Activity Overview

Students can create and show a storyboard that captures the concept of the Five Act Structure by making a storyboard, like the example. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the acts in order: Prologue, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.

Act 1: Prologue

The setting is Elsinore Castle, in Denmark. The former king of Demark has died, and a group of soldiers tell his son, Prince Hamlet, that they believe they saw his ghost. Hamlet later sees the ghost and it is indeed his father. Hamlet learns the king was poisoned by Hamlet's uncle (the king's brother), who has since married the queen and is now the new king.

Act 1: Conflict

Hamlet feels that he must seek revenge on his father’s behalf. However, he struggles with the authenticity of the “ghost” and is indecisive about his course of action.

Act 2: Rising Action

Claudius hires two of Hamlet’s old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on the prince. Polonius, the chief counselor to Claudius, also spies on Hamlet. Polonius’s daughter, Ophelia, had been courted by Hamlet, but he now seems to reject her, perhaps in an effort to convince Claudius he is mad. Throughout the rising action, Hamlet tries to figure out if Claudius truly killed his father. When he hears a group of actors is coming, he requests that they act out a play that depicts a king being poisoned in the ear. This mimics the way the ghost claims he was killed. Hamlet thinks if Claudius reacts, it will prove his guilt.

Act 3: The Climax

Claudius leaves the play and goes to pray forgiveness for killing Hamlet's father. Hamlet overhears this and wants to kill him. However, he thinks if he kills him while he is praying, Claudius will go to heaven.

Act 4: Falling Action

Hamlet speaks to his mother about how disgusted he is that she is married to Claudius. Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius and is banished to England. Claudius includes a letter to the King of England that orders Hamlet’s execution. Hamlet escapes and comes back to Denmark. Ophelia, crushed by Hamlet’s apparent disdain and the death of the father, has drowned herself. Hamlet is challenged to a fencing match by Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, who blames Hamlet for the deaths of his sister (Ophelia) and his father (Polonius).

Act 5: Denouement

At the match, Laertes poisons the tip of his sword. Claudius poisons a cup and tries to get Hamlet to drink from it. Hamlet refuses and Queen Gertrude drinks from it instead. Laertes stabs Hamlet. They grapple, and Laertes is stabbed by his own sword and also poisoned. Hamlet makes Claudius drink from the poison cup and then stabs him with the poisoned sword. In the end, only Horatio is left to tell the story. Fortinbras, King of Norway, arrives to find the royal family dead and claims Denmark.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Hamlet.

  1. Separate the play into the Prologue/Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the acts.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

Lesson Plan Reference

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/3] Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed)
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/10] By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

    By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently
  • [ELA-Literacy/W/11-12/4] Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Five Act Structure Rubric (Grades 9-12)
Create a plot diagram for the play using Prologue/Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
Proficient Emerging Beginning Try Again
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.

How To Facilitate a Discussion on Shakespeare’s Five Act Structure


Introduce Five Act Structure

Teachers can begin by giving simple and easy definitions of the five act structure. They can introduce the literary context and the significance of this structure in Shakespeare’s work. They can choose a specific play such as Hamlet and use it as an example for analysis.


Reading and Analysis in Groups

Group the students into smaller groups, and give each group a certain act from the selected play. Each group should read the allotted act and then discuss its content, concentrating on the character development, new tensions, and significant occurrences.


Act-by-Act Analysis

Bring everyone back together in the classroom and ask them to deliver their group's critique of the assigned act. Encourage your students to talk about how each act advances the plot overall and helps the play's themes take shape.


Figuring Out Turning Points

Talk about the idea of turning points inside each act—seconds that change the course of the narrative or the choices made by the characters. Ask students to highlight pivotal scenes in the play and explain their relevance.


Recall the Main Ideas

Recap the main points of the conversation to close the discussion. Underline how crucial it is to comprehend structure in order to read and appreciate Shakespeare's plays.

Frequently Asked Questions About Shakespeare's Five Act Structure in Hamlet

What is the Five Act structure used by Shakespeare?

Shakespeare commonly employed a dramatic framework called the "Five Act Structure" to organize his plays. It splits a play into five different acts, each serving a distinctive narrative purpose and fostering tension throughout the course of the drama.

Can other Shakespearean plays use the five act structure?

Yes, the five act structure is used in many of Shakespeare's plays, including comedies, tragedies, and histories. This framework is a flexible tool for examining the narrative development of his works.

What made Shakespeare decide on the five-act format?

Shakespeare used the five-act structure because it was successful in generating a coherent narrative flow, escalating the tension through time, and producing dramatic climaxes. He was able to create intricate storylines and fascinate viewers because of it.

How may knowing the Five Act Structure improve how we view "Hamlet"?

Understanding the format helps us better understand how each act relates to the themes and character arcs of the play. It helps in identifying the narrative's climax, resolution, and major turning points. Readers can also understand the play in a better way and form a deeper connection if they are already aware of the five act structure.

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