Four Unique, Interactive Ways to Teach Story Elements

You need look no further than the Common Core State Standards to see that understanding story elements and identifying story elements while reading is an important literary skill for children of all ages. Unfortunately, the concept of story elements can be hard for children to grasp because of its abstract nature. After all, children – especially early on – are very concrete thinkers and use their five senses to interpret the world around them.

If you’re looking for ways of teaching story elements – ways that engage the five senses – read on. Below are four fun, interactive ways to do just that – costumes optional, but encouraged!

  1. Cub reporter – We’ve all heard the news reporter’s creed, haven’t we? When going after a hot news story, every reporter knows that if she wants her story to be complete, she has to find the answer to four simple questions: Who? What? When? and Where?  These questions tie in nicely with the concept of story elements. Who relates to the characters in a story. What translates to the story’s plot. When and where are both story elements that are part of the setting. Have your cub reporter pretend to interview the author of a story she’s just read. Equip her with the tools of the trade, things like a pencil, a notepad, a tape recorder, even a press badge. Then let her ask her imaginary author each question and jot the information down in preparation for writing a news article. When she’s finished taking down her notes, discuss each of the answers she came up with, and how they relate to the different story elements in the story she’s just read.
  2. Junior detective – Kids love mystery stories. And, the best way to set the mood for this activity is to start with a mystery tale. There are plenty of them out there to pick from. Think Harriet the Spy, The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, or the whole Encyclopedia Brown series. Once the story is read, discuss just what the sleuth had to do to solve the mystery or the crime. What was Harriet looking for? What did Encyclopedia need to uncover? The answers should be quite similar to what our cub reporter needed to know. Who committed the crime? Where was the crime committed? What actually happened? You get the idea. Now tell your young reader that she gets to be a story-reading detective. Give her the things she needs to really get into the role. These can include a magnifying glass, a sleuthing hat like the one worn by Sherlock Holmes and a “case book” for writing down her “clues.” Once she’s equipped, she can go on an imaginary crime hunt, using the story elements she’s just read to answer the questions that all good crime hunters must answer: Where was the crime committed? What was stolen? When did it happen? And, most important of all, Who done-it? Again, at the end of the activity, let her know that her work as a gumshoe has unraveled more than just the solution to a mystery; it has revealed the story elements in the story she read at the same time.
  3. Budding author – Story elements are often presented to elementary-aged children as the tools they need to dig deeper into the meaning of the stories they are reading. But, there’s another good reason to understand story elements: Understanding them makes us into better writers. You can start this activity by setting your child up as a novelist. Let her have a desk, a dictionary, a laptop. Then let her know that instead of reading a story, she is going to write one. Start her off with a list of the story elements that must be present in a story: plot, setting, characters, and theme. Encourage her to outline her story using each of these story elements as a guide. Once she has decided who her characters will be and what the setting will be like, for example, she can use her ideas to flesh out the story. Don’t forget to go over it with her afterwards. If any of the key story elements are missing, point out what they are and how they might have made her story stronger.
  4. Hollywood film star – This one works well with almost any story a child has read. After all, to do their jobs right, actors and actresses need to understand their roles. Have you heard the phrase, “What is my motivation?” It usually refers to an actor trying to understand his character better. Once your young film star has picked a book – and the appropriate costume for her character – discuss how she can better understand “her motivation.” She should answer questions such as Who is my character? What is the setting my character lives in? and Why does my character do what she does? When she has answered these questions about the story she’s read, she will have a firm grasp on that story’s major story elements, as well. Her reward? How about letting her act out the story while you play the role of appreciative audience member?

Here are some worksheets on story elements you might like to use in your classroom or at home:

Story Elements Activity Grade Range
Character K – 3rd Grade
Plot Actions K – 3rd Grade
Build a Plot  2nd – 3rd Grade
Problem and Solution 2nd – 5th Grade
What’s the Setting? 2nd – 5th Grade
Plan a Story 2nd – 3rd Grade
Discovering the Elements 4th – 5th Grade

Looking for more?  Check out all of our Story Elements Activities. Want more reading skills practice for your student?  Visit and their printable Story Elements Reading Passages.