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WT 211 Reading to Understand Fiction

Teacher Tips and Answers


WT 211

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Reading to Understand Fiction

The Adventures of Pinocchio warns against telling lies, but the story itself is fiction. It’s a lie that warns against telling lies! What’s going on here? Fiction stories aren’t really lies meant to fool readers. Instead, they are made-up tales meant to say something true about life.

Reading fiction can be fun. You meet wonderful characters, join in their adventures, and learn about life!

Ways to Improve Fiction Reading

     🟪 Read fiction often. Read for school and for fun!
     🟪 Experiment. Try adventures, real-life stories, mysteries, fantasies—even graphic novels!
     🟪 Think. Analyze characters, conflict, and plot.
     🟪 Use reading strategies. This chapter shows you how.

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Using Reading Strategies

You can use special strategies before, during, and after you read short stories and novels.

Before You Read

Preview 🟪 Consider the title. What do you think this story will be about? Check out the author. What other things has the person written? Read the first paragraph or two. What is this story like? Also preview these parts of a novel: the front and back cover, the names of chapters, and the illustrations.

Understand the Parts 🟪 When you read stories or novels, think about these important elements of fiction.
     🟪 The characters are the people or animals in a story. The most important character is called the main character.
     🟪 The setting describes where and when the story takes place.
     🟪 A problem or conflict is the starting point for a story.
     🟪 The plot is what happens. It involves the main character trying to solve the problem.
     🟪 The climax is the most exciting point. It shows the character facing the conflict head-on.
     🟪 The theme is the message or lesson a reader learns in the story.

You can track each of these parts using a fiction organizer.


After you preview the story, think about what might happen in the plot.

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During Your Reading

Read for the Elements 🟪 Ask yourself these questions.
     🟪 Who is this about (the characters)?
     🟪 Where and when does it take place (the setting)?
     🟪 What problem do the characters face (conflict)?
     🟪 What events happen in the story (plot)?
     🟪 What happens at the most exciting spot (climax)?
     🟪 What does this story teach about life (theme)?

Stop and Ask  🟪 As you read, stop and ask yourself, “What has happened so far?” If you’re not sure, go back and reread. You can also write about the story at different points along the way.

Stop and Ask Example
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Predict 🟪 Say what might happen next in a story. Then read on to see if your prediction is right or not.

Predict Example
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Visualize 🟪 Draw pictures of characters, scenes, and situations from the story.

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Sample Fiction Story

Finding Handholds
J. Robert King

The beginning places the character in the setting. Wow,” said Reggie. He stood in a sandy wash in Tucson, Arizona, staring at a huge palo verde tree. Its gnarled roots sank deep in the sand, and its twisted trunk rose ten feet up before green boughs spread in blue heavens.

Reggie wasn’t looking at that glorious tangle of branches, but at the magnificent tree house they held. A wide main floor nestled in the crotch, with wooden half walls and lookout points. A narrow ladder rose from it to a second floor platform. And climbing freehand, one could reach the lofty crow’s nest.

Reggie has a problem: how to climb into the tree fort. Theoretically.

It was not a tree house for third graders like Reggie, but rather for sixth graders, like his brother, Al.

“Can you please just show me how to climb up?” Reggie had asked Al yesterday. They stared at that towering trunk. It had no rope, no ladder, not even boards nailed to it.

Dialogue between characters moves the plot along. “It’s not for little kids,” Al answered.

“Just show me,” Reggie begged.

Al scowled. “I’ll tell you just this: It’s all about finding handholds.”

Now Reggie strode across the sand, determined to find handholds.

The tree-fort floated high above. It looked like it hung in the clouds.

“Focus,” Reggie said, taking a trembling breath. “Where can I grab?”

Reggie struggles to solve his problem. He studied the smooth green bark, noticing a shallow, bowl-shaped scar where a branch had been cut off. Reggie slid his fingers into the spot and tugged. “This might be something.” Looking down, he saw a tiny foothold. Reggie pulled himself up and looked for the next spot. There was a wrinkle of bark just within reach of his other hand. Finding another narrow toehold, he climbed shakily upward.

Suspense builds as Reggie gets closer to his goal. Three feet . . . five feet . . . seven feet . . . nine feet. “Sheesh!” he gasped. “Don’t look down!” Too late.

Panting, Reggie scrambled into the dark crotch of the tree. Joists and floorboards ran overhead. “What now?” He pushed upward, trying to find a way up. Instead, he found a few odd nails poking down. “Ow! Maybe I should just give up.” The climax shows Reggie succeed. Then suddenly—pop! A secret hatch opened. Reggie climbed through it to stand in the tree fort.

“What a view!” He could see all the way up the wash to Shadow Mountain, and over the rooftops to his home.

The ending shows how Reggie changed. “Hey, Reggie! Can I come up?”

Reggie looked down to see his little sister, Karen. He scowled and opened his mouth to say, “It’s not for little kids.” Instead, he heard himself say, “It’s all about finding handholds.”


theoretically: possibly, in theory
joists: wooden beams that hold up a floor

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After You Read

Review the Story 🟪 List the main events in the story from start to finish. This will help you understand it. Here is the start of a list of events in “Finding Handholds.”

Review the Story Example
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Think About the Main Character 🟪 Decide how the main character changes from the beginning to the end.

Think About the Main Character Example
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Think About the Theme 🟪 Ask yourself what message the story shares about life. What does the main character learn?

Think About the Theme Example
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Think About the Story 🟪 Ask yourself what you liked about the story. Also think about parts that you didn’t like or confused you. Share your thoughts with your classmates.


You can review the parts of a fictional story by completing this activity.

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Lesson Plan Resources:

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Vocabulary List:
  • characters: people or creatures who act and speak in a story

  • setting: time and place of a story

  • problem: something that prevents characters from getting what they want, often a conflict with other characters, nature, or machines

  • plot: series of events that cause characters to struggle with the problem, with ever-increasing stakes

  • climax: most exciting part, when characters face the problem head-on and succeed or fail

  • theme: what a story teaches about life

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