to give my students the opportunity to apply this skill independently. So I told them to pick a story from their book baggie, reread it, and make a table like the one we had done together, showing the characters and their problems.
I taught this lesson at the end of the year, when I knew my students had a wide repertoire of stories and writing abilities. If it had been at the beginning of the year, I would have given students a book at their independent reading level (differentiating for their ability) to work with and perhaps asked them to tell about the problems orally with a partner.
When most were done, I gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts. I also invited students who were familiar with the book a student was presenting to add a problem they could think of but wasn't mentioned by the presenter.
This is an activity that is worth adding to the menu of independent work. It made students really think about the "meat" of the story and consider different points of view of the characters.