5 Tips for Teaching Story Structure

Teaching story structure in fiction texts.

This week, I’m going to discuss 5 tips for teaching story structure. We will learn how to dive deeper into beginning, middle, and ending in fiction text. Text structure focuses on beginning, middle, and end and is taught in 2nd and 3rd grades. Although 1st graders should definitely learn about the beginning, middle, and end of the story, they focus on that more during retelling and story elements. This standard focuses explicitly on referring to the text and is not a standard for first grade, just 2nd and 3rd. Here are the two common core standards we will be discussing.

The Standards of Story Structure

  • RL.2.5- Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
  • RL.3.5- Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.

Buzz Words:

  • describe
  • structure
  • successive
  • beginning, middle, end
  • introduce story
  • concludes action
  • refer to text
  • stories/chapters/drama/scene/poem/stanza

Five Key Tasks for Teachers

1. Teach the overall structure of a story with beginning, middle, and end.

Start by simply teaching what types of things happen in the beginning, middle, and end. Teach students how to find them and what to look for!

Try a class anchor chart to kick off your story structure unit. On this anchor chart, write about what happens in the beginning, middle, and end. Then, take three very popular and well-known stories from the class and write a quick BME explanation of each on Post-it notes. That way, the students can associate a story from prior knowledge to the BME. Or read one story a day and as a class, fill out the BME, and put them on the Post-it notes. This can also carry-over and help with student writing when it comes to narratives!

2. Focus on the begining, middle, and ending in isolation and the events that happen within them.

Teach the events that happen in the beginning, middle, and end in isolation. Play hypothetical situations out for each story you read during this unit where the beginning, middle, or end never happened.

Identifying beginning, middle, and end when teaching story structures

(Source: Mandy’s Tips for Teachers)
One way to isolate the beginning, middle, and end events is to have students read a text and follow up with writing what three main events happen in each specific part. This freebie from Mandy is a great way for more advanced writers to show that.

Story structure freebie

If you’re working with less advanced writers, try the simple flip book. Students will need one piece of paper and a pair of scissors. They will fold the paper in half, cut one side of the paper into three pieces, label them beginning, middle, and end. Then, they will lift each flap and illustrate on the top piece and write about it on the bottom.

Story structures flip books

Shown in this picture is an entire printable worksheet that students can use with passages, read alouds, or independent reading texts. These printables have students focus only on the beginning, middle, or end at one time. This picture shows a beginning worksheet with the story Memoirs of a Parrot by David Scillian. Here is my affiliate link to the book on Amazon.

3. Teach different types of text.

The 3rd grade standard suggests using stories, poems, and plays. Use a variety of these things when teaching how to find the beginning, middle, and end and the events that happen within them. This is very important when it comes to referring to the text because common core wants students to refer to specific stanzas, scenes, and chapters.

(Resources: RL2.5RL3.5)
Included in my RL3.5 pack you’ll find plays, poems, and stories. On the left is a two-page play with three characters that students read about and answer questions on. On the right is a mini-lesson activity for a chapter book excerpt. There are task card questions that follow.

(Resources: RL2.5RL3.5)
These are also included in my RL3.5 pack. On the left, there is a poem, followed up with task card questions. On the right is another poem sample with questions.

4. Use books and passages that they can practice with.

My favorite tip for teaching story structure is to load up on text! Let students use lots of books and passages for practice. Focus on the events that happen in the beginning and how the middle builds onto the beginning. Then, focus on how the end builds onto the middle. Most of the time, students will also be looking for a problem and a solution.

Mentor texts for teaching story structure

These book titles are my affiliate links on Amazon! (Find more mentor texts for RL here!)
Don’t Slam the Door by Lori Chaconas 
No Dogs Allowed by Sonia Manzano
Chicken Little by Steven Kellogg
The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Max’s Words by Kate Banks

(Resources: RL2.5RL3.5)
On the left is a story for 2nd grade readers. It is a half-page story with three questions. On the right is a story for 3rd grade readers. It is a full-page story with five questions on a separate page. The 2nd grade questions are more straight forward with questions such as ‘What happens at the beginning of the text?’ The 3rd grade questions are a bit more in-depth, such as ‘What would happen if the beginning didn’t happen?

5. Let them practice in many different ways.

Give students ample ways to practice this skill. Build it into small group or make it an independent center activity. I always like using interactive notebooks, printables, and task cards in centers or work stations. Here are a few different ways to build these into your ELA block.

Teaching story structures task cards

(Resources: RL2.5RL3.5)
Give students task cards to use with texts that they will read during independent reading time. During their read to self-time, students can have these task cards to self-assess, or they could buddy up with a partner after they read and answer questions. Shown above is the story Weird Parents by Audrey Wood.

Here is an affiliate link to that story if you’re interested in using it with this unit.

Story structure task cards

(Resources: RL2.5RL3.5)
Another idea is to stick a few read alouds and printables in a tub labeled “Early Finishers” and when students finish an assignment, they can grab the tub to work. This will allow them to feel successful and not waste any downtime during the day. Here is my affiliate link for the book One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian.

Early finishers projects

(Resources: RL2.5RL3.5)
Another tip for teaching story structure that you could work this standard into your daily ELA routine is to copy the printables two to a page. So these are half sheets of paper that I set up when I went to print. After they printed two to a page, I cut them in half and put them into a center. In that center, give students easy readers so they can read independently and fill out the half-sheet printables on their own.

Story Structure Suggested Resources:

The two resources that were spotlighted in this blog post are:

Click here for a list of other Exploring ELA blog posts.

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