For many children, reading is not the problem—it’s understanding that presents significant challenges.
Teaching students story structure—how to identify the structural components of a text and how those different elements interact—is a great strategy for increasing reading comprehension, close reading skills, and retention. We’ve compiled six tips and strategies for teaching story structure in ways that help boost reading comprehension skills.
1. Teach Story Structure to All Ages
Discussions about story elements should start as early as preschool and continue through high school. For younger students, simple elements such as beginning, middle, and end are appropriate. For older students, more complex elements such as character, setting, events, problem, and resolution should be introduced to increase difficulty.
2. Create a Storyboard
Storyboarding is a wonderful way to integrate art with story retelling. To make your own storyboard, simply list the elements of basic story structure you want to focus on (e.g., beginning, middle, and end) on a page with a large empty box next to each element. In each box, have students draw a scene from a text you’ve read recently that illustrates that element.
3. Use the “SWBST” Strategy
The “Somebody Wanted But So Then” exercise provides a framework for summarizing a story by identifying and describing key story elements. Using a table like the one below, have students fill in each box with a brief summary from the story. For older students, use more elements and increase the level of detail required for each element.
4. Build Out Story Maps
A story map is another visual tool that helps students summarize story structure to improve reading comprehension. Using a text you’ve studied, have your students describe selected story components. This can be done as a class, in small groups, or individually. Differentiate your maps by analyzing simpler or more complex structure elements.
Sample Story Map Card
Name _____________________ Date _________________
5. Teach Story Elements with “Pick a Card”
Write the story elements you’ve been studying on cards. Break students up into small groups or pairs and have each student pick a card without revealing its element. One at a time, each student reads a passage from a story you’ve studied that illustrates the element while the other students try to identify what’s on the card.
6. Plot the Story Structure Using a Graph
For older students, use a story graph to chart the story arc of plot sub-elements such as exposition, rising action, conflict, falling action, climax, and resolution. On the x axis, list the desired story elements chronologically. On the y axis, indicate excitement level from low at the bottom to high at the top. Have your students plot the points for each story element to reveal the story arc.
Regularly practicing strategies like these can help your students learn how to identify a story’s basic elements and how those elements interact. To reinforce the learning, add other reading comprehension activities that integrate story structure elements with other skills.