Story elements are the foundation of teaching reading comprehension. While you probably teach story elements a the beginning of the year, reviewing story elements helps students when they are having difficulty. Going back to the basics of the five story elements can support students’ reading comprehension as the texts they read get more challenging.

I’ve got some tips and strategies, plus a free download to help you with teaching story elements. But first, let’s review what the story elements are.

What are story elements?

  1. Plot (what happens in the story)
  2. Characters (who is in the story)
  3. Setting (where the story takes place)
  4. Conflict (problem/solution)
  5. Theme (what message or lesson can be learned from the story)
1. Use Anchor Charts to Teach Story Elements Explicitly

As with introducing any new skill, start with an anchor chart. Anchor charts are a tool that you can use to support students’ learning. Anchor charts can look different depending on how you are teaching. While ideally, you would create an anchor chart with your students; there is also value in having an anchor chart prepared to teach the concept. You can use a pre-made anchor chart to introduce story elements. 

You can use a second anchor chart during your read-aloud to create with your students to track the story elements in a book. When first introducing or teaching, I highly recommend a shorter picture book, such as Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts.

When reading a longer chapter book, such as Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, you can also use a similar anchor chart. This will not only help your students identify the basic story elements in longer books, but it will also help your students hold on to longer stories. Win-win! 

story elements

These exit slips are from the Story Elements Reading Mini Unit. Keep reading to grab a free sample or check out the full resource here for 3rd grade Story Elements Reading Mini Unit or here for 4th/5th Grade Story Elements Reading Mini Unit.

2. Give Students a Tool for Reference 

Because story elements are the basis and foundation for other reading comprehension skills, you’ll want students to be able to continuously identify the story elements with any text. What better way to do this than provide an anchor chart at their fingertips? A reading notebook chart like this one can be a great reference for students to use during whole group, small group, independent reading, and reading at home. Or even keep it simple in the form of a bookmark. This notebook chart is included in the free download below.

3.  Use Picture Books for Story Elements 

Picture books are shorter, but that doesn’t mean the text is easier. It just means that it requires less of a time period to complete the story. This gives you more teaching time and allows students to be able to follow the story and see how everything fits together. 

Picture books also require students to hold on to less of a story. Chapter books can take days/weeks to complete the story. So it will take more time to teach and discuss the story elements. Using both types of books in your teaching helps your students become more flexible readers. 

4. Close Reading for Story Elements + Annotating 

Annotating and close reading isn’t just for those higher-order questions. You can have students practice looking for the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, & WHY. They can mark up the text specifically looking for story elements. 


 5. Use Graphic Organizers 

A story map graphic organizer can help students “see” the elements of a story. These versatile graphic organizers can be used with any text and help students during and after reading. Click the button below to download a free graphic organizer. 

This book brochure is another resource that you can use with any book. 


6.  SWBST Strategy

For many students, the most tricky part of story elements is the conflict and plot. The SWBST strategy helps students follow the plot, identify the conflict, and also supports summarizing. 

SWBST = Somebody Wanted But So Then 

This is a good fill-in-the-blank kind of strategy that I 🖤LOVE 🖤and is so helpful for students, especially those who are learning English or have any type of special needs. You can see how this works with the book Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and the familiar fairy tale Cinderella. 

7.  Use Video for Teaching Story Elements

This video is fun and helpful for students to remember the story elements. Every time I try to recall the 5 Story Elements, my own brain starts singing the song for me. 🎵(This video is from, which I think is absolutely amazing and I HIGHLY recommend!) 

8.  Use Exit Slips to Check for Understanding

Exit slips are a quick way to assess your students’ learning. Each reading mini unit includes exit slips to check for understanding of that skill. They have a brief section of text and a question (short response, multiple choice, etc.) related to the skill or strategy. The exit slips are also included in Google Forms.

9.  Ongoing Practice (It never ends!) 

Continuously revisit story elements when discussing texts during reading conferences + small group + read aloud + partner reading + book clubs… ALLLLL the places!

And to help you get started or keep going, I’ve got a few freebies for you packed in this free download.



Need more support with teaching story elements?

The TLL Membership is your all-access pass to every resource I’ve ever created. 🙌 All of my reading min units, writing units, task cards, worksheets, and more are right at your fingertips!

The Story Elements Reading Mini Unit for 4th and 5th Grade and Story Elements Reading Mini Unit for 3rd Grade will have you all set to teach story elements.


You can also shop the Story Elements Reading Mini Units in my TpT Shop: 


Or get access to all resources inside the TLL Membership!


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