Describe characters, settings, or events in a text (Inclusive Big Idea #3)

What are students learning?

Reading Literature

Grade 4: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #3: Describe characters, settings, or events in a text

Standard: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions). RL.4.3

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 Text: Use an anchor text such as The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Post a circle chart (digitally or on paper) with Percy Jackson in the middle. As you read, students should note details in the text that help describe Percy’s character. Learn more about accessing grade-level text in this TIP Sheet.
  • Story Elements Chart: During and after reading or listening to a text, create a story elements chart with the class to answer questions about and make relationships between key details in the text. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • 5W Questions: Before, during, and after reading or listening to a text or other media, ask students to record the 5W Questions as a strategy to identify important details:
    • Who are the characters in the story?
    • Where does the story take place?
    • When does this story take place?
    • What happened in the story?
    • Why do you think this happened?
  • Think Aloud: The purpose for asking students questions about texts is to get them into the habit of self-questioning as they read by themselves and to notice key details. To model this, stop and ask questions out loud or jot down notes and ideas. As students continue to read, encourage them to begin answering the questions using details from the text .
  • 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 graphic organizer, students can draw or paste a picture of a character in the middle of a web. Then, extending from the character drawing, students can offer details 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 small group or class character map using the whiteboard, or have your students create their own character maps in personal notebooks or using digital tools. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • Grand Conversations: To delve deeper into various story characters, conduct a grand conversation with your class. Sitting in a circle, or sitting within a small group, provide questions about the character that the students would answer. Questions may include:
    • Who was the main character in the story?
    • What did the main character look like?
    • What did the characters do throughout the story?
    • What kinds of things did the character say to other characters in the story?
  • Character Sorts: Make a sort that lists character names and details about the character traits. Students can work on their own or pairs to match the character trait for each character in the story. This can be done using digital media or paper versions.
  • Graphic Organizers: Use a Venn diagram, character web, or flowchart to organize specific details about each character. Have students use details from the story to support each character's main thoughts and actions throughout the story. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • Map: During or after reading or listening to a story, students can create a map of the major settings from the story, including some small images of a major event at each site.
  • Movie posters: Students can craft a movie poster that presents one of the major settings and events from the story that includes key details. Discuss how changing one detail about the setting (such as urban -v- rural, cold -v- warm, etc.) can impact the story.
  • Story map: During or after reading, students can write, verbalize, or draw out the major events of the story. This could be a linear timeline or digital tool with pictures and/or text, or integrate pictures and text into something resembling a comic strip.
  • 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).  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 the lesson requires a student to hold in mind.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • provide a checklist or task analysis to support routine tasks, such as describing a character
  • show examples and provide answers to check along the way
  • provide templates or graphic organizers
  • allow use of calculators, spell checks, and other tools
  • be aware of how much information is presented at one time

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.
  • Story Elements: Students may lack the knowledge there can be multiple plots, settings, and characters affecting the story to varying degrees.
  • Setting: Setting can include real or fictional places, as well as time periods (e.g., historical fiction)
  • 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 details to make up a character, setting, or using the same plot diagram graphic organizer.
  • History: Discuss the details around a historical event.
  • Science: Put some “mystery” items in brown paper bags. Ask one student to look at the item in the bag and use details to describe the object to another student, who draws what they think the object is and includes all of the details.

Everyday Connections

  • Book Club: Students can meet after school in the library to discuss their favorite books, sharing about the characters, setting, and events

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?

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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