Plot, character, conflict, theme, setting: yes, these are the five things.

This video by Flocabulary is the perfect introduction to a unit on short story. Not only does it describe these elements of short stories, my students have the chorus memorized by the end of the first watching. It really sets the stage for the entire unit. Check out the entire unit's YouTube playlist.


Man vs. Man: In Toy Story, the central conflict is between Buzz and Woody, who are fighting for Andy's affection. 

Man vs. Society: In The Little Mermaid, Ariel fights against her society's wish for her to be happy under the sea.

Man vs. Self: In The Lion King, Simba has an internal battle against himself as he seeks to find his identity.

Man vs. Nature: In Jaws, the people are in conflict with the sharks to "own" the beach.


Story maps allow us to map out what a story looks like and ensure it does have a conflict, climax, and resolution.

This can be a great tool for both speaking about the stories that are read in class and brainstorming in the story creation process. 

View the story map.


Theme is the fortune cookie of the story. What is the author's message for the readers? One of the best ways to review theme and the elements of plot is by watching the Pixar short film collection, such as "Knick Knack."


There are my different facets of character that help in understanding the story. Are they flat or round? Major or minor? Dynamic or static? Internally or externally motivated? Use movie clips to compare characters. 

Round Character

Flat Character


Setting makes all the difference. I love teaching this by exploring all of the different cultural tellings of Cinderella. Although there are videos of these stories, children's story books do an even better job of exploring these differences. Even though they're the same core story, the cultural setting influences the story dramatically.

Ready to make your own? Move on to pre-production.