I can’t even count how many times I have read Thomas’s Christmas Delivery or Little Bear’s New Friend. My children never tired of hearing about Thomas’s and Little Bear’s adventures. Though as adults we may not read the same book as many times as our children reread their favorites, we can appreciate the draw of a good story. It’s that connection we have with the story that keeps us up to the wee hours of the night turning page after page and lingers in the periphery of our minds, wooing us as we go about our day. But what makes a story one to treasure, and how can we help our kids develop a tale beyond a sequence of events? The glue that holds a story together is character, plot, and setting, and when children understand and develop them, a great story is born.
Have you ever imagined strolling along the paths of the shire or sitting in potions class at Hogwarts? The authors of these worlds have so craftily described the settings of these places that it makes it easy for us to fall right into the stories alongside our favorite characters. The setting of a story can set the mood, influence the characters, and affect the readers’ emotions. Although setting is an element children tend to forget, developing it can add interest not only for the reader but also for the writer.
First, children need to understand the different aspects of setting: time, place, and environment. When and where does the story take place? What does the place look like? Who lives there? Is it a suburb, city, or countryside? Is it a rich or poor area? There are free lesson plans available online for teaching about setting. “Using Picture Books to Teach Setting in Writing Workshop,” by ReadWriteThink.org is a useful guide and easily adaptable to the homeschool classroom.
Second, developing the setting is more than just telling the reader the where and when. Like the rest of the story, the writer should show rather than tell the reader the setting. This is not an easy task, but Teaching Ideas provides a wonderful lesson sure to help kids see and practice how this is done.
Finally, once the children have a better understanding of what setting is and how it is projected, they can have some fun developing the setting for their own story. A simple way to do this is to have them list the aspects of time, place, and environment on a sheet of paper and brainstorm ideas for each category. For example, have them attach sensory descriptions to the environment category. Primary Paradise, however, has free graphic organizers that both upper and lower elementary aged students would find useful for this purpose.
Story writing should be fun for kids. When they also understand and develop the elements of a story, they not only become better writers, they also go on an adventure, exploring their characters, plot and setting—oh my!