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Teaching ELA with Plot Diagrams and Narrative Arcs

By Katherine Docimo (En Español | En Français | Auf Deutsch)

What Is A Plot Diagram / Narrative Arc?

Narrative Arc and the prototypical “Plot Diagram” are key learning tools for building literature comprehension and appreciation. Plot diagrams allows students to pick out major themes in the text, track changes to major characters over the course of the narrative, and hone their understanding of literary structure, meeting many Common Core Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS.ELA-Literacy). In addition, these concepts give students a fuller understanding of classroom texts as well as stories present in 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 ones, teachers can easily assess students’ understanding important story components. Combined illustrations and text can enliven difficult concepts like “rising action” and “climax.”

Templates For Plot Diagrams

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

Example Plot Diagrams:

Classroom Exercises and Book Reports

Some fun ways teachers can teach plot diagrams through Storyboard That include:
  • Students illustrate exposition, rising action and conflict, climax, falling action, and resolution, in a more in-depth six cell storyboard.
  • Students can diagram their own creative writing to find major plot points in what they’ve written for class.
  • Teachers put an empty storyboard on an assessment and require students to illustrate the plot points of a class text.

Relating to the Common Core

Deconstructing a piece of literature via a plot diagram matches 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 (CCSS 2013)

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. Student uses mostly accurate spelling and grammar that does not hinder understanding.
A cell is missing a heading, or headings are completely unrelated to the work of prose. Cells are out of order. Student has spelling that is completely off and hinders understanding fully.
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
Student has used creativity and imagery effectively (helps to tell the story) in their cells. Student has used AT LEAST 3 Textables throughout their plot diagram. Spelling within the texatables is mostly correct (fewer than 8 errors). Grammar does not interfere with understanding. There are three complete slides to clearly represent. One for beginning, one for the middle, and one for the end. Slides explain the work of prose and are easy to follow.
Student has used creative elements (clipart) that may have been somewhat distracting. Student has used AT LEAST 2 Textables throughout their plot diagram. Spelling within the textables is somewhat correct (fewer than 10 errors). Grammar may hinder some understanding or make it hard to read. There are three cells but one or two of them do not depict the correct element within the work of prose (i.e. the beginning may be misplaced). Story is somewhat difficult to follow.
Student has used minimal creativity and the overall design shows a lack of effort. Clipart may be confusing and distract from the story. Student used 1 or fewer Textables. Spelling is mostly incorrect (Fewer than 15 errors). Grammar hinders understanding severely. One or more cells is missing. The student may have only represented one part of the plot (i.e. only representing the beginning). Story is hard to follow.

Grades 9-12

Descriptive elements and visual Grammar / Spelling Evidence of effort Plot Score
Cells have many descriptive elements and provide the reader with a vivid description. Textables have 3 or less errors in spelling / grammar. Work well written and carefully thought out. Student has done peer / teacher editing. Student has included all parts of the plot diagram.
Cells have many descriptive elements but flow of cells may have been hard to understand. Textables have 4 or less errors in spelling / grammar. Work is well written and carefully thought out. Student has done teacher editing but no peer editing. Student has included all parts of the plot diagram, but one or more parts may be confusing.
Cells have few descriptive elements or have visuals that make the work confusing. Textables have 5 or less errors in spelling / grammar. Student has done no peer/ teacher editing. Some aspects may make the plot hard to follow.
Cells have few/ no descriptive elements. Textables have 6 or more errors in spelling / grammar. Work shows no evidence of any effort. Student has done no diagram or diagram contains / shows no effort.

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