Plot Diagram and Narrative Arc

By Katherine Docimo and Natasha Lupiani

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Plot Diagram
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Narrative arcs and the prototypical “Plot Diagram” are essential for building literary comprehension and appreciation. Plot diagrams allow students to pick out major themes in the text, trace changes to major characters over the course of the narrative, and hone their analytic skills. Lessons emphasizing these skills meet many Common Core Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS.ELA-Literacy). The concepts not only give students a fuller understanding of classroom texts, but also their favorite books and movies.

Elements of Plot

  • Exposition
  • Conflict
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution


The exposition is the introduction to a story, including the primary characters' names, setting, mood, and time.


The conflict is the primary problem that drives the plot of the story, often a main goal for the protagonist to achieve or overcome.

Rising Action

The rising action of the story is all of the events that lead to the eventual climax, including character development and events that create suspense.


The climax is the most exciting point of the story, and is a turning point for the plot or goals of the main character.

Falling Action

The falling action is everything that happens as a result of the climax, including wrapping-up of plot points, questions being answered, and character development.


The resolution is not always happy, but it does complete the story. It can leave a reader with questions, answers, frustration, or satisfaction.

By plotting simple narrative arcs in three-cell storyboards, or more complicated stories in six-cell boards, teachers can easily assess students’ understanding of important story components. Combined illustrations and text can enliven difficult concepts like “rising action” and “climax”.

Create a Storyboard 

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Create a Plot Diagram  

Plot Diagram Template

Making storyboards that explain a plot bring students' understanding to life! It's an engaging and fun way for students to interact with the texts they read in class. The details and characters featured in students’ storyboards allow instructors to immediately determine whether students comprehend the scope of the objectives. For narrative arcs for younger grades or other plot diagram templates, make sure to check out "Four Innovative Ways to Teach Parts of a Story".

Create a Plot Diagram  

Create a Plot Diagram  

Classroom Exercises and Book Reports

Some fun ways to teach this lesson using Storyboard That:

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Customize Worksheets!

If you're looking for another step or an alternative assignment, you can create plot diagram worksheets to use in your class! These worksheets can be customized and printed out for students to fill out with a pencil, or they can be completed in the Storyboard Creator like a digital worksheet. You can even create multiple versions for those students who might need a little extra help, and keep them on hand for future use! Find plenty of templates to work from or just start with a blank canvas.

Examples from Literature

Create a Plot Diagram  

Create a Plot Diagram  

Suggested Modifications

For the Students Who Need Minimal Guidance

Within special education there are varying degrees of abilities, including students who may have disabilities that have a minimal impact on their cognitive abilities. Those students for whatever reason may still be in a special education setting but won’t necessarily need significant modifications on something like a plot diagram. For the students that require minimal assistance, a blank plot diagram with very little or no information completed may be the way to go. As the creator of the storyboard, the teacher can control just what information is provided and decide how much he wants to guide his students. Use the templates above as they are, or make slight adjustments to the templates.

For the Students Who Need a Little Guidance

Some students will need a little more guidance when it comes to a plot diagram. Students who struggle with reading comprehension may have difficulty picking out the different parts of a story. Often times details of the story can be lost in translation, so to speak. That is where a plot diagram with some leading information can be helpful. Incorporating the visual aspect into the storyboard prior to asking the students to complete the plot diagram gives them “clues” as to what they are looking for when completing the diagram. The visuals act as context clues for students so they can focus their energy on the appropriate information, as seen in the Holes Plot Diagram.

Create a Plot Diagram  

For the Students Who Need More Guidance

Storyboarding allows for variations that also work for those students who really struggle and require more explicit guidance. For the students who can still complete the plot diagram as an assignment but need simplification, you can alter the plot diagram to a more basic beginning-middle-end (BME) approach. With the BME storyboard the amount of information included can still be as little or as much as needed for the students. Check out BME storyboard templates and examples already completed and ready for use.

If the BME is not exactly conducive to the assignment and the students require a more in-depth plot diagram with all the information, a completed plot diagram storyboard may be the better way to go. The students can then use it as a reference rather than an assignment. Options like this are great, especially when the students notice what other students have or don’t have. From afar, it will look like they received the same storyboard, but in actuality they each have one that meets their needs.

Create a Plot Diagram  

Relating to the Common Core

Analyzing a literary work with a plot diagram fulfills Common Core ELA standards for many age groups. Below are only two examples of ELA standards for different levels. Please see your Common Core State Standards for grade-appropriate strands.

Example Rubrics

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•   (English) Plot Diagrams and Narrative Arcs   •   (Español) Diagramas de Trazado y Arcos Narrativos   •   (Français) Diagrammes de Tracé et Arcs Narratifs   •   (Deutsch) Plotdiagramme und Erzählbögen   •   (Italiana) Trama Diagrammi e Narrativi Arcs   •   (Nederlands) Plot Schema's en Narrative Arcs   •   (Português) Diagramas de Traçado e Arcos Narrativos   •   (עברית) מגרש דיאגרמות ונרטיב Arcs   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) رسم مخططات والسرد أقواس   •   (हिन्दी) प्लॉट आरेख और कथा आर्क्स   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Сюжет Диаграммы и Повествовательной Дуги   •   (Dansk) Plotte Diagrammer og Narrative Arcs   •   (Svenska) Plotdiagram och Berättande Arcs   •   (Suomi) Piirretään Kaaviot ja Kerronta Kaaret   •   (Norsk) Diagrammer og Narrative Arcs   •   (Türkçe) Arsa Diyagramları ve Anlatı Yayıları   •   (Polski) Wykresy i Wykresy Narracyjne   •   (Româna) Se Trasează Diagrame și Narativă Arcs   •   (Ceština) Plot Diagramy a Komentářem Arcs   •   (Slovenský) Grafy Grafu a Naračné Oblúky   •   (Magyar) Vegyük Diagramok és Elbeszélő Arcs   •   (Hrvatski) Dijagrami Zemljišta i Narativni Lukovi   •   (български) Диаграми на Графиките и Наративни Дъги   •   (Lietuvos) Sklypas Diagramos ir Pasakojimo Lankai   •   (Slovenščina) Parcela Diagrami in Narrative Arcs   •   (Latvijas) Gabals Diagrammas un Narrative Arcs   •   (eesti) Ehitatakse Skeemid ja Narratiiv Arcs