To Story Map or Not To Story Map

  • 03 September, 2010

Yesterday, I got a question from a middle school teacher. He wanted to know if story maps were a good approach to summarizing fiction. Good question.

  First, teaching summarization is a great idea. Of all the reading strategies that we can teach, that is a real winner. All of the repertoires of strategies that are taught include summarization, and that makes sense since summarization gives the biggest payoff of any single strategies.

  I can even go farther than that. Story mapping itself has been found to confer an advantage, at least with primary grades.

  A story map is simply a structural summary of story. Typical story map templates require that students remember and identify the setting, main character, problem, attempt, and outcome of a story. However, while that is probably okay with young kids when they are starting out, stories are more complicated than that and students could be guided to developing better summaries.

  The original story maps included more psychological information, including the character’s internal response to the problem and reaction to the outcome. Young kids have trouble thinking about the psychological aspects of characters so a lot of story templates just dropped such information. Big mistake; once kids are comfortable summarizing the plot actions, start guiding them to think about what the characters want and how they feel about the events.

  Even more important, we want students to understand stories as more than a bunch of structural blocks. Stories are really about conflict, and story maps don’t get at this idea very well. Several years ago, I developed a technique, character perspective charting, that helps kids to summarize the conflicts among characters. Essentially, you add a structure, requiring students to be explicit about what the character’s want (so add a “character’s goal” box).

  Then you have the kids complete multiple maps for the story—one for each character. With really good stories, you will often end up with different themes for different characters. For more information on this approach, see Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, S. (1997). Character perspective charting: Helping children to develop a more complete conception of story. The Reading Teacher, 50, 668–677.


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To Story Map or Not To Story Map


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