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.

  • Beginning [Exposition, Conflict]
  • Middle [Rising Action, Climax]
  • End [Falling Action, Resolution]

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:

  • Have students illustrate exposition, rising action, conflict, climax, falling action, and resolution, in a six cell storyboard.
  • As part of editing, have students diagram their own creative writing to find major plot points.
  • Put an empty storyboard on an assessment, and require students to illustrate the plot points of a class text.

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

Grades 3-5

Design Plot Spelling and Grammar Score
Each cell includes a creative heading. Cells include images that help to tell the story and do not hinder understanding. There are three cells. Each one represents a different part of the story. The cells are in order from beginning to end. Spelling and grammar is mostly accurate. Mistakes do not hinder understanding.
A cell is missing a heading, or headings are completely unrelated to the diagrammed work. Cells are out of order. Spelling that is very inaccurate and hinders full understanding.
Cells have no headings. One or more of the cells is missing Cells cannot be understood.

Grades 5-8

Design and Creative Elements Spelling and Grammar Plot Elements Score
Creativity and imagery are used effectively (helps to tell the story). At least three Textables are included in plot diagram. Spelling within the Textables is mostly correct (fewer than eight errors). Grammar does not hinder understanding. There are three complete slides: one for beginning, one for the middle, and one for the end. Slides explain the work of prose and are easy to follow.
Creative elements (clipart) are somewhat distracting. At least two Textables throughout their plot diagram. Spelling within textables is somewhat correct (fewer than 10 errors). Grammar may hinder some understanding or make reading difficult. There are three cells, but one or two do not depict the correct element within the work of prose (e.g. the beginning is misplaced). Story is somewhat difficult to follow.
Creativity is minimally apparent, and the overall design shows a lack of effort. Clipart may be confusing and distract from the story. Student used one or fewer Textables. Spelling is mostly incorrect (10 or more errors). Grammar severely hinders understanding. One or more cells is missing. Only one part of the plot is represented (e.g. only the beginning). Story is hard to follow.

Grades 9-12

Descriptive and VIsual Elements Grammar/Spelling Evidence of Effort Plot Score
Cells have many descriptive elements, and provide the reader with a vivid representation. Textables have three or fewer spelling/grammar errors. Work is well written, and carefully thought out. Student has done both peer and teacher editing. All parts of the plot are included in the diagram.
Cells have many descriptive elements, but flow of cells may have been hard to understand. Textables have four or fewer spelling/grammar errors. Work is well written and carefully thought out. Student has either teacher or peer editing, but not both. All parts of the plot are included in the diagram, but one or more is confusing.
Cells have few descriptive elements, or have visuals that make the work confusing. Textables have five or fewer spelling/grammar errors. Student has done neither peer, nor teacher editing. Parts of the plot are missing from the diagram, and/or some aspects of the diagram make the plot difficult to follow.
Cells have few or no descriptive elements. Textables have six or more spelling/grammar errors. Work shows no evidence of any effort. There is no diagram or the diagram demonstrates no effort.

More Examples of Plot Diagrams

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ELA Teacher Guides 9-12


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