Narrative arcs and the “Plot Diagram” or are essential for building literary comprehension and appreciation. Narrative plot diagrams, sometimes referred to as story charts, plot charts, story mountains or plot mountains, 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. They challenge students to pick out the most important parts of the story, and create a short, organized summary. 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. Plot Graphs or Story Arcs typically contain the following elements:

Elements of Plot Structure or the Narrative Arc of a Story

  • Exposition
  • Conflict
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

What is a Plot Diagram?

Below are the parts of a plot diagram explained:


The exposition is the introduction to a story, including the primary characters' names, setting, mood, and time.


The conflict is the primary problem that drives the plot of the story, often a main goal for the protagonist to achieve or overcome.

Rising Action

The rising action of the story is all of the events that lead to the eventual climax, including character development and events that create suspense.


The climax is the most exciting point of the story, and is a turning point for the plot or goals of the main character.

Falling Action

The falling action is everything that happens as a result of the climax, including wrapping-up of plot points, questions being answered, and character development.


The resolution is not always happy, but it does complete the story. It can leave a reader with questions, answers, frustration, or satisfaction.

By plotting simple narrative arcs in three-cell storyboards, or more complicated stories in six-cell boards, teachers can easily assess students’ understanding of important story components. Combined illustrations and text can enliven difficult concepts like “rising action” and “climax”. These story arc templates help students to flesh out the most important parts of a story in a clear visual way. Below is a plot structure example from the popular high school novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Example Plot Diagram Activities

Plot diagrams in literature can be completed with any novel across grade levels. View some of the premade plot diagram activities you can copy to your teacher account. For younger students or short stories, replace the plot diagram with a Beginning, Middle, End summary.

Plot Diagram Template

Making storyboards that explain the elements and structure of a plot can 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 main events of the story, and the scope of the objectives. For narrative arcs for younger grades or other plot diagram templates, make sure to check out"Four Innovative Ways to Teach Parts of a Story".

Plot Diagram Examples from Literature

Suggested Modifications

For the Students Who Need Minimal Guidance

Within special education there are varying degrees of abilities, including students who may have disabilities that have a minimal impact on their cognitive abilities. Those students for whatever reason may still be in a special education setting but won’t necessarily need significant modifications on something like a plot diagram.

For the students that require minimal assistance, a blank plot diagram with very little or no information completed may be best. As the creator of the storyboard, the teacher can control just what information is provided and decide how much to guide students. Use the templates above as they are, or make slight adjustments to the templates.

Students Who Need a Little Guidance

Some students will need a little more guidance when it comes to a plot diagram. Students who struggle with reading comprehension may have difficulty picking out the different parts of a story. Details of the story can be lost in translation, so to speak.

That is where a plot diagram with some leading information can be helpful. Providing visuals prior to asking the students to complete the plot diagram gives them “clues” to what they are looking for when completing the diagram. The visuals act as context clues for students to focus their energy on the appropriate information, as seen in the Holes Plot Diagram example below.

Students Who Need More Guidance

Storyboarding allows for variations that also work for those students who really struggle and require more explicit guidance. For students who can still complete the plot diagram as an assignment but need simplification, alter the plot diagram to a more basic "beginning middle end" approach. With the BME storyboard the amount of information included can still be as little or as much as needed for the students. Check out BME storyboard templates and examples already completed and ready for use.

A completed plot diagram storyboard may be better if BME does not fit the assignment and the students require a more in-depth plot diagram. The students can then use it as a reference rather than an assignment. Options like this are great, especially when the students notice what other students have or don’t have. From afar, it will look like they received the same storyboard, but they actually have one that meets their needs.

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. Below are only two examples of ELA standards for different levels. Please see your Common Core State Standards for grade-appropriate strands.

  • ELA-Literacy.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

  • 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

Plot Diagram Rubric (Grades 3-5)
33 Points
25 Points
17 Points
Each cell includes a creative heading. Cells include images that help to tell the story and do not hinder understanding.
A cell is missing a heading, or headings are completely unrelated to the diagrammed work.
Cells have no headings.
There are three cells. Each one represents a different part of the story. The cells are in order from beginning to end.
Cells are out of order.
One or more of the cells is missing
Spelling and Grammar
Spelling and grammar is mostly accurate. Mistakes do not hinder understanding.
Spelling is very inaccurate and hinders full understanding.
Cells cannot be understood.

Plot Diagram Rubric (Grades 5-8)
33 Points
25 Points
17 Points
Design and Creative Elements
Creativity and imagery are used effectively (helps to tell the story). At least three Textables are included in plot diagram.
Creative elements (clipart) are somewhat distracting. At least two Textables throughout their plot diagram.
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 and Grammar
Spelling within the Textables is mostly correct (fewer than eight errors). Grammar does not hinder understanding.
Spelling within textables is somewhat correct (fewer than 10 errors). Grammar may hinder some understanding or make reading difficult.
Spelling is mostly incorrect (10 or more errors). Grammar severely hinders understanding.
Plot Elements
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.
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.
One or more cells is missing. Only one part of the plot is represented (e.g. only the beginning). Story is hard to follow.

Plot Diagram Rubric (Grades 9-12)
Create a plot diagram for the story using Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
25 Points
21 Points
17 Points
Try Again
13 Points
Descriptive and Visual Elements
Cells have many descriptive elements, and provide the reader with a vivid representation.
Cells have many descriptive elements, but flow of cells may have been hard to understand.
Cells have few descriptive elements, or have visuals that make the work confusing.
Cells have few or no descriptive elements.
Textables have three or fewer spelling/grammar errors.
Textables have four or fewer spelling/grammar errors.
Textables have five or fewer spelling/grammar errors.
Textables have six or more spelling/grammar errors.
Evidence of Effort
Work is well written and carefully thought out. Student has done both peer and teacher editing.
Work is well written and carefully thought out. Student has either teacher or peer editing, but not both.
Student has done neither peer, nor teacher editing.
Work shows no evidence of any effort.
All parts of the plot are included in the diagram.
All parts of the plot are included in the diagram, but one or more is confusing.
Parts of the plot are missing from the diagram, and/or some aspects of the diagram make the plot difficult to follow.
Almost all of the parts of the plot are missing from the diagram, and/or some aspects of the diagram make the plot very difficult to follow.

Customize Worksheets!

If you're looking for another step or an alternative assignment, you can create plot diagram worksheets to use in your class! These worksheets can be customized and printed out for students to fill out with a pencil, or they can be completed in the Storyboard Creator like a digital worksheet. You can even create multiple versions for those students who might need a little extra help, and keep them on hand for future use! Find plenty of templates to work from or just start with a blank canvas.

Image Attributions
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