Story Setting seems like a concept that is so simple to teach: where and when a story takes place. The foundation for this learning is established before many kiddos even reach school age-as they are sitting in parents’ laps reading stories.
At my house a favorite setting of my daughter’s is the castle where the ball takes place in Cinderella. It is magical in both book and movie form. In Dora books there are multiple settings where Dora has to travel through in order to accomplish her set task. My son is currently loving Magic Treehouse Books that begin in a treehouse in a backyard and with the opening of a book spins and lands in some pretty exciting places-an island with pirates was a favorite of my son.
However, at the 6th grade level it is not just a simple understanding of location and time that students need to be able to identify. At the 6th grade level students are expected to understand the many different aspects of the setting that impact the characters or plot of the story in various ways-a little more challenging.
Where do I begin teaching about setting? This year we touched on setting in the first weeks when we began reading our first novel. We took a few notes in our interactive Reader’s Notebook as reminders and on we went. In every fiction text we have read since then, we have discussed where and when the story is taking place. My students understand what it means, clearly.
This week setting has been the complete focus of our learning. TO the next level we go…My students need to be able to “analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.”
This is a common core standard that is complex, but broken down so students must be able to explain how aspects of the setting impact the feelings and actions of the characters in a story. No longer do my students simply have to identify the main character of a story. Instead, they must determine how the main character changed from the beginning of a story to the end based on various events using specific details from the text.
In addition, we began the novel Hunger Games, so we went to the next level with our understanding of setting. On the board I had an anchor chart with the meaning of setting. Here is a pic:
I wanted my students to think about how they feel when they are in their favorite place or “setting.” They drew their favorite place and then shared with me how they felt when they were there. Here are a few student samples:
The students really got into this and had some thoughtful places they liked to spend their time and reasons why. I then asked them to visualize a place that they did not like to be and asked them to think about how it made them feel when they were there. They then shared their places and thoughts. We talked about how we can almost become different people when we go from our favorite place to a place where we don’t like to be. Just like characters in stories.
We then talked about some of the texts we had read and how this has been true for the characters in those stories as well. When a character is happy and in a place they LOVE, they are one person, but when the character goes to a place that is stressful or causes them frustration, the character becomes a different individual in thoughts and actions.
Katniss Everdeen, the narrator and main character, embodies this idea in the novel Hunger Games. Within the first chapter my students were already able to make the connection with their learning this week that when she is in the woods hunting with Gale, she is able to smile and feel free, but when she is home, she is stressed about taking care of her mom and sister and all that goes into running a household. They are eager to see what happens and how she changes again as she heads to the Capitol, a totally different and stress-filled setting, to participate in the Hunger Games.
While they assess today on the concept-I am confident that their work this week helped them better understand the impact of setting on characters in a story. May the odds be ever in their favor!