Teaching Elements of Prose in Fourth Grade

How do you teach elements of prose? It’s just ordinary language. Through it, we express complete thoughts in sentences. Then we group sentences into paragraphs. In longer works, we group paragraphs into chapters of a novel. Read on to see how one fourth grade teacher explains these concepts in her ELA block.

Elements of Prose

Ms. Sneed Teaches Elements of Prose

Our favorite fourth grade teacher stood in front of her ELA class. “Today,” she said, “we’ll discuss prose.”

“Huh?” said a student in the front row.

What Is Prose?

Ms. Sneed smiled. “Don’t worry. It’s easy. As a matter of fact, we’re using prose right now. It’s just ordinary language. Additionally, we use two other types of literature: poetry and drama, or plays.”

As she spoke, the teacher sat down at her computer and typed. Since the projector was on, the kids followed along on the screen.

“Elements of prose include sentences, paragraphs, dialogue, and chapters. Furthermore, we call a complete literary work a novel.”

The student in the front row looked relieved, and the other students relaxed too. Yep. Easy.

Teaching elements of prose? Sure, it seems a little easy. But providing a definition sentence, paragraph, dialogue, and chapter help kids see literature's big picture.
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Sentences – The Building Blocks of Prose

“Sentences,” Ms. Sneed continued, “are the building blocks of prose. As you already know, each sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought.

“In our daily language lessons, we learned the types. Let’s review. Can anyone help me?”

A boy at the back of the room began the discussion. “Declarative sentences are statements.”

“Right,” said Ms. Sneed.

As their discussion continued, the class defined four types of sentences. For each, Ms. Sneed provided an example from an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows:

  • Declarative (statement) – Mole sat on the grass and looked across the river.
  • Exclamatory (exclamation) – It was the water rat!
  • Interrogative (question) – Would you like to come over?
  • Imperative (command) – Lean on that.
Sentences are the building blocks of prose. We use four types of sentences: declarative, exclamatory, interrogative, and imperative.

“Okay,” said the teacher, “one more thing. How can you identify a sentence?”

“It begins with a capital letter and ends with a period,” offered one student.

“Hmm,” Ms. Sneed said, looking pensive.

“Actually,” said a girl at the side of the room, “it can end in a question mark or exclamation point as well.”

Ms. Sneed smiled. Fortunately, this lesson was going just as planned.


“On to paragraphs. Anyone want to take a stab at a definition?”

As the students offered suggestions, Ms. Sneed cobbled together a definition: A paragraph is an indented section of prose that expresses a specific topic or theme.

Paragraphs are another of the elements of prose. Indented sections of prose express a specific topic or theme.

Next, the teacher displayed a section from The Wind in the Willows. “Look at these two paragraphs. While one is long, the other is short. As a matter of fact, the author has created a one-sentence paragraph for effect. How are these two paragraphs divided?”

After the kids studied the text a bit, a few tentatively raised their hands.

“Time order,” one student offered.

“Well,” another student answered, the first paragraph describes what the mole sees. In other words, it’s from his point of view. The second zooms out and lets us see both animals looking at one another.”

“Whoa!” Ms. Sneed exclaimed. “You guys are on a roll today! Good job.”


“The next element of prose,” she continued, “is dialogue.”

Since they had been studying direct quotes, the class had no trouble defining it: Dialogue is an indented section of prose that quotes what a person has said.

“Now that we’re on the topic, let’s review placement of dialogue tags,” said Ms. Sneed.

A few students rolled their eyes. Their teacher never let an opportunity to review pass by.

Again, as she typed and talked, Ms. Sneed added examples:

  • Beginning – The water rat said, “Hello, Mole!”
  • Middle – “Hello,” said the water rat, “Mole!”
  • End – “Hello, Mole!” said the water rat.

“Finally, I want to emphasize that like a paragraph, dialogue is an indented section of literature. Remember, you must move to the next line and indent whenever a new character speaks.”

Dialogue is another element of prose.


Next, Ms. Sneed displayed the table of contents for The Wind in the Willows. “Although you learned this in primary grades, it bears repeating. A chapter is a major division of a novel.

Chapters are major divisions of a novel.

To finish up, Ms. Sneed reviewed the elements of prose: sentences, paragraphs, dialogue, and chapters.

Enjoy Teaching Prose

“And that’s it!” she exclaimed. “Easy peasy. When all of the pieces fit together, you understand literature so much better.”

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