Next time you read to your children take note of their comments and questions.
What do they enjoy about the story?
Are their questions about the events in the story?
Do your children want to know more about the characters, their actions and their feelings?
Are they interested in the details of where the story happens or how the story ends?
When children ask questions or make observations and comments, they are in fact paying attention to the elements of the story.
What are story elements?
When we read a book what do we gather from the story? We read about the characters and where the story happens. Somewhere in the beginning of the story, the characters become embroiled in a problem. This problem takes up the bulk of the book. As you read, you get involved in the problem and in how the characters act. The events reach a climax as the characters try to solve the problem. Finally the problem is resolved and the story ends, happy or otherwise.
Children’s stories are no different. From the Panchatantra to the Birbal stories and more recent literature, stories have these basic story elements.
Characters: Who is in the story?
Setting: Where do the events in the story happen?
Problem: Turn of events which affects the characters in the story.
Resolution: When and how the characters solve the problem.
Let us take a well known example from the Panchatantra, the story of the hunter and the flock of doves.
Who are the characters in the story?
The flock of doves and the hunter. The king of the birds is the main character while the others are supporting characters.
Where do the events happen? (Setting)
The events in the story occur in the forest.
What is the problem in the story?
The doves are caught in the hunter’s net and are in danger of being killed or sold.
How is the problem resolved?
The doves escape the hunter by flying together, net and all. Once they leave the hunter behind, the king dove finds a mouse who nibbles away at the net.
What is the purpose of understanding and identifying story elements?
Children learn to identify more details and to think in depth about the story, increasing their reading comprehension. For example, in this Panchatantra, the king of the doves warns young doves who want to fly down to the forest floor, “Why is there grain on the forest floor? There are no fields nearby. Who put the grain there?” The readers’ attention is drawn to the discrepancy in the setting, thus cuing them to the subsequent events.
Being aware of the elements of the story prepares young readers to learn to look for these details as they read. They file the information as they acquire it, making it easy to recall.
Story elements can be used to increase both reading comprehension and listening comprehension. While narrating stories orally, the storyteller can ask questions strategically to develop the listener’s ability to identify the same elements in the oral story.
Story elements are often reinforced with the use of graphic organizers. For very young readers, you can use story maps which highlight the beginning, middle and end of the story. Others can use story maps which highlight the characters, setting, problem and resolution. More advanced readers can add further details such as main characters and supporting characters, climax, etc. Children who are just beginning writers can draw under each category in place of writing.