Plot is best explained to kids as a roller coaster ride. It is something that they can connect to and imagine when you describe the gripping emotion as the ride begins, the anxious feeling as it climbs up the track, the anticipation as it hangs over the peak, and the thrill of the freefall descent. Subsequently, this is similar to what a reader can experience when engrossed in an exhilarating book. This unit helps students realize that the beginning, middle, and end of the book, along with the climax, or most intense part, make up the Plot of a 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 Plot Week – Introducing the Strategy.
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 Plot this year, I start by asking students what their favorite roller coaster ride is. I allow kids to (quietly) call them out and I point out a few of my favorites as well.
Teaching Point: This is when I tell kids explicitly what we will be working on. I say, “This week, we will be focusing on Plot, which is the rise and fall of events in a story, much like a roller coaster. Show them the Plot anchor chart. I ask them to close their eyes and imagine themselves on a roller coaster while I describe the gripping emotion as the ride begins, the anxious feeling as it climbs up the track, the anticipation as it hangs over the peak, and the thrill of the freefall descent (as mentioned in the introduction). Similarly, while reading, the beginning of the book introduces the characters and sets the scene for what’s to come. Then comes the rising action as a problem is established. The events rise and get more intense, until they reach the climax, which is the most intense part and you just don’t want to put the book down. The climax is followed by the falling action, when a resolution to the problem is found and the author can wrap up the story. I tell them that our minds should be noticing the Plot 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 think about the book they are currently reading and where they are on the Plot roller coaster. Then I ask them to turn and talk to their partners to share. Some may have just started a new book so they are at the beginning of the ride, some will be in the middle or near the climax, and some will be in the falling action toward the end. It is interesting to hear them identify this with their partners.
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 Plot, I tell them that when they are reading today, their job is just to notice Plot points while reading one of the books in their browsing boxes. I explain that Plot is happening from the moment they start a book to the moment it ends so this strategy is used throughout. 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.
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.
Guided Practice: Today, I would be conferencing with students right at their comfy spots and asking them to share examples of Plot 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. Because this portion of Reader’s Workshop is meant to be flexible and student based, it is not beneficial to plan too far ahead of time. Instead, you should gauge which students may need extra support through the mini-lesson, prior assessments, reading levels, overall ability and need for scaffolding. For Plot support, I will read with specific students, either with their own books or a teacher selected book, and facilitate a discussion about the Plot points and where those would fall on a roller coaster.
At the end of 40 minutes, I remind students that their job during reading time was to notice Plot points in their books. I ask them to repeat the term, Plot. Then I tell them to meet with their reading partner to share examples. Did they identify several different Plot points? Did they discuss where those points would fall on the Plot line? Did they recognize the climax? 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 Plot 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.