Plot Diagrams and Narrative Arcs

By Katherine Docimo

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Narrative arcs and the prototypical “Plot Diagram” are essential for building literary comprehension and appreciation. Plot diagrams allow students to: pick out major themes in the text, trace changes to major characters over the course of the narrative, and hone their analytic skills. Lessons emphasizing these skills meet many Common Core Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS.ELA-Literacy). The concepts not only give students a fuller understanding of classroom texts, but also their favorite books and movies.

Below is the basic structure of a plot diagram.

By plotting simple narrative arcs in three-celled storyboards, or more complicated stories in six-celled boards, teachers can easily assess students’ understanding of important story components. Combined illustrations and text can enliven difficult concepts like “rising action” and “climax.”


Making storyboards that explain a plot bring students' understanding to life! It's an engaging and fun way for students to interact with the texts they read in class. The details and characters featured in students’ storyboards allow instructors to immediately determine whether students comprehend the scope of the objectives.


Classroom Exercises and Book Reports

Some fun ways to teach this lesson using Storyboard That:

Relating to the Common Core

Analyzing a literary work with a plot diagram fulfills common core ELA standards for many age groups.

RL.9-10.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.3 : Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

Example Rubrics

More Examples of Plot Diagrams

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