The Plot Thickens: A Graphic Organizer for Teaching Writing

So, it’s time to assign a writing project to your class. You want creative stories with a clear beginning, middle and end. But how do you get your students–from third grade through high school–to craft well-developed tales (and not rambling gibberish that, let’s face it, you will dread grading)?

Here’s a super creative way to teach plot to your students. Just walk them through the attached Plot Skeleton organizer (which was adapted from Angela E. Hunt), and they’ll be equipped with all the elements of a good story.

An Explanation of the Chart:

Main Character Needs: What are the deep needs of your main character (which will turn into motives for action)? Most have an obvious need (like survival for Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web) and a hidden need (like Wilbur’s need for acceptance).

Inciting Incident: What happens to change the course of the story? (i.e. The conflict, like when Wilbur discovers that pigs’ purpose is to become food for the farmer.)

Complications: Events that happen as the main character tries to resolve the conflict. There are usually a couple complications that lead to the “bleakest moment.” Ex: Wilbur tries to escape but realizes the world is too scary for him; Fern is growing up and not as interested in Wilbur anymore; Bleakest Moment: Charlotte dies

Help: What happens to help the character overcome the conflict? Ex: Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life by spinning words in her web.

Lesson or Decision: What lesson is learned or decision made by the main character as a result? Ex: Wilbur discovers that friendship is of paramount importance and friends sometimes come from unlikely places.

Resolution: How do the character’s needs ultimately get met or resolved? Ex: Wilbur takes Charlotte’s babies back to the farm, where he befriends several of them and never again feels lonely.

Here’s how to use it:

1. First, model how to fill out the skeleton by completing one or two together (either on an overhead projector or on the board), using books you’ve read together as a class to complete the blanks.

2. Then, model creating a story from your own imagination, and fill in the chart in front of the class, showing them how to use questioning to develop your story (i.e. “What could be the inciting incident that gets the action rolling?” and “I wonder why a character would do that. What could be their inner need?”).

3. Give a copy to each student and have them brainstorm ideas for their own story, using the chart as a guideline.

4. Have students share their plot skeleton charts with a partner at the end of class to get feedback and additional ideas.

5. From the plot skeleton, students then begin drafting their stories.

This chart takes more scaffolding in the younger grades (third through fifth), but it’s worth the effort. These components of a strong plot will ensure quality writing from your students–writing you’ll actually enjoy grading!

To download the graphic organizer, click here!


1 Comment

Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Writing

One response to “The Plot Thickens: A Graphic Organizer for Teaching Writing

  1. Plot skeleton tool for teaching writing will be very helpful for my gifted 3rd grader (soon to be 4th) . She tends to get frustrated at the start of the writing assignment. This tool will help her take “bite-size” pieces and then put them together in a whole story. She read Charotte’s Web last year–so the examples will make sense for her.