Spotlight on Strategies: Story Maps

Map Your Way to Comprehension


There is a significant amount of research supporting the theory that students need explicit and systematic reading instruction in specific reading strategies, such as story mapping. Story mapping provides structure that students can use to organize their thoughts in order to understand the story. Lorna Idol, a special education professor at the University of Northern Colorado, stated that a reader learns how to make connections between important parts of the story and their prior knowledge when developing a story map (1987). Boyle also believes that students need to be taught how to organize and sequence important ideas in a logical structure in order to understand the story (1996).

Story maps, such as a plot diagrams, are an effective technique that any teacher can use in their classroom to improve their students’ comprehension.


  1. Introduce the activity using the Interactive story, Cinderella. Explain the new concepts of story mapping by reviewing the sections of “exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution.” Explain that the conflict includes the events that lead up to the climax, also known as the rising action.

  2. Next, allow your students to listen to or watch another famous fairy tale, such as Peter Pan. Direct your students to determine 6 key events in the story while listening to the story. Allow students to take notes on a graphic organizer.

  3. After listening to a story, pass out I-pads and direct them to the Read, Write, Think interactive plot diagram. Have students select the “exposition, climax, and resolution” map. Ask students to fill in the important events on the map above the corresponding plot element: exposition, rising action (conflict), climax, falling action, and resolution. Inform the students that the falling action can be an event that occurs after the conflict is solved.

  4. Ask the students to save their plot map and share with a partner.


  1. Have your students pick an independent book that they are reading.

  2. Direct your students to create a plot map using the Read, Write, Think interactive organizer based on the book.

  3. Have your students to film shot their plot map using Screencast-o-matic to summarize the story for the class. Use this interactive digital media activity in place of the outdated book report.

  4. Allow the students to examine similarities and differences between their stories.


Annenberg Learning (2014). Interactives: Elements of a Story. Retrieved from

Boulineau, T., Fore, C. III, Hagan-Burke, S., & Burke, M. D. (2004). Use of Story-Mapping to Increase the Story-Grammar Text Comprehension of Elementary Students with Learning Disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 27, 105-120.

Boyle, J. (1996). The effects of a cognitive mapping strategy on the literal and inferential comprehension of students with mild disabilities. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 19, 86-98.

Brittarella1 (2011). Disney's Peter Pan Read Along. Retrieved from

Disney (n.d.). Disney Publishing Worldwide. Retrieved from

Idol, L. (1987). Group Mapping: A Comprehension Strategy for Both Skilled and Unskilled Readers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 20 (4), 196-204.