My Life as an Alphabet: Exploring Narrative

4. Examining Plot and Theme

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To analyse the language features and text structures in narrative text
  • To identify the themes and points of view presented in a narrative text

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can summarise the key events in a narrative text
  • I can suggest how key events develop themes of a narrative
  • I can suggest how narrative themes might connect to my life and the lives of others
  • Sequencing task: Text from a short story or picture story book cut into separate paragraphs. 
  • Copies of My Life as an Alphabet, or alternative class novel
  • T-chart template: docx PDF
  • Rising action planner: docx PDF
  • Iceberg diagram: docx PDF
  • Think aloud example: docx PDF
  • Ranking activity: docx PDF
  • Think, Pair, Share template: pptx PDF

Before students begin this stage, they should have completed reading My Life as an Alphabet, or an alternative text that will be studied throughout the sequence. This stage examines how setting and characterisation are developed within a narrative structure to promote particular themes. Students identify significant events and infer how those events contribute to the big ideas of a narrative. They then connect the themes to real world contexts.

Engage students in a discussion about the purpose and general features of a narrative. A whole class or small group discussion could be used to elicit student responses. Question prompts might include: 

  • Why do we read narratives?
  • How can we recognise a narrative text?
  • What are the features you would expect to see in a narrative text?

Facilitate a group discussion to identify common responses and decide on the key ideas presented by the students.  Display the student responses in a visible location for future reference.

Ask the students to complete a Quick Write to summarise the key points of the discussion and record what they consider to be the purpose and general features of a narrative. 

Provide students with a story that has been cut into a series of paragraphs.  Organise collaborative pairs to sequence the paragraphs into a logical narrative structure. The text could be taken from a traditional tale, from an age-appropriate short story or picture story book.

Enable students to successfully sequence the text by inviting participation in a teacher supported work group. Encourage the students to read and discuss what is happening in each paragraph and to predict what information or events might have appear before and after each section of the text.

Facilitate a group discussion about the strategies used to sequence the text. Invite students to identify the orientation, complication, resolution and coda in the sequenced text. Discuss any variations in the students’ selected order and provide groups with the opportunity to justify their choices.

1. Examining Plot 

Explain to the students they will select the ten most significant events in My Life as an Alphabet, or an alternative shared text. Discuss the challenge summarising a novel presents and explain that they will have to rank the events according to importance.

Use the Think, Pair, Share protocol. Provide students with sticky notes and ask them to individually list what they consider to be the ten most important events in the story. Students then work with a partner to discuss and refine their selection. Repeat the process in a group of four. Encourage the students to explain and justify their decisions.  When each group has agreed on the ten significant events, guide the students to participate in a gallery walk, recording similarities, differences and surprises as they compare lists.

Sequence the salient events identified by the students using a rising action, climax, falling action plot structure. A template is available in the Resources and texts section. This sequence could be referred to later in the stage when exploring the themes of the text.

Ask the students to select one of the ten significant events and explore the underlying causes that give rise to that event. Explain that they will be working with a partner to develop an Iceberg Diagram. A template is available in the Resources and texts section. Model how to use the iceberg diagram to closely analyse an event from the text.

Share, discuss and display the iceberg diagrams to highlight plot development. 

2. Examining Theme

Discuss the difference between the plot, or events that occur throughout a story, and the theme or themes of a story.  Develop a shared understanding of what is meant by theme. As Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis explain:

‘Themes in books are underlying ideas, morals, or lessons that give the story its texture, depth, and meaning. The themes are rarely written out in the story. We infer themes. Themes often make us feel angry, sad, guilty, joyful, frightened. We … are likely to feel themes in our gut’ (S. Harvey and A. Goudvis, 2000, p. 109)

Read a section of My Life as an Alphabet, or an alternative text, and demonstrate inferring themes from the text using a think aloud strategy. Demonstrate annotating the text and using a think aloud to elaborate on your thinking during the reading.  A sample script is provided in the Resources and texts section.

Ask the students to work in collaborative pairs to further explore the development of theme. Explain that they will be using a T-chart to highlight the difference between plot, the events that happen in story, and theme, the big ideas that are suggested by the events. Students could select chapters or passages from the text, or they could be guided in their selection. A T-chart template is available in the Resources and texts section. 

Question prompts to guide their reading could include:

  • Can we learn anything from the themes and characters in narrative texts?
  • What are some of the real-life issues that are referenced in the text? For example, grief, family relationships, the search for happiness, social belonging and social isolation, friendship, mental health.
  • How does the author reveal their point of view about any of these issues? Are the characters learning anything and can we learn anything from the characters?

Find passages where there is conflict in the story. What issue does it highlight?  What have the characters learned? Consider discussing the nature of conflict with students before addressing this question. Provide examples of interpersonal, societal or internal conflict to support student understanding.

Enable student understanding of themes by analysing a section of the text in a close reading group. Discuss how the characters treat each other, especially during times of tension or conflict. Ask the students to offer the characters advice, and to reflect on what they might be able to learn from the story. The chapter ‘N is for Near-Death Experience’ from My Life as an Alphabet would be a suitable text selection.

Extend student understanding of themes by asking them to record topics, ideas or concepts that connect to the story. For example, family, love, happiness, friendship, acceptance, resilience. Ask the students what the message or lesson might be, and to use the topic or concept words in an explanatory sentence or paragraph, elaborating on the theme of the story.

Support students to write sentences and or create illustrations suggesting themes from their reading. Facilitate students sharing their thinking with a gallery walk. Again, ask students to record the similarities, differences and surprises in the identified themes.

Ask the students to explain how readers identify themes in their reading and to consider why themes are important in stories.

Select three extracts from the shared text and ask the students to rank them from most to least significant. When ranking the extracts, they should consider the significance each has in developing the theme of the text and to write out their rationale for selecting the order they chose. A sample ranking activity is provided in the Resources and texts section.

Resources: examining plot and themes

The plot is the way that the author or a playwright organised the events in a story. The theme represents the bigger ideas of the story. As you read, record some key events in point form. Record what might be the big ideas that are represented by the events. A T-Chart template is available in the Resources and texts section.

Think aloud: exploring plot and theme

Before reading the text aloud, consider the salient points to highlight. Plan your comments and identify the reading strategy you will be modelling. See the Resources and text section for a downloadable version of the example: think aloud

Text extract taken from, B. Jonsberg, My Life as an Alphabet, (pp. 55 – 56).

Introduce and contextualise the reading. For example:

‘This is a very sad and confronting part of the book. Candice is recalling the night her baby sister died and we gain an insight into how Candice is battling with a sense of guilt and the impact that Frances’s death has had on the family.

Anon, 2014. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Facing History and Ourselves, 2020. Iceberg Diagrams. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Fisher, D. B. & Frey, N., 2013. Rigorous Reading. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2015. Project Zero: Think, Pair, Share. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard University, n.d. Quick Write. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvey, S. & Goudvis, A., 2017. Strategies That Work Teaching Comprehension for Understanding, Engagement, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.

Jonsberg, B., 2018. A Song Only I can Hear. Australia: Allen and Unwin.

McDonald, L., 2018. A Literature Companion for Teachers. 2 ed. Marrickville: PETAA.

Ness, M., 2018. Think Big with Think Alouds. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Parkin, D. B. & Harper, D. H., 2019. Teaching with Intent 2: Literature-based literacy. Marrickville: PETAA.

Serravallo, J., 2015. The Reading Strategies Book. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

State Government of Victoria (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Literacy Teaching Toolkit: Modelling through think alouds. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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