A step-by-step guide for how to teach RL.3 in middle school ELA.
How does a story grow?
It grows one plot point at a time, and students in middle school are expected to know and understand how that happens.
Breaking down the ‘growth of a plot’ sometimes feels a little bit like science. A seed is planted in a specific environment. It grows and is fed with additional characters, subplots, and conflicts until it finally blooms at its climax. Afterward, the plot, like a plant, begins to settle, just as the story settles and ends with the falling action and resolution. It is all very organic, which makes sense as to why it works the way it does.
As we talk with our students about plot in middle school, we are going to start with simply knowing and identifying elements on the plot line, but as they get older, they will begin to analyze how the characters (and other elements) are actually shaped by the plot and conflict.
This is RL.3, and it is a doozy!
As with all of our Sparkly Notebook resources, let’s break down the RL.3 standard and figure out how to teach it in each of the middle-level (6th, 7th, and 8th) grades.
As we start talking about how to teach RL.3 in middle school, let’s start with the learning targets!
We always start with learning targets because the learning targets give us specific goals (targets) to aim for as we develop activities and lessons that will help our students achieve mastery of this standard.
Ideally, we aim for 3-5 learning targets for each standard.
Here are the learning targets that we developed our resources on for RL.3.
6th Grade Standard: Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
6th Grade Learning Targets
- I can identify a story’s problem, main events, and resolution.
- I can identify a drama’s problem, main events, and resolution.
- I can explain how events change characters throughout a story/drama.
7th Grade Standard: Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how the setting shapes the characters or plot).
7th Grade Learning Targets
- I can identify story elements (e.g., main characters, setting, plot, conflict, climax, resolution)
- I can analyze how the plot affects the main character in a text (Dynamic and Static Characters).
- I can analyze how the setting affects the character and plot in a text.
8th Grade Standard: Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
8th Grade Learning Targets
- I can critique dialogue or incidents in relation to story progression.
- I can infer character traits using dialogue, actions, decisions, and other evidence from the text.
- I can analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama provoke a decision.
Growing through Middle School
When students are in 6th grade, the focus of this standard lies heavily on simply being able to identify the basic elements of the plot line. Can students identify the key points of the rising action, can they identify the climax, and what are the pieces and details that make up the exposition?
As students get older, knowing the plot line isn’t enough anymore
In 7th grade, it is not the plot line that the standard focuses on, but the elements of the plot (i.e., setting, conflicts, characters, etc.) How do they interact? How do they affect the plot?
Finally, in 8th grade, we are in full-on analysis mode.
8th-grade students are expected to know the plot line and elements of the plot and how they could affect each other, but they also have to start sinking deeper into the dialogue and the actions and decisions made by the characters.
Clearly, the level of reading is going up as students dig into each level of this standard, and as with many of the RL standards, picking appropriate texts and passages to work from is going to be really important when working through this standard.
In all three of our resources for this standard (6th, 7th, and 8th grade), we provide independent passages that are appropriate for each grade level and the specifics of that grade level’s version of this standard.
Important Terms Related to RL.3
Since this standard grows quickly at the middle school level, let’s make sure that we are using the correct vocabulary with our students at each grade level.
In 6th grade, the main focus is the basic plot line with just a sampling of character development and how that can affect the plot. To meet this standard, focus on the plot line terms.
- Falling action
- Rising Action
In 7th and 8th grade, we need to ensure students are also getting a little more vocabulary related to the characters and different kinds of conflict.
All of the above words plus
- Dynamic Character
- Static Character
- Point of View
- Person vs. Person Conflict
- Person vs. Self Conflict
- Person vs. Nature Conflict
- Person vs. Technology Conflict
- Person vs. Supernatural Conflict
- Person vs. Society Conflict
Use these terms regularly while working specifically on this standard and other text-related skills. The repetition and frequent examples will be good exposure for students!
Resources for teaching RL.3
As I said before, the reading level for RL.3 resources is going to be important because the plot line and its elements need to have much more depth and detail at the 8th-grade level than they do at the 6th-grade level.
We design all of our standards-focused products to be grade-level specific and to provide many opportunities for students to practice and review each standard.
Each grade-level resource includes various activities and lessons to help students work on each learning target. We include posters or visual resources, handouts, digital versions of activities, and summative assessments appropriate for each grade level and each standard requirement.
Activities and Projects for Practicing and Assessing RL.3 in Middle School
- Rewriting a text from a different perspective. In our 6th-grade resource, students will be asked to reimagine a story from a different perspective.
- Compare and contrast two versions of the same story. In our 6th grade resource, we provide two passages for the same story, but own is written as a drama and the other as a dramatic story. Students can use these passages to answer the questions and compare the tellings.
- Escape room-style activities (7th) We like to use plot-based challenges in our escape Lrooms, so we threw one of them into the 7th-grade resource for this standard. Students will read a story and organize parts of the passage into a plot line. Once they’ve completed the task, they’ll be able to use the provided key to ‘unlock’ the code to escape.
- Project: Design a Movie Set – designing a movie set using the important plot elements and also how the characters interact with the set. This allows students to demonstrate which elements of the story are most important to the plot. This project is part of our 7th-grade resource.
- Using dialogue to progress the story is an activity that is part of the 8th-grade resource. Students can demonstrate or practice showing how dialogue helps to tell the story.
- Complete fictional interviews of the characters. In the 8th grade resource, we’ve included character interview sheets that will help students break down what we know about the characters and how their answers to key questions will tell us about how they’ve interacted with and helped to grow key components of the plot.
- Design a Short Film: This is one of the last activities in the 8th-grade RL.3 resource because by designing a short film, students have to think about each element of a story through the lens of a director & storyteller!
Ensuring your students understand and master the standards takes time and attention. In a way, your whole school year is like one giant plot line, and you are the writer. You have to figure out how to introduce your environment and the characters (i.e., the students and teacher). You also have to deal with the conflicts that arise, but the underlying conflict is the standards—the knowledge your students need to have by the end of the year.
We hope that our standards-aligned resources will make resolving your conflict much easier. To see all of our standards-aligned resources for the middle school ELA standards, click on the bundle images below!