Teaching Literary Elements

Instructor: Shannon Orr
This lesson will introduce the five main literary elements of a story: theme, characters, settings, conflict, and plot. It will also define each element and explain why each element is important.

Why Teach Literary Elements?

What would you do if you tried to read a story but you didn't know who it was about, where it was happening, what its problem was, or how it ended? You'd probably be so confused that you'd give up on reading the story within a few pages!

You certainly don't want your students to feel this way, so it's important to introduce them to the five key literary elements that can be found in every story: theme, character, setting, conflict, and plot. It is important for you to teach your students to recognize these elements, so they are better able to understand and enjoy what they are reading.


You can introduce the five key literary elements by comparing how an author writes a story to how someone bakes a cake. Chances are your students love cake so this will get their attention! Tell them to imagine that they are baking a cake.

Explain that before you begin baking a cake, you have to decide what type of cake you want. Will you choose a fruit cake, a nut cake, a layered cake, or a Bundt cake? There are so many options. Understanding what a story is about is like figuring out the type of cake you want to bake. The theme of a story tells what the story is about. Once readers identify the theme, they can begin to identify the other elements it takes to make a great story.

Characters and Settings

Next, explain that after you decide what kind of cake you want to bake, you then have to gather your ingredients. What ingredients would you put in your cake? (Your students may have some unusual ideas!)

Note that characters and settings are like the ingredients of a cake. Characters are the people or animals in the story. The setting is where the story takes place. The main character is who the story is about, while supporting characters help add to the story. The story can happen in one setting or there can be several settings throughout the story. Lots of description is used to introduce characters and settings so that the reader can visualize them and try to relate to the people and places. Making a connection with the characters and setting helps readers to feel a part of the story -- like licking the spoon to taste the flavor of a cake's ingredients.

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