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Writing A Short Play

Aristotelian Plot Structure


Aristotelian Plot Structure


Students will demonstrate their understanding of why the Aristotelian Plot Structure is important in playwriting by performing scenes without all five elements and discussing the elements in other stories.


Tape, Signs for each of the five elements


Before the students walk in, clear the desks to the sides of the classroom and use tape to create the Aristotelian Plot Structure diagram on the floor in a way that covers all of the floor space that you have. As they walk in just tell them to sit anywhere on the line. Ask if anyone remembers what this is from last year. Hopefully someone will and will say “Plot Structure!”


Pull out the five signs that have each of the five elements written on them (exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, denoument). Review each one by one in order and hand it to a person on the area of the line that corresponds to the element. If a student knows what the element is before you explain it, then have the student explain it. Now split the students into five groups according to where they are on the line but make the groups relatively equal.


Tell the groups that they are to create a short scene that only contains the element of their group. So the group with the element of “Exposition” will create a scene where the exposition is the only part of the scene and the group with the element “Climax” will create a scene with only a climax. Tell the students that these scenes will and should be terrible scenes if they only include that one element.


After discussing and rehearsing in their groups for five minutes, students will perform their scenes. Have them perform in the order of the elements they have: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.


Ask the students what they thought about the scenes. Did they feel complete? How did they feel after watching each scene? Draw the plot structure on the board and ask a member from each group to come write a few words that described their element from their scene on the appropriate place on the diagram. Ask the students if the five random elements would make a good scene? Can you just choose a random exposition, some random rising action points, etc. and put them together to form a story? Does a student want to volunteer to try and tell a story with the five random elements? Did it turn into a good story?


Tell the students to split back into their groups and create a scene with their element again but this time add all of the other elements as well.


After discussing and rehearsing for 5-10 minutes, have the groups perform. After each group performs, discuss with the class where each element of the plot structure was in the scene. 


After doing this, why is this plot structure so important? What does it add to a scene? How, as the audience, does it help? Can you think of some movies or books that don’t follow this structure traditionally? But can you see that in some shape or form, they all follow a type of this plot structure?


Choose a fairy tale title to examine together as a class:

Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Pinocchio, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears etc.

Together go through the storyline of the fairy tale and highlight the five elements of the story. Remember that personal interpretation has a large effect on the analysis – as long as the class can agree on the elements it will work.


Ask the students to think about their day yesterday. Do they see a plot structure within their day? What was the exposition? The climax? Etc. Think about their past week? Is there a plot structure there as well? The month? Tell them to turn to a partner, choose a time period within the last month and explain how their lives followed the Aristotelian plot structure. Make sure they hit every element. After they have shared, tell the students that this is a very good jumping off point for writing their scenes. They should be able to label each part in their story with these elements.


Have students pull out a piece of paper and writing utensil and begin to outline their play/story. They should take their idea and flesh it out to the plot structure elements considering the storyline and arc of the play.


Students can turn in their outlines for evaluation and feedback.