Beacon Lesson Plan Library

The Magic in Writing

Tim Chestnut


The students understand the structure of the short story, apply literary terms to the components, and explain how the author used the structure to convey tone and to reveal a theme.


The student understands the relationships between and among elements of literature, including characters, plot, setting, tone, point of view, and theme.


-A short story which will “work” for this type of lesson, such as “The Most Dangerous Game,” “Before the End of Summer,” or “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”
-A VCR and large screen TV to show the film excerpt
-A videotape of the film (See Preparations)
-White board for drawing the sample diagram
-Plot Diagram (See Associated File)
-Literary Terms for Short Stories (optional) (See Associated File)


1. Select a film from which to show a five-minute scene. The excerpt must be one which includes physical action, extensive dialogue, at least 3 but not more than 5 characters, an obvious but “important” message, and some overtly different scenery than what is real to the “teen world.” For example, show an excerpt from the movie [Shrek], or another film that is dramatically “different” but easily understood such as, [The Hobbit] or [The Lion King].
2. Make a copy of the Literary Terms for Short Stories for each student. (Optional) (See Associated File)


1. Show an excerpt from the movie [Shrek], or another film that is dramatically “different” but easily understood such as [The Hobbit] or [The Lion King] to center the attention of the students.

2. After the students have finished viewing the film excerpt, orally administer the following Comprehension Exercise on the excerpt from the film, asking each question and pausing for the students to write their answers:
1. In approximately what year did this scene occur?
2. Where in the world do you think these people were?
3. What seem to be the relationships of the characters?
4. How do they seem to feel about each other?
5. What problem did these characters seem to have?
6. What happened first in this scene? Second? Third?
7. What was the exciting moment when you were most in doubt as to what would happen next?
8. How did the scene turn out?
9. How did the characters solve their problem?
10. What is the author trying to say about what life is like?

3. When the students have had enough time to write responses to all these questions, display a blank plot diagram (See Associated File) and a separate word bank of the Literary Terms for Short Stories (See Associated File, entry words 2-9 only). The students draw their own versions of the plot diagram and try to label them with the proper literary terms from the word bank. When all have done what they can, utilize Socratic questioning to lead the students to the correct placement of the terms. Ask the class if anyone got all the labels in most all the right places, and verbally reward those students who got many of them correct.

4. Using student phrasing where possible, facilitate the construction of definitions of each of the literary terms, 2-9. (See Associated File) The students write the definitions in the form of a key to the diagram. After all the terms have been defined by the students, give students time to redraw and relabel their diagrams so as to have a clean and correct copy.

5. Lead the students to score their own Comprehension Exercises on the film. Ask for student volunteers to read the “correct” answers out to the class one at a time, pausing to invite discussion of alternative “correct” answers from other students until a consensus is achieved which meets the needs. The scores should not actually be recorded.

6. To close the first day of this lesson, ask the students to redraw a new blank plot diagram and label it again, but this time with examples from the actual material seen in the film instead of or next to the literary labels.

7. For homework, assign the students to read a certain short story chosen by the teacher (from the course anthology, for example) and attempt to label a new plot diagram with actual items from the story that represent each of the terms.

8. To start the second day of this lesson (following the completion of the homework), ask the students to match the Comprehension Exercise questions from Day 1 to the terms to which they refer. (See step #2 and Literary Terms 2-9)

9. After the students are aware of the correlation between the phrasing of the Comprehension Exercise questions and the definitions of the terms on their diagrams, lead a whole-class discussion including, but not limited to, the following questions about the homework story:
1. What details reveal the time setting? About how much time lapses during the story?
2. What happened before the story began? What happened after the story ended?
3. What visual or audio details are cues to the location of the story?
4. What are the unique or unusual traits of the characters?
5. How did the characters get themselves into the dilemma which faces these characters?
6. What motivates the characters to do what they do in the story?
7. What alternatives present themselves to the character who must make the climactic decision?
8. Which characters are satisfied with the decisions made by the central character in #7? Why would that decision negatively impact other characters?
9. In what ways has the problem in #5 been solved?
10. What commentary is the author making on interpersonal relationships through this story?

10. Next, using the ideas developed in the discussion in step #9 above, the students should assemble in peer discussion groups, so they can double-check the accuracy of each others’ examples as required on the homework diagram assigned in step #7. Be available to mediate these discussions.

11. The students then select one scene from the previously assigned short story to present dramatically to the class. The students should divide into their peer advisory groups and decide which scene to present, who will be cast as which part, and how each member of the group will perform the chosen part so as to show an understanding of the structural elements of the short story. One student should be designated director of the action; one should be designated artistic director; and one should be dialogue coach. Groups may “loan” or “borrow” members of other groups as needed for minor roles.

12. The students should rehearse for a time period (approximately 30 minutes) and then present their vignettes to the class (approximately 3 minutes each). The members of the class who are not participating should make a chart for scoring the performing group (except maybe for “borrowed” actors) according to the assessment below.


Evidence: For the chosen short story, stage a vignette (skit) of any one scene.

During the performance, for each criterion below, each student will recognize and use at least two opportunities within the text to:
- display facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues to characterization (example: shrugging),
- dramatically perform the actions of the plot (example: running),
- enunciate to depict the tone (example: proper volume),
- select cast and costuming to portray point of view (example: relative size of actors), and
-dress the stage to transport the viewing audience to the setting (example: appropriate furniture).

All production values must advance the theme. For example, the director ensures that each element noted above reinforces the theme that all human behaviors generate consequences by showing each element and its subsequent plot incident as a cause and effect pair.
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