How to Teach Story Elements using Mentor Texts

The first comprehension skill for the school year I teach is how to identify story elements. I love using Mentor Texts to support my shared reading lessons. I pick this skill for a few reasons; but, primarily because in order to effectively retell or summarize a fiction story, students need to know the main elements of the story. Let’s take a look at some books and activities that will help students become masters at identifying story elements while they read!

Story Structure

I always like to start my reading comprehension skill lessons off with a whole group activity. This mini-lesson is outlined in the lesson plan that comes with the rest of the story structure resources. I love this anchor chart poster because not only is it an interactive activity but it serves as the perfect visual aid for continued reference! You could even print smaller ones in b/w for students to keep in their book box, reading folder or notebook.

For 2nd grade, I initially focus on four main elements: characters, setting, problem and solution.
We practice the skill as a whole group ideally three times. Each time we practice, I let students take over responsibility a little more and more. I strategically plan my read alouds so they increase in complexity.

Introducing the Story Elements

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, my read alouds act as not only a mentor text for the comprehension skill but also as a way to get students excited about reading. It is a launching point for our first author study–Kevin Henkes. Students fall in love with his books and I use our knowledge of his craft as a motivator for our first writing lessons. I also incorporate other beginning-of-the-year books like New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer and Rain School by James Rumford. The profound stories in these texts help students exercise empathy and understanding for situations unlike their own.

Guided Practice

As we revisit the mentor texts and read additional books that connect with the skill, I slowly pull back support and allow students to take over with identifying story elements. Sometimes, I pair them with partners or put them in small groups to write out the story elements on Post-Its. Or, I’ll assign them each an element to listen for as we are reading.

Independent Practice

When it feels like they are ready, we pair the skill with books on their independent reading level.
Graphic organizers help students visually organize a story’s elements, increasing their ability to retell, summarize, and comprehend the story. Providing various options for showing learning is key! I also like to incorporate student choice. I will run off 10-15 copies of each graphic organizer and let them pick which one they feel best fits with their independent reading book. Then, I always keep some on hand during guided reading.


I love being able to teach story elements using mentor texts and quality printable materials. The Story Structure Comprehension Kit is such a helpful resource for keeping my comprehension lessons consistent. It’s so helpful to have reference posters, mini-lesson materials, graphic organizers, and mentor texts all in one place! I organize all of my mentor texts, mini-lesson materials, reference posters, and graphic organizers in Iris cases. I love how I can just pull out the bin when I need it and add resources as I collect them throughout the week!

My MOST favorite thing about Comprehension Kits is that they can be paired with any text! I supplemented our district’s ELA curriculum texts with so many wonderful picture books. There’s nothing I love more than finding a book that aligns well with teaching one of the comprehension skills. I’ve curated a list of all of my favorite mentor texts for teaching each skill!

Grab this FREE list of mentor texts to use for each reading comprehension skill. It also includes a scope and sequence to help you plan! —> FREE Mentor Text List
Looking for more ideas for teaching comprehension skills? Check out these blog posts! 
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