Why does Rising and Falling Action Matter?

I had a great question from a good friend:

“Why does it matter if students see or understand rising and falling action?”

My answer is–it doesn’t AND it does!

Understanding the author’s craft in writing a story helps a child begin to make predictions that make sense.  We read predictable text for students in K-2 for a reason–for them to get an understanding of how stories are structured and that most stories have a problem and at the end–they solve it.  In 3-5 the stories become more complex with multiple problems and solutions–by understanding how an author creates a story–it helps them see that sometimes an extra problem is the author’s way of building suspense–it is not meant to be solved. It is not important the students can call these by name but to notice that these techniques are used to enhance and make a story interesting. It is these techniques that make a story with reading AND more complicated. So, do they need to call them by name?  No, but should they understand how a story is structured–ABSOLUTELY!

So–here is the breakdown of 3-5 elements and their importance.  Remember–every time our students recognize an author’s technique–they are seeing how the story is structured and the why behind it–leading to deeper comprehension.


Exposition is when the scene is set and background information is provided.  This part of the story is getting the reader ready for the story. It is building the background necessary for the story to take place. Students often go into automatic pilot as they read this part of the story but this is where subtle clues foreshadows and inferences about the character take place. The setting helps set the mood of the story and helps the reader make inferences to the character. The character introductions help the reader make connections to the characters and the setting–Why are they there? What are they doing? How are they acting?


We often talk about round and flat characters to help student begin to distinguish how an author “creates” the character and their personality for the reader. Flat characters are often our secondary or supporting characters we do not learn much about. Round characters are fully developed characters that have many facets of a personality and reactions in situations.

As students get older–introducing the idea of an antagonist and protagonist adds a deeper dimension to understanding the character. The protagonist is often the hero or main character and the antagonist is the “bad guy” or person who puts pressure on the protagonist. This helps students see how characters are similar and different as well as to look at a person’s motivation for why they do what they do.

This is a great blog that shares techniques to teach characterization. It even includes static and dynamic characters.

This would be a K-2 example of characterization:

Understanding Characters Anchor Charts https://twitter.com/NeilVenketramen:

This would be an example of 3-5:

Characterization chart - give each group one color sticky note and one focus (physical characteristics, character traits, change/growth, conflict) for each day of a read aloud. Write a formal response on the fifth day.:


Rising and Falling Action:

In the 19th century, there was a German novelist named Gustav Freytag who created a story plot pyramid to show common patterns in stories and novels.

This graphic was taken from:  http://www.ohio.edu/people/hartleyg/ref/fiction/freytag.html

Rising action are the events leading to the Climax of the story–this is where the author will often use the pattern of 3 to build suspense or have alternate problems that lead no where to keep the reader guessing. When students know this pattern, they can begin to sift through what is important or relevant details and irrelevant.  They can also see when a critical event is about to happen.

rising actionI like to show students this visual .

Falling action allows the reader to know the solution is near.  It helps them see how an author begins to close out a story and all loose ends are being tied up.

Video Clips to help teach Plot Structure

Aladdin Plot Structure

Powtoon Story Elements

Foreshadow and Flashback:

     Understanding and seeing foreshadow will help students pick up on subtle hints that something is going to happen or a future event. This help students make predictions AND to learn to find small details and make connections and inferences.  Flashback is a technique used to stop current events and have a reader go back in time to build background or see a past event.  This is tough for students who are not proficient readers because they do not realize that the event is not currently happening. Teaching this to students helps them learn how to sequence events.  It also helps students make connections between more than one character, events and settings.

Foreshadow and Flashback Anchor Charts:

Books to help you teach foreshadow/flashback

The Stranger Chris Van Allsburg

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Why the Chicken Crossed the Road by David Macaulay

House on Maple Street by Bonnie Pryor

Video Ideas

Lion King Foreshadow Example

Toy Story Example

Video for Class Discussion–play and stop often

Flashback Video Clip

Review of many techniques Video

In closing, it is important for students to dig deep into the text for understanding. The more they know about how something is organized and crafted–the easier it is for them to see the parts of the whole.

3-5 Fiction Text Structure

For 3-5 students it is important to begin increasing the level of text complexity as well as encouraging students to look deeper into the text.  Students need to see that the fiction text structure does not change but does look differently because the text is more complex.  It is important to continually add more complex text as the year progresses.  Genre studies are a great way to accomplish this by moving from fables (singular problem and solution) to fairy tales (still predictable but more complex) and then legends/folktales etc which often have more than one problem, multiple perspectives and various characters both primary and secondary.

Review of Big Five is important within the first week of school just to make sure all students have the foundational skill of basic fictional text structure and comprehension.

big fiveFor 3-5 students it is time to move a bit deeper and show students that as they read they will encounter the exposition at the beginning which is the introduction of the characters and setting.  The events will begin and action will rise to the conflict in the story. (rising action) The story has an exciting part usually trying to solve the problem or surrounding the problem which is the climax.  As the problem is solved, the events begin to slow down and come to and end. (falling action)  Reinforcing the idea of Plot and how a story is developed through these elements or pieces.

Using the same visual as Big 5–we add elements of rising and falling action, climax and exposition.  In addition to these elements it is important for students to begin thinking about the lesson of the story or the theme.


To ensure students get a true understanding of the elements begin with a predictable text such as a fairy tale. My recommendation is Cinderella or The Three Little Pigs because students know these stories and they are able to make connections of new information to something familiar.  If students have too many new variable when they are learning–they will shut down.   I like to start with a video to watch–stop often after a couple of minutes and discuss the elements–continue video–stop and go back through the elements. Always model writing in the elements as you discuss them. This helps them hear it, see it and then discuss it which helps them begin to make sense of it. Be sure the students are talking about it–not just you!  The students must verbally discuss their ideas to process them and make them truly concrete.

Cinderella Class Interactive which walks them through the above elements.  Using Cinderella allows you to read many versions for compare and contrast opportunities throughout your unit.

1933 Version of Three Little Pigs is a charming version of the story and is depicted in a way most student have never seen the story.

Continue to model for students but begin to give gradual responsibility to students. To accomplish this use strategies such as Think Pair Share or Turn and Talk which allow student time to collaborate and read, find elements, discuss them and then later share out whole group.

Here are various graphic organizers that are great options if you prefer something different than the hand visual.

Plot Diagram from Read Write Think

Plot Diagram Interactive

original-524724-1This is a free download on Teacher Pay Teacher-click on image to go to the teacher’s store.


The most important part of teaching fiction text structure to 3-5 students–REPETITION!  You must first explicitly teach how to dissect the story–using a video clip is best. Then continue to model and guide students through different stories.  Gradually give more and more independence to students but begin whole group, then in groups or partners and then by themselves. This is more difficult for students than teacher think so we must consistent with our vocabulary and continue to model and practice until they can identify the elements after reading. If students can retell these basic story elements–you know they have basic comprehension of a text and are ready for more difficult tasks such as inferring or drawing conclusions.

Fiction Text Structure K-2 or Remediation Students

Teaching the Big Five for K-2 allows them to see the structure of fiction text.

big five

Taking these elements and creating a Fiction Walk will help your students learn how to retell a story.  The focus for retelling for most K-2 students is on characters, setting, problem and solution which leaves off mood.  I usually replace mood for K-2 students when they are working independently and change it to Main Event.  The goal for students working independently is can they retell the elements of a story.

I take each element and laminate these together to make a chart students can actually walk across to tell the story. You can put these in sheet protectors and duct tape them together if you prefer.  Here is an example of a Fiction Walk Big Five you can download and use.

Story Maps of all kinds that reinforce the Big Five can be used. Some maps have too many elements listed for our K-2 students. Begin with the first four elements leaving off mood. After students can proficiently identify and discuss the first four elements you can add mood.

Big Five Story Map K-2

Read Write Think K-2 Interactive

 FCRR Story Elements K-2 Activities

To reinforce story elements with K-2 students–use videos!  They can really make connections and understand the concept much more easily. When you are interacting with text–they can understand what the elements look like.

A couple of my favorites

The Catch– I use this to reinforce the Big Five and to begin teaching MOOD. I have the students watch and raise their hands when they think there is a new event. I pause–we discuss and we begin to discuss how the event makes the boy feel to introduce mood. The students can begin to see when they have an action (event) it causes a mood in the character.

Dangle– I use this to discuss basic story elements but a great video to discuss predictions–What will happen? You can also talk begin to talk about character traits. What character traits does the man show? Explain.

Lighthouse-I stop this video about every 30-45 seconds and go through the Big Five element by element. Then we watch all the way through. Lots of places to discuss-setting, characters, great problem and solution. You can really connect mood to the events in this video.







Capture Knowledge Like a Pirate…Fiction Text Take 1

Helping your students to capture knowledge while reading is NOT easy!  We hear about modeling, think aloud, direct instruction but what do our students need?  They need to see the structure of the text so they can help make sense of it.  skeleton-6

Without YOUR skeleton your body would have no shape and would not function. We have to help students see how an author creates the text by writing it with a structure.

Students interact with fiction at an early age but when do we begin instructing them on how all fiction stories are organized?   The basic structure of any fiction story contains the five elements:  characters, setting, problem, solution and the mood.  When I begin teaching children about fiction we will refer to the 5 basic elements as the BIG FIVE.  I use my hand because as I hold it up each time and refer to the elements–the students are “creating” a map in their mind of the structure of fictional text.

big five

Begin reading stories with basic story structure (singular story problem or plot line) to begin modeling for students.  While reading, stop after several pages, hold your hand up and go through each element while pointing to the corresponding finger which helps students begin to create  connections.  If a student can identify each element, then they do understand the story on a basic level.

The next step, have students begin retelling the story using the BIG FIVE following this basic outline:


The story is about __________________ (Character) who is at ___________________ (Setting).  He/She wanted to _____________________________ but _____________________(problem).  So, he/she _____________________________ (Solution). When _____________________ happened he/she felt ____________________.

You will notice the outline is very similar to the strategy “Somebody Wanted But So Then.” (MacOn, Bewell & Vogt, 1991)  This is a great retelling strategy because it follows the basic elements of fictional text.

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