Plot Structure


Students will demonstrate their understanding of basic dramatic plot structure by creating and performing a five-minute story.


Materials Needed

DVD player, TV, “Sleeping Beauty” DVD, illustrated children’s books of fairy tales, paper with locations and time periods written on them (chosen by the teacher), plot structure handout, chalkboard, chalk.


Related Documents

• Dramatic Plot Structure Supplement – Playwriting.PlotStructure


Lesson Directions


Anticipatory Set/Hook

Show students scenes from Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” (Opening scene w/ curse, Briar Rose in forest, first meeting of Sleeping Beauty & Prince, finger prick on spinning wheel, Prince getting caught, Prince fighting Maleficent). During the climax, as the Prince is fighting the dragon, stop the movie. Tell the students that’s the end.



Step 1 – Discussion: Ask the students to share how they feel about the story ending there.
Questions to ask: How does your experience change when the story ends there? How does it make you feel? Is the story as good? Why is it important that all the parts of the story be included? What would make the story better?
Possible Answers: Feel uneasy, left hanging, story doesn’t make as much sense, story not as effective, not as enjoyable, story better when has a beginning, middle, end.


Step 2 – Instruction: Have a student go to the board. Ask the class to describe what they saw in the clips.
What was going on in the first scene?
Beginning or “Exposition” – where the background information is given to help the audience understand the story (Have student write “Exposition” on the board)
What was something important that happened in that scene? (Witch arrives, puts curse on Sleeping Beauty)
Big incident known as “Inciting Incident” – an incident that gets the plot going (without it, there wouldn’t be any story) and sets up the rest of the story. It happens at the end of the Exposition. (Student writes “Inciting Incident” on board.)
What were the next scenes? (Briar Rose in the forest, meets Prince)
“Rising Action” – The basic conflict of the story is complicated as related secondary conflicts (and obstacles that get in the main character’s way) are introduced. (Student writes “Rising Action” on board)
What happened next in the story? (Sleeping Beauty pricks finger, Prince gets caught)
“Crisis” – the point in the story when you don’t know if the main character is going to win or not. (Student writes “Crisis” on the board)
Describe the last scene we saw? (Prince fighting dragon)
“Climax” or turning point – the moment that marks a change (for better or for worse) in the story when we figure out who is going to win and who is going to lose. (Student writes “Climax” on the board)
We didn’t watch the entire climax – do we know who wins? (Can’t tell because we didn’t finish watching it.) Let’s see how the story ends. (Show students the end of the movie, where Prince kills the dragon, kisses Sleeping Beauty, she wakes up and they live happily ever after.)
What did we see?
“Denouement” or Resolution – the end of the story where all the loose ends are tied up, any questions the audience had are answered; includes all the action that happens after the climax. (Student writes “Denouement” on the board.)


Step 3 –Checking for Understanding: Hand out sheet with definitions of the principles of dramatic structure. As go through the sheet and what’s on the board, have the students tell what part of the film was each part of the plot.
Mid-Lesson Assessment Point: Clarify definitions and answer any questions the students may have.


Step 4 – Directions: Have the students get into groups of 4-6 students. In the center of the room, toss a pile of fairy tale picture books and have a student from each group choose one. Give the students 15 minutes to go through the story and pick out the principles of dramatic plot structure. They’ll then have to act out the story for the rest of the class, omitting one of the principles of dramatic structure


Step 5 – Group Practice: Each group has 5 minutes to act out their fairy tale.
Mid-Lesson Assessment Point: Determine the student’s understanding and utilization of dramatic structure principles.


Step 6 – Discussion: After each group goes, ask the students in the audience to describe what they saw and identify which principle was missing.


Step 7 – Objective Activity: Give students slips of paper with scenarios on them (prepared earlier – the scenarios include location and time period). Students have 10 minutes to create a five minute story containing the dramatic structure principles taught earlier, which they will have to perform for the class. Tell them you’ll be primarily looking for the principles of dramatic structure in their stories.


Step 8 –Final Assessment: Each group will perform their story. After each group performs, have them describe how they utilized the principles in their story.


Step 9 – Closure: Each principle is important in dramatic plot structure. The combination of all of them makes a story that is both interesting and enjoyable. The next time you watch a movie or TV show, or the next time you read a book, try to find the principles of dramatic structure in the stories. They are all around us, you can even find them in your everyday life.


Grading Criteria:

– Participation (30 pts)
– Group Fairy Tale (30 pts)
– Final Project (40 pts)