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Lesson Plan

Completing the Circle: The Craft of Circular Plot Structure

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Completing the Circle: The Craft of Circular Plot Structure

Grades K – 2
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Carolyn Wilhelm

Carolyn Wilhelm

Maple Grove, Minnesota


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



After exploring a variety of circle plot story books, students identify, explore and apply the elements of circle plot structures to their own stories. "Reading like writers," students will explore the ways that stories are structured; then, "writing like writers," students explore organizational structures in their own writing. Students first examine the attributes of circular shapes and brainstorm things with a circular pattern, such as seasons. After exploring how Cynthia Rylant's Long Night Moon might be a circular story, students listen to a circle story read aloud. Students discuss why the story is called a circular story and make connections to Rylant's book. They then read several more examples and, using circle plot diagrams as their tools, students write their own circular plot stories. Finally, students share their work with peers, revise their work using a checklist for self-evaluation, and compare their self-evaluation to teacher assessment.

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Interactive Circle Plot Diagram: Students use this online tool to label and describe the events in a story with a circular plot.

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"Writers notice, listen, observe, and think like writers all the time," and this kind of writerly practice is what we need to have our students do according to Lisa Cleaveland and Katie Wood Ray, in About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers (159). In their model of writing workshop, Cleaveland and Ray ask students, "Did you stand on an author's shoulders to write this? If so, whose?" (173). As they answer, students recognize the crafting techniques of the writers who inspire and influence their own work. In this lesson, students explore the craft of authors who have written books that use the circle-plot technique, and then use these books as framing texts that allow them to "apprentice themselves to writers whose work they admire" (172).

This connection between reading works of others and writing their own texts is important for all writers. As Katie Wood Ray reminds us in her Wondrous Words, "None of the other steps [in workshop writing] are worth the effort if they don't end with writers being able to take the crafting techniques back to their own writing when they need them" (126). Every minilesson should end with students envisioning a new possibility for their work, by "stand[ing] on an author's shoulders."

Further Reading

Cleaveland, Lisa and Ray, Katie Wood. 2004. About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Ray, Katie Wood. 1999. Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Read more about this resource


Egawa, Kathy. 2003. "Writing in the Early Grades, K-2." Web. Urbana, IL: NCTE. http://www1.ncte.org/prog/writing/research/113328.htm.

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