Telling a Story

Contributor: Kimberly Bennett. Lesson ID: 10959

When you answer the question, "How was your day?", do you think about characters, setting, plot, sequence, and theme? Stories have those elements, and you'll use online and print tools to study them!



learning style
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Can you describe what is happening in the picture below?

telling a story

Turn to your parent or teacher and tell him or her your ideas about what is happening in the above picture.

If you aren't sure what to say, think about the following questions:

  • What is the woman standing doing?
  • What is she saying?
  • What is the man with the glasses doing?
  • Did you finish talking about the picture?
  • Did you say that woman standing is telling the others a story about something exciting or interesting that she saw, or that happened to her?

Or, maybe you said they were playing a game of charades and she is pretending to be a kangaroo. Whatever you said — whether you said she was telling a story or not — you told a story about what you thought was happening in the picture!

That was pretty tricky, wasn't it? The truth is, stories take on all different shapes and forms, from telling about a picture, to poetry, to telling about your day around the dinner table, and all the way to chapter books.

No matter how short or long, most stories have a few common elements:

  • First, all stories have characters of some sort. The characters can be people, animals, or even nonliving things that are given human characteristics (like a talking chair). When things that aren't people act like people in a story, it's called personification. So, if the main character in your story is a talking purple jelly bean named George, you're using personification. Even talking animals are a way of using personification, because animals don't really talk.
  • The next thing all stories have is a setting. The setting is the location — where and when the story takes place. You can be as detailed or as generic as you'd like. For example, if you would like to be very detailed in your story about Bob, you could say that Bob has been living in the covered glass candy dish on Mrs. Pumpernickel's coffee table among the copies of Better Homes and Gardens, in a little white Cape Cod on the corner of Dewberry and Roselawn, since Easter of 2002. Now everyone knows exactly where Bob lives and how long he's been there. You could even go farther and give the current day, tell who else lives in the dish with Bob, if there are any kids or pets who sniff around the dish, and so on, until the perfect scene is set.

If setting isn't that important to your plot (which we will discuss in just a moment), you can simply say that Bob lives on the coffee table of an old woman's house, inside a covered glass candy dish. It gives the reader the same idea, only with fewer details.

The plot is the "what happens" in the story. It can usually be broken down into three basic points. You'll hear plot described differently by sources, but just remember this: Plot is all of the action that takes place within the story. It includes the:

  1. Conflict or Problem The main character always has some problem. Usually, this problem is with another character. For example, Bob may be at odds with the red jelly bean, who used to be his best friend, but he's been spending quite a bit of time with the yellow gummy bear and now Red is jealous. Red stopped talking to Bob and he doesn't know why, and he needs to figure it out before it's too late.
  • When the conflict is with another character, it is called external conflict. The main character can also have a conflict with himself or herself. For example, he or she may feel guilty for breaking the candy dish and trying to hide it by gluing the pieces back together. A decision to tell the truth needs to be made. This is called internal conflict.
  1. Climax This is the point in the story when everything seems to go wrong. Secrets are revealed, the bad guy (or girl) just got away with the perfect crime, and the main character gets to the point of desperation, and things are looking pretty bad for our main character. This is the page-turning moment ... we need to know, "What will happen next?"
  1. Resolution A sigh of relief or a gasp or shock! The issue is resolved, for better or for worse, although most people prefer a happy ending. Our main character finds a solution to the problem and they all live happily ever after ... or not.

All the action in the story takes place in a particular order, or sequence:

  1. First, you meet the characters and get to know the setting.
  2. Next, you learn of the problem.
  3. Then, you wonder how the problem might be solved.
  4. The problem is exposed.
  5. Then, it either is solved or the story comes to a close in some other way.

Finally, stories have a theme; they send a message or teach a moral or life lesson.

A long time ago, before books, people would sit around and tell stories as the primary form of entertainment and education. They would share stories of bad times so the younger generations would not make the same mistakes. They would tell stories of how doing the right thing always benefits the characters, and they would make up stories with themes of kindness, empathy, acceptance, forgiveness, humility, and other such important — yet sometimes confusing — human emotions. This concept has evolved, but still exists in even the most complex storylines of your favorite movies and books.

Now you know all about stories! Let's take a look at a story in the Get It? section and see if you can identify all the main parts!

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