Using a Story Arc to Summarize and Find Theme

Using a story arc helps kids understand story elements. That makes it great for summarizing and finding a theme. Furthermore, it establishes a reading-writing connection. Once kids make sense of the arc of a story, their narrative writing will improve. What a handy little tool!

Using a Story Arc to Summarize and Find Theme Cover

The Mighty Story Arc

“Last week, as you remember, we discussed finding theme,” Mrs. Brown told her mentee, Mrs. Sneed. “Today, we’ll continue our discussion. Did you know that fiction can be graphed? Let’s take watch a short video to learn about the story arc.”

As they watched, Ms. Sneed considered the idea of graphing a story. When the video stopped, Mrs. Brown said, “A story without an arc is boring. No tension. I’ve used it to help my students write for years. Now they also use it to summarize and find theme.”


Mrs. Brown pulled out an organizer. “This paper organizes the same story we discussed last week,” she remarked.

Use a story arc to summarize in third, fourth, and fifth grades.

“As kids fill in the template, they’re actually summarizing. Therefore, they’ll find everything they need for a fantastic summary right at their fingertips:

  • Character (Somebody)
  • Setting
  • Goal/Motivation (Wanted)
  • Obstacle (But)
  • Steps Taken (Then)
  • Outcome/Resolution (So)

“Notice that kids can use more sophisticated story elements or a simple jingle: somebody wanted but then so.” She clicked around on her computer and brought up a second video on summarizing.

Organizing elements helps students summarize.

Ms. Sneed had never thought about it before, but the story arc provided an awesome template for summarizing.

Finding a Theme

“Kids struggle with theme. But with a story arc, it’s a snap! Just look at how the character’s actions affected the outcome. You guessed it: Let’s watch one more video on finding a theme. It explains how to consider characters’ actions – and how they affected the outcome.”

Have your fourth grade students analyze how a character's actions affected the outcome to discover theme.

When fourth and fifth grade students consider how a character's actions affected the outcome, finding a theme is easy.

“These videos give me a new perspective on Common Core State Standard RL.4.2,” said Ms. Sneed.

“I know. Me too. But don’t forget to take it slow,” her mentor responded. “When I tried using the story arc at the beginning of fourth grade, my students just stared at me. You know, that deer in the headlights look. I learned to ease in by reviewing fables’ morals. Then I likened them to theme. Finally, they were ready.”

Ms. Sneed sighed deeply. “Teaching takes a lot of thinking. And a lot of trial and error.” She smiled weakly. “But learning all of this about theme really helps.”

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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