Story Elements- Teaching Tips

Story elements teaching ideas.

Teaching Story Elements

Welcome back to the 3rd installment of Exploring ELA. I’m going to cover teaching Story Elements today. This standard spans over many grades, but gets more and more specific the older the kiddos get. I’m going to discuss primary grades (kinder, first, second, and third grade) when covering teaching story elements.

Story Elements can be taught very closely with the retell standard. I think story elements would be a great place to start since you have to master story elements before moving on to retelling. Retelling in first grade covers the basic character/setting/event elements. Once you start getting into second and third grade, it focuses more on the character and the problems that character faces. So, while a first grade teacher may read this blog post and think that many of the ideas are too advanced for his or her first graders, remember what the students will need to learn in future grades and try to shape your teaching towards that.

The Standards:

Here is the break-down of the standards first through third grade.

  • RL.K.3: With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.
  • RL.1.3: Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.
  • RL.2.3: Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
  • RL.3.3: Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events
  • RL.4.3: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).

Each grade gets a little deeper into students’ inference skills. In 3rd grade, there is a lot of exploring and inferring that may not be directly written out in the text.

Here are some of the key tasks that I think are important to hit as educators when tackling this standard:

  • introducing the basics
  • using short stories to teach the basics
  • expanding to focus on the character and their problem
  • hands-on practice

Introducing the Basics

(Sources: Left- Eclectic Educating & Right- The Creative Apple)

Start with anchor charts! Anchor charts are always a necessity when teaching mini lessons for me. I always need something to create WITH the students and have on display to refer back to throughout the unit. Here are two cute ideas from other bloggers on teaching Story Elements.

 (Source: RL1.3 Pack)

This anchor chart and mini-lesson activity will help to break each specific story element up for a first grader and to focus on the individual element. During this mini lesson, students will learn about the story elements one at a time or all at once and then break into small groups after a read-aloud. Each group will focus on the story element they’re given and present it to the class.

Video for Story Elements: Activities and teaching ideas- educational ideas for characters, setting, events, problem and solution, and more. Hands-on ideas for a first grade, second grade, and third grade classroom.

 I have seen this video short floating around on Pinterest and it is PERFECT for story elements. Tech tip: Use the website ViewPure to get no commercials. (Video: Ormie)

Using Stories to Teach the Basics

When teaching story elements, your most effective tool is going to be strong mentor texts. Throughout each of these mentor texts, make sure to identify and discuss characters, settings, events, and problems and solutions for each story. Here are a few mentor texts I suggest for story elements. Each link is an affiliate link to Amazon.

(Source: RL.3.3 Unit)

Once you have taught the basic story elements that make up a story (character, setting, events), reading practice and comprehension is a huge skill to master. Reading for understanding is a big part of common core reading. And story elements are at the root of understanding a story. They’re the big pieces of the puzzle, so giving the students many opportunities to practice this is key. Passages are SO useful for teaching story elements. This gives students an opportunity to mark up their text and dive in.

Expanding to Focus on a Character’s Challenge and Response

In CCSS world, this is referred to as the challenge and response. Another way to identify this would be problem and problem. CCSS wants students to focus on how the character responds instead, so their thoughts, feelings, actions, and what they say.

First grade focuses on the basic story elements: character, setting, events. Second and third grade get much more focused on the character and what happens with the character throughout the story. Second grade standards focus on the character’s challenges and responses. Third grade gets a little deeper and explores the motivation and traits that students have to infer from their reading.

(Images show resources from RL3.3 and RL2.3)

No matter what you call it, this standard really wants students to focus on what type of events happen to the character and what the character does in response to this event.

character challenge mentor texts

Here are a few strong mentor texts for teaching Character Challenges and Response.

Hands-On Practice Time

Now, for the fun part! Time to practice, practice, practice.

Story Elements: Activities and teaching ideas- educational ideas for characters, setting, events, problem and solution, and more. Hands-on ideas for a first grade, second grade, and third grade classroom.

Post-its are great for all lessons:  whole group, small group, independent, centers. During my small groups, I always liked to have the students draw or write the story elements on three different colored Post-it notes. This helped them differentiate between the two. This is a first grade skill, but it doesn’t hurt to practice again and again in 2nd and 3rd grade.

Activities to teach problem and solution.

Another use for Post-its! Have students write the problem and solution on a Post-it note before they start answering their text-dependent questions. This always helps to solidify the difference between the challenge and how the character responds.

Kagan Cooperative Learning Primary Story Elements Cube (MLSE)

(Affiliate Amazon Link:
Students will roll this dice and answer the story element prompt that is shown. This is a fun way to get your kids thinking about story elements without writing and answering written questions.

Activities to teach problem and solution interactive notebook.

Use interactive notebooks during small group, centers, or guided reading for an engaging activity. You can use the flip flap pieces for a chapter in a book, a picture book, or a short passage.

Make it even more engaging with digital…

On top of your units that include lesson plans, passages, graphic organizers to use with any texts, you can also add in digital activities. These drag-and-drop, match-up, or type-it-in activities are so engaging for students to practice!

Link: Story Elements Digital

Check out these suggested resources!

Ready to dive even DEEPER into story elements?

Check out these 3 tips all about making story elements fun and engaging for your students!

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Story Elements: Activities and teaching ideas- educational ideas for characters, setting, events, problem and solution, and more. Hands-on ideas for a first grade, second grade, and third grade classroom.

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