Plot Structure

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 1 class period
15 minutes
Materials: Plot Diagram
Copies of the short story “Total Urbanization” by Douglas Bell, overhead projector, transparencies, wet erase markers


In this lesson students will look at the basic techniques authors use to construct believable fictional texts as well as the primary components of plot structure. We will discuss the ways in which the author uses language to create setting, characters, and mood. Then, referring back to a text that students have read the previous week, the class will explore the basic parts of a story line: exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Purpose – This lesson is the first of three lessons in which students will explore the various tools and techniques used by authors to create believable, compelling texts.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the six elements of a plot line in a given text.
2. Outline the major events of a text by creating a plot line diagram.

National English Education Standard
Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Teacher Background
The teacher should be familiar with the plot line diagram (circular, linear, or curved versions are fine), and understand the following components of plot:

  • Exposition: the beginning of the story, establishment of setting and characters
  • Conflict: the problem(s) faced by the characters
  • Rising Action: events in the story leading up to the climax
  • Climax: the culmination of events in the story, point of highest reader interest
  • Falling Action: events leading to the solving of the story’s problems
  • Resolution: how events and problems of the story are solved

Related and Resource Websites



1. Begin class with the overhead projector ready with a blank transparency and a wet erase marker at hand. Tell the class that they are going to look at the components of plot.

2. Ask the class if they can define plot (the events in a story chronologically explained).

3. Explain to the class that any text that tells a story has a plot. One example would be found in a film script. Also explain that as the plot or story line unfolds, there is a certain pattern of events which is generally followed.

4. After this brief introduction, ask the class what movies they have seen lately. List some of these, and try to identify one that you and the majority of the class members have seen.

5. Ask the class to describe the events of the movie, while you list the most important events (preferably the six elements of the plot line).

6. Explain to the class that the plot line of this movie has six parts, namely the 1) exposition, 2) conflict, 3) rising action, 4) climax, 5) falling action, and 6) resolution. Instruct the class to take notes on these terms.

7. Connect each of these terms to its corresponding event in the film students have described. Ask the students if they can then determine the significance of each of the six terms. Help the class to formulate definitions.

8. Explore the correct definitions of each of the six parts of the plot line with the class, encouraging students to make corrections in their notes where needed.

9. Ask the class to draw into the notes a plot line diagram, which you will model for them on the overhead. The best model to use is the triangle model or the “hill” shaped curve, which begins as a straight line that gently curves up at about a 45 degree angle into a hump that slopes down into a straight line again (see Plot Line Diagram). Ask the class to help you create a plot line diagram using the short story “Total Urbanization” which the students have read the week before.

10. If needed, spend a few minutes reviewing the story, or allowing the class to re-read it. Then, ask the class to try and identify the exposition (How does the story begin? What is the setting?). Identify the conflict (there are several in this story - e.g., the problem of finding food, avoiding death).

11. Students may struggle identifying the rising action, since the parameters of this part of the plot are somewhat vague. The rising action constitutes the events leading up to the climax (the rising action in this story would be the brief discussion between the narrator and Jim). The climax is usually easy for students to identify (the moment the narrator is shot). Wrap up by identifying the falling action (the narrator ponders the meaning of the events of his life) and the resolution (the author dies).

12. When these events have been plotted on your model plot line diagram (on the overhead) your students should have a pretty good idea of what the diagram’s purpose is: to simply outline and summarize a story.

If time allows, at the end of the class period assign another short story that the students can read in 5 to 10 minutes. Have them compose a plot line diagram of the story. This can also serve as a homework assignment.

See closure section (above).

Embedded Assessment
Students should be assessed on whether or not they can define and identify the literary terms outlined in the lesson objectives. Give students credit for accurate notes as well.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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