Use details to describe key elements of a text (Inclusive Big Idea #3)

What are students learning?

Reading Literature

Grade 1: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #3: Use details to describe key elements of a text

Standard: Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details. RL.1.3

How could I teach this?

Think about how instructional strategies and activities can give students multiple ways to engage with learning. One way won’t work for all, so how can you remove and reduce barriers for all students?

  • Anchor Texts: Use an anchor text, such as The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney. Model and provide graphic organizers for students to describe the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Learn more about accessing grade-level text in this TIP Sheet.
  • Character Maps:
    • Characters in stories are developed in four different ways:
      • Description of their physical appearance
      • Description of their actions
      • Dialogue
      • Inner monologue
    • Using a paper or digital graphic organizer, students can craft a picture of a character in the middle of a web. Then, extending from the character, students can offer words that describe how the character looks, what the character does throughout the story, what the character says, and/or how the character feels. Chart this thinking by creating a class character map using the whiteboard, or have your students partner or work independently to create their own character maps in personal or digital notebooks.
  • Family Tree: Use a family tree graphic organizer to show the relationships between the characters in the story, cartoon, or comic strip by placing or matching pictures of the characters in the corresponding section of the tree. Then, students answer questions about the characters either verbally or by pointing to the correct picture in the graphic organizer. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • Character Sorts: Make a sort that lists character names and character traits, including physical appearance, actions, dialogue, and inner monologue. Students can match the character trait for each character in the story. The sort can be paper or digital.
    • Sort characters who were in the story from characters who were not in the story.
    • Sort characters into categories based on emotions.
    • Choose two or more main characters from familiar stories and have students sort word cards, picture cards, or objects relating to the characters.
  • Character Profile: Using a text or video from a shared example students enjoy, model how to describe character by creating a character profile. You could use FlipGrid or other digital technology to create the character profiles.
  • Map: During or after reading a story, students can craft a map of the major settings from the story, including some images of a major event at each site. They can collaborate or work on their own to build a setting map.
  • Movie Posters: Students can craft a movie poster that presents one of the major settings and events from the story. The images can be digital, drawn, or crafted in flexible ways.
  • Story Map: During or after reading, students can write, share, or draw out the major events of the story. This could be a linear timeline with pictures and/or text, or integrate pictures and text into something resembling a comic strip. The images could be created ahead of time for students to manipulate.
  • Story Organizer: Students can fill in a graphic organizer or plot diagram that captures the main events of the story. One popular example is the story hamburger where students are asked to pull in different events or elements just as they would build a hamburger (e.g., the bun will include the title and author, the first event would be the hamburger patty). Model how to do this and provide the option for students to collaborate the build a story organizer for a story of their choice. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.

Don’t stop here! Remember to reduce barriers for all students.

Make reducing barriers a process - take a few minutes to think about your process! Is there a barrier related to:

  • interest or engagement? Think about how to incorporate student’s lived experiences, culture, and interests… 
  • background knowledge? Think about how to highlight key ideas and define key vocabulary… 
  • showing what they know? Think about having options for how they use learning tools and technology to communicate…

For example, one possible barrier is the amount of information that a student needs to hold in mind.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • be aware of how much sensory input occurs at once, perhaps offer the option to use headphones, change the lighting options, allow students to choose where they sit, wear sunglasses, etc.
  • show examples and provide answers to check along the way
  • provide templates or graphic organizers
  • break tasks into smaller chunks

 Use these Inclusive Strategies to help reduce barriers.

Tell me more about this Inclusive Big Idea (I need a refresher)

Brush up on the content of this Inclusive Big Idea. It will help you and your colleagues to understand and teach this content better.

  • What Are “Story Elements”?
    • Story elements, sometimes called story grammar, are the parts of a story. These elements develop the story in a logical way to enable readers to easily follow the text. In this big idea, focus on character, setting, and main events. Model for students how to analyze relationships and use key details.
    • Some Story Elements
      • characters- the individuals in the story
      • setting- the location and time period where the story takes place
      • plot- what happens in the story; has a clear beginning, middle, and end
      • problem/conflict- the incident that sets the story in motion
      • solution/resolution- how the character(s) solved/fixed the problem or conflict
  • What Is a “Plot Diagram”?
    • A plot diagram in literature is basically a map of the book or story. It includes a beginning, middle, and ending for simpler stories. More complex stories for advanced readers will include the introduction, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement (final outcome) as represented in Freytag’s Pyramid. The most common graphic organizer used to analyze the plot of a text looks like this:
Line diagram with a upward sloped diagonal line that connects to a falling vertical line. Along the rising line are Exposition/Beginning, Rising Action, and Climax. Then Falling Action and Resolution fall down.


Looking for more suggestions?  Target student common misconceptions, build on interdisciplinary links, and implement strategies and supports across multiple lessons or units.

Go beyond the specific standard! These examples can spark ideas to generalize related skills from the content to real-world experiences for all students.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Story Elements: Students often miss aspects of story elements when summarizing a text. In addition, some texts are considered “inconsiderate” texts and do not provide enough to allow students to fully understand all story elements, so they must fill in the gaps with prior experiences and personal preferences, leading to problems with comprehension. Use examples from their every day experiences to help focus on character, setting, and events using key details.
  • Story Elements: Students may be unaware that there can be multiple plots, settings, and characters affecting the story to varying degrees. Model how to think about multiple plots, characters, and settings. Graphic organizers can help.
  • Setting: Setting can include real or fictional places, as well as time periods (e.g., historical fiction). Look for examples in multiple sources, not just text.
  • Reader Response: Some students may believe there is only one way to interpret a text. Students need to consider how their prior knowledge and perspective influence their understanding of a story.
  • Writing: Develop a narrative structure for an imaginative story using the same plot diagram graphic organizer used in the reading lesson.

Everyday Connections

  • On the TV: After watching a favorite story, cartoon, video, comic, or play, students can describe the characters, settings, and major events.
  • How Was Your Day?: Students could think of their own classroom and describe the characters (students), settings (classroom), and major events of the day/year using key details.

Explore other Inclusive Big Ideas to think about the content you are teaching. How can you connect what you are teaching now to what has been taught before or what will be taught in the future?

First Grade: Use details to describe key elements of a text (RI 3)

Second Grade: Describe how characters change over the course of a text (RL 3)

Other TIES resources:

Inclusive Big Ideas: Standards-based resources for inclusive classrooms | TIES Center

The Inclusive Big Ideas were adapted from resources created by the NCSC Project , a federal grant from the US Department of Education (PR/Award #: H373X100002), However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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