Bringing Forth the Story Arc – Grades 4-5

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Focus Lesson Planning Sheet

Focus Lesson Topic

Bringing Forth the Story Arc – Grades 4-5
(Adapted from Calkins and Kesler, 2006)
Note: This lesson may take two days. On the second day, teachers may wish to explicitly model (with his/her own writing) the process of revising to refine/build a narrative story arc. See Mid-Workshop Teaching Point (LC, Book 2, pp. 132-133) for more information.


Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats and Shortcut by Donald Crews, How Stories Tend to Go chart (see attached), story mountain for Peter’s Chair sketched on chart paper (see attached)
Note: For this lesson, students must be familiar with Peter’s Chair and Shortcut. If students are not familiar with these stories, the teacher should choose other familiar stories with simple, narrative structures.


Over the past few days you have been working hard to finish your drafts. Some of you have even been coming to me saying, “I’m done!” It’s a great feeling to finish writing a piece, isn’t it? But writers have a saying: ‘When you’re done, you’ve just begun.’ That means that when you finish your draft the important work is just beginning because it is time to revise and make your writing even better!

Explicit Instruction

The word ‘revision’ comes from the word ‘vision.’ It literally means to look again. Today I will teach you one way to revise, or look again, at your writing. I want to teach you how to revise your draft by bringing out the story structure that might be hiding underneath your personal narrative.
By now you have probably realized that our writers’ workshop follows the same general format. We gather for a focus lesson, have time for independent writing, and end with a group share. You can count on that pattern every day. Stories are like that too, because there is a pattern for how stories usually go. Most stories begin by introducing a character and usually the main character has hopes or desires. Then the main character’s hopes or desires usually leads to some type of problem or trouble. Finally, things happen related to the problem and the story ends with a resolution. [Show How Stories Tend to Go anchor chart.] This is called a story arc.

Let me show you what I mean by a story arc as I see it in the book Peter’s Chair. [Quickly, think aloud and retell the story. Emphasize important parts related to the story arc: character, problem, events related to the problem, resolution.]

Here is an easy way to see the story structure in Peter’s Chair. [Draw mountain-shaped arc on chart paper.] We’ll call this a story mountain because of its shape. The main character, Peter, wants his family to stay the way it is. [Put a dot at the base of the story mountain and jot down this information. Continue to think aloud and create the story mountain.]

Guided Practice

Now listen as I retell the story of Shortcut. When I finish, I will ask you to turn and talk to a partner about whether the story arc of this book is the same as the story structure in Peter’s Chair. Remember how stories tend to go. [Briefly retell Shortcut.]
Turn and talk to your partner. Would the story arc for Shortcut be the same as the one for Peter’s Chair? Be sure to explain your thinking to each other.

Send Off [for Independent Practice]

I want you to always remember that writers think about the way stories usually go. As you look over your story today, keep in mind that your personal narrative will be stronger if you bring out the elements of the story that might be buried in it. Ask yourself, ‘Is my story more like a timeline with one event leading to another?’ If the answer is yes, you’ll want to think about what your story is really about – the problem or trouble, and how to build up the heart of the story so that your story looks more like a mountain. Look for the key moments in your story and stretch them out to build that story mountain just like Ezra Jack Keats and Donald Crews did.

Group Share

Select students with stories that follow the story mountain form to share. Encourage students to listen for and discuss the story arcs.

How Stories Tend to Go

  • main character (wants, hopes, desires)

  • problem (trouble) – probably an emotional response

  • things happen related to the problem (problem gets bigger? another problem?)

  • a resolution

Story Mountain for Peter’s Chair

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