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March 6, 2012 Teaching Literary Elements — Essential Activities for Active Engagement By Addie Albano
Grades 6–8

    Literary elements lay the groundwork for any novel or short story. They also pose questions to the reader such as: What makes each character so captivating? How does the setting draw us into the author’s imaginary world?  Or Where will the story take us next? I can honestly say that my approach to teaching these concepts can get tedious over time. This year I discovered the perfect teacher resource to freshen up my old standbys: Independent Reading Management Kit: Literary Elements by Michele L. McCaughtry. Along with a student contract and daily log, this resource is jam-packed with activities that address the most common literary elements, such as:

    • Plot
    • Setting
    • Character
    • Point of view and perspective
    • Theme
    • Conflict
    • Author’s style

    McCaughtry suggests that there are dozens of ways to make this resource work for your individual classroom, ranging from complementary extension activities to comprehensive end-of-unit projects. I chose the activities that matched not only my student’s academic needs, but that played to their strengths as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could easily differentiate each project to reach both my highest and lowest level learners in a way that challenged them to leave their comfort zone. I did this by introducing the least difficult projects first and then, after their confidence soared, gradually increasing the intensity. In addition, I was grateful to have a grading rubric that I could alter. Not only did my students come up with some incredibly creative projects, but my room got a spring makeover when we displayed their artwork for all to see!

    After a close vote, our class chose their favorite literary element projects based upon our current novel, Dark Eden by Patrick Carman, to share with you. I hope that they will inspire you to incorporate some of these activities into your curriculum.



    “Spinners” illustrate personification, the literary technique that gives human qualities to ideas or nonliving things.  For this activity students had a choice between personification or an alternate assessment that required them to design a new book cover, plot description, or character analysis. Hanging them on our classroom ceiling was a strategic way to help them remember the literary elements discussed, and the kids loved helping me decorate the room.


    Story Puzzle

    A great way to conclude your study of a book is to have students make story puzzles that depict four key turning points in the story. They can also be used to show theme progression or evolution of character.


    Cootie Catchers

    This interactive game was a blast from the past. Remember making “cootie catchers” to predict your future occupation, residence, and true love? This is also a great way to get to know story characters and teachers — students reveled in the stories I shared from my youth. It also got them thinking critically about the story because students had to find quotes from each character to add onto the cootie spaces. This was a wonderful way to review and come up with revelations about each character’s personality and motives.


    For this activity, students imagined that they were newspaper reporters assigned to interview one of the main characters. After filling out a "5Ws" form, students wrote an article containing lots of detailed personal information from an objective point of view. They had to include two character quotes, story-related pictures with captions, and an advertisement that would draw prospective readers in.

    Trait Flip Book

    I saved this project for last because it was the most complex. Equipped with the template and a pair of scissors, we embarked as a group on this multistep endeavor. The goal for the lesson was to choose the character from the story that each student found most interesting. Since the concept of “traits” confuses many, we brainstormed a list of vocabulary words that would fit almost any character from the story. Then, we divided our templates into distinct rows that included three traits of the character, a picture and caption for each trait, and a description of how each student matched the traits in real life.

    How do you introduce the topic of literary elements in your class? I would love to hear from you!


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