K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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In this lesson, students use historic North Carolina photographs as the basis for a creative short story. After studying the elements of plot, students choose any of the photographs from the list provided. Students then expand on the scene depicted in the photograph to craft a creative short story, like telling the rest of the story about the photograph, the story leading up to and surrounding that moment caught in time. The specific scene in the photograph should be used as a major plot point in their short story. Photographs are made available through the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and various other sources and organizations. This lesson assumes that students have already learned the elements of plot; it works best as an assessment tool for a short story/elements of plot unit.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the elements of plot by writing their own creative short story.
  • use conventions of grammar and punctuation in their own writing and in peer editing.

Teacher planning

Time required

Three 60-minute class periods

Materials needed

  • Copies of the Short Story Assignment Guidelines — one per student
  • Copies of the Short Story Rubric — one per student
  • Notebook paper
  • Pencils/pens
  • Any previous student notes and/or handouts on the elements of plot
  • Copies of the List of Historical Picture Choices document (optional)

Technology resources


Short story assignment guidelines
This document contains a description of the writing assignment completed by the students, including a copy of the rubric for this activity.
Open as PDF (58 KB, 2 pages)
List of historical picture choices
This document provides a list of possible pictures to be used in this lesson.
Open as PDF (32 KB, 2 pages)
Short story rubric
You may use this rubric to assess students’ writing at the end of the lesson.
Open as PDF (66 KB, 1 page)


Prior knowledge

  • Students need to understand the elements of plot prior to accomplishing this lesson. The words they should be familiar with are found in the Critical Vocabulary section below.
  • Students also need to be familiar with peer editing, where students work in pairs to edit each other’s writing. This can come in the form of actual editing for grammatical mistakes, more informal reading and making suggestions without correcting anything, or something as simple as acting as a sounding board for each other. It works best if students are given a specific focus, such as looking for missing commas or comma splices. If peer editing is a new concept for students, an activity introducing them to it on day two may be necessary. For two lesson plans focused on making peer editing successful and meaningful, refer to the Supplemental Information section of this lesson plan.


Day one

  1. Review the elements of plot as is appropriate for your class and your previous lessons specifically on the elements of plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution).
  2. Handout the assignment sheet and review the assignment with the students. Go over the goals of the assignment, how they will complete it, the rubric for grading, and the due date.
  3. Help students use computers to access the list of links to the pictures they can choose from, which is included as a pdf above and listed below. You may also go through the pictures with them to help them choose a picture.
    1. Men in an old newsroom
    2. Men looking comfortable on a car in a flood
    3. Mini clothes
    4. Pig race
    5. Goat herding on the street
    6. Ladies at the gun club
    7. Boy’s cart race
    8. Fortune telling
    9. Men playing in a field
    10. Clothed students in a bathtub
    11. Beekeepers
    12. Lawn bowling
    13. Ambulance and bodies
  4. It is helpful at this point to give students an example of an idea for a short story you might write using one of the pictures, as well as to model the use of interactive online graphic organizer from ReadWriteThink for student brainstorming.
    1. For example, open the second picture – a photograph of some men sitting on a car in a very large flood looking oddly comfortable with the situation – so that all students can see it. Give students a moment to look at the picture. Have a few of them talk about what they see happening in the picture and note their observations. You can ask some guiding questions, such as: What is unusual about this picture? What inferences can you make based on the men’s posture?
    2. Have the graphic organizer open as well so that you can switch over to it and fill it out as you create an example to model how to use this resource at the same time.
    3. Give a quick overview of how you might create the story behind this moment:
      1. First, decide what part of the plot the picture should be. At this point, it can be helpful to ask students to imagine what happened before and after the moment this picture was snapped. Have them share their thoughts.
      2. Explain that by imagining what happened before and after this moment, you are actually creating the story behind the picture.
      3. At this point, switch over to the graphic organizer to add the photograph to your plot. Create a working name for your story and add your name as the author. Choose the “exposition, climax, resolution” triangle label and click “Next.” Add “photograph” and a description of it on the right then drag and drop it to the appropriate part of the plot. For our example, let’s say the photograph is part of the resolution.
      4. Continue filling in the graphic organizer with brief descriptions of what you imagine could have happened in each section before and after that moment. Drag and drop each one to their appropriate location.
      5. Students could write the story of these men panicking about the flood that was coming (conflict and rising action), trying to get all of their stuff safe (rising action) but forgetting about the car (climax). When the men realized what had happened but the storm had passed and they were safe (falling action), they laughed it off and posed for a picture to remember the crazy day they had (resolution).
      6. Allow the students to be involved as a group in this decision making process. Teachers can lead by example, but allow the students to use their imaginations here and help to fill out the graphic organizer.
    4. Be sure to use the actual words that make up the elements of plot when describing an example to students so they can see how to build on their thoughts.
    5. Explain to students that they would embellish, add dialogue and creativity to expand that basic story, but they should use their imaginations to decide what the story of that moment in the picture is.
  5. Once students have chosen a picture, they use the graphic organizer to help them gather their thoughts. Remind students that the graphic organizer should be used throughout the whole process and should reflect changes that are made, if necessary.
  6. Students should spend the remaining time available to work. It is easiest to work and edit by typing the stories, but they can be handwritten if necessary.
  7. The teacher should be engaged with students, roaming the room and helping when necessary.
  8. If students are expected to work at home on this assignment, you’ll need to make sure they understand how to go about doing that before starting the assignment. They can email assignments to themselves as attachments, use portable USB drives, drop the file in Dropbox if they use that system, etc.

Day two

  1. Start the day by addressing any questions or issues that students have that apply to the whole class. Hold individual problems for the work time.
  2. Spend the first ten to fifteen minutes of the session doing peer helping and editing. Students can help each other brainstorm and work through problems, as well as actually read written parts and edit. What each pair of students does during this time will depend on how much work they have already done on their story. If they’re stuck in development stages, their partner should help them brainstorm. If they have written a whole story, the partner should have a more active role.
  3. Students should spend the remaining time working.
  4. During the work time, it is acceptable for students to continue working with their peers.
  5. Teacher should roam during the work time, answering questions, helping where necessary, and possibly reading sections of students’ writing to help guide them.

Day three

  1. Repeat the activities from day two.
  2. Remind students that their final products are due at the beginning of class the following day.
  3. If you are requiring use of the graphic organizer, remind students to print it to turn in for you to assess. A print button is included at the bottom right of the interactive organizer.


Students should be assessed based on the rubric included as a PDF above. The rubric assesses the finished product for elements of plot, final grammar and punctuation, participation in peer editing, and use of the graphic organizer.

Supplemental information

Each of the following lesson plans focuses on teaching peer editing strategies. Neither is meant specifically for ninth grade, but either could be used in a ninth grade classroom with a few changes such as the reading level of the editing material.

Reciprocal revision: Making peer feedback meaningful
This lesson from ReadWriteThink is designed to help middle school students develop more constructive peer feedback on writing through the use of reciprocal teaching strategies. Students observe online examples of artwork, and use the strategies of predicting, summarizing, clarifying, and questioning as they both analyze the art and assist their peers in doing the same. The lesson includes both small group and peer feedback sessions.
Peer edit with perfection: Teaching effective peer-editing strategies
In this lesson from ReadWriteThink, the teacher models a three-step peer-editing process in this lesson that teaches the techniques of revising expository writng. After introducing the concept of peer editing, the teacher challenges students to brainstorm the pros and cons of the process. Using a sample of student writing, the teacher models the three-step process of complimenting, making suggestions, and correcting the paragraph. Students then work in small groups to edit another sample piece of writing. When students have experience with the editing process, they practice their knowledge by answering questions using an online peer editing tutorial. This lesson provides extension activities and opportunities for student reflection and assessment. Readwritethink provides links to sample paragraphs, an online peer editing tutorial, a helpful handout and an answer key.

Critical vocabulary

the series of events that make up a literary work
the main problem or struggle between characters or forces in a story
the introduction, where characters, setting, and conflict are explained
rising action
the series of events that lead to the point of greatest interest
the turning point in the story when the main character takes action; usually the most exciting or tense part of the story
falling action
during this ending, the conflict begins to unravel and a “winner” is usually declared; a twist in fate can occur during this part of the plot
the conclusion, where the whole plot is tied up and problems are resolved; in some cases, there may be no resolution


The amount of time necessary for this lesson can be extended, if necessary. This lesson plan could easily be adapted for any grade level above fourth grade.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Writing

        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. 9-10.W.3.1 Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing...
          • 9-10.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)