Category Archives: Elements of Literature

Theme and Symbolism

We are just wrapping up a study of theme and symbolism. To help students, better understand, I used a Pixar short.

When the students came in, their warm up was to brainstorm questions to ask themselves to help determine the theme or the meaning of symbols. We held a class discussion and created an anchor chart with our tips for each theme and symbol.

Then, we watched La Luna, which has sadly been pulled from YouTube in the past few days. I had hoped to post a link.

After viewing, students discussed the questions on the anchor chart with their partners. Then we discussed as a whole class. Finally, students wrote a response stating the theme and the meaning of the symbol (hats) in the short and validating their responses by citing evidence.

(The next day, we added the answers in blue on the charts as a review.)

Then, we read a vignette from The House on Mango Street, discussed the same questions, and wrote the same response determining theme and the meaning of the symbols and validating responses by citing evidence.

1 Comment

Filed under Elements of Literature, Lesson Ideas

Livening up Literature Studies

We just finished reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I’ve had a wonderful time, and the kids have really loved it. They clapped when we finished reading it, and they asked if we could read another book next. (Yes, but we are going to study persuasive text first.) Still, towards the end, our discussions were starting to fall a little flat. My first thought was “Ugh, I need to just fly through the last 25 pages and get out of this book and onto something new!”  But then I realized, it wasn’t the book. It was my teaching. My lessons were great lessons, but our structure was too repetitive. Read, partner talk, whole class talk, parter talk, whole class talk, etc. etc. etc., write.

So, last week, we did our reading. Then I divided the class into groups and assigned each group a literary element or an important quote. I gave them some guiding questions to discuss and asked them to create a poster showing what they learn through their discussions. I gave them 15 minutes to do this, which allowed me enough time to visit each group and make sure they were getting what I needed them to.

Then, they hung their posters on the wall around the room, and we did a gallery walk. Kids traveled with their groups from poster to poster, reading and discussing their classmates’ work, and taking notes. When they were done, they all sat back down and individually responded to prompts about the theme and symbolism. They did a really great job!  Their spelling isn’t perfect, and I could have insisted they refine their ideas a little more, but I thought it was more meaningful to validate the growth they were showing rather than insisting on perfection. And their artwork is incomplete. I did only give them 15 minutes. If this were a graded assignment, I’d have given more time. I do think it’s important to let students express creativity and take pride in their work. That just wasn’t my goal this day.


Filed under Book Studies, Elements of Literature, Lesson Ideas, Student Engagement

Plot Stages Breakthrough!

I have struggled for many years with helping students understand the concept of climax. The students always think it’s any exciting part. They don’t understand that it’s all related to the conflict. They don’t get that the definition “turning point in a story” means the point where the conflict stops getting worse and starts getting better.

In a moment of frustration a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an idea that’s been pure gold. I was in the cycle of reteach, check for understanding, see the majority of students did not understand, reteach in a new way. I did not anticipate students would struggle THAT much and I was out of ideas for reteaching that I’d planned, so I grabbed a monster greeting card off of my desk.

I held up the monster card and said “This is the conflict.” Then I taped the card to the wall on our plot diagram and walked them through the monster conflict’s movement. It was a lightbulb moment for the students, so I decided to make the monster conflict a permanent fixture on our diagram. We tracked the monster conflict through the plot stages in two more stories. By the third story, students were telling me the climax before I even asked. Sweet success!

Leave a comment

Filed under Elements of Literature

Point of View Lesson

I have started so many posts to share here, but I haven’t finished them. Ideas have been whipping around inside my head like a tornado. So many new, exciting things to try in my classroom are in that whirlwind, and I know I need to just take it slow and try one thing at a time, but I couldn’t seem to get a grasp on any of them. I’ve had off this week for Fall Break, and the ideas are starting to settle. With the help of some rest, some space, and the advice of a trusted colleague, I’ve found a little clarity and direction. So before embarking on the new, I would like to share a little of the old.

A few weeks ago, I introduced point of view to my students. In 8th grade, we study first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient (though through their independent reading and work in literacy centers, some students have discovered and briefly learned about second person and third person objective). This is mostly a review from 7th grade, so I just spent two mini lessons exploring the concept. Here they are.


For the second mini-lesson, we completed a sort. Students were assigned one color for the cards. They explained their choices to their partners, helped each other, and once I checked their work, they glued them onto their construction paper. They had wonderful discussions!

Once we completed our two mini-lessons, we started spending time analyzing the effect of point of view in a story and exploring which point of view would be best for which genre. Fun conversations and journals!

Leave a comment

Filed under Elements of Literature

Plot and Conflict

Last week, we began studying plot and conflict. A few days ago, I shared the Jot Thoughts activity we used to build our anchor chart. Here’s one more idea for conflict and one for plot.

Conflict Magazine Sort

I’ve shamelessly stolen this idea from an amazing teacher I’ve had the pleasure to observe. She works in another school in my district, and she’s full of creativity and enthusiasm. So, my interpretation of her idea … I cut out lots of pictures from magazines and gave them to students. They discussed the type of conflicts they saw in the pictures and classified them as internal or external and character vs. ____. Then, we made collages to hang on the wall around our anchor charts. They’ll help us remember what we’ve learned.

And one humorous response … I had intended students to use the other side of this picture, but they trimmed it down to show their true thoughts about Justin Bieber.

Plot Lesson

Even though they were introduced to the idea in 7th grade, stages of plot is always a struggle for my 8th graders. Identifying the climax of a story just takes a lot of practice to get good at. So, I teach the concept as follows:

1. Define the term plot – the series of events in a story.

2. Picture Book! I read a picture book aloud for the class, and we pause for teams to note plot events … simple, the things that happen in the story. We cut out little squares and write one event per square. I like to use the book Elbert’s Bad Word by Audrey Wood. Elbert’s internal conflict is his struggle to control himself and not say a bad word, but the author personifies the word, so it’s quite easy to track the rising action … as the conflict grows more complicated. It’s also pretty simple to find the climax because all of the characters literally stop and stare at Elbert in anticipation of how the conflict will be resolved. Plus, it’s a fun book for older kids. They love that it’s about a bad word and are so angry that the book never tells what exactly that bad word is that Elbert uttered.

3. Introduce the stages of plot. We draw a large plot diagram into our journals and begin labeling and defining the stages. As we define each stage, we classify the plot events we listed on our sequence squares. As they do this, I post a plot diagram on the wall that will stay up all year. We’ll use it with all the stories we read.

4. Then, the students work as a team to arrange their squares onto their own plot diagrams. Even though we have already discussed each event and even labelled them by plot stage, I still find this activity brings up great conversations. They don’t all take it in the first time we talk about it as a whole class, and the small group discussions are great!

The result . . .

Next week, I’ll place out a literacy center students can choose. They will have several picture books to choose from, and they’ll create their own plot diagrams. We’ll also repeat the activity a few times as a class with shorter stories and with The Tell Tale Heart, our study for the week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Elements of Literature, Lesson Ideas