What is a story mountain?
A story mountain is a fantastic framework used to help students visualise the structure of a story. The sections step students through important parts of the plot in creating a standard ‘story arc’ or ‘hero’s journey’.
Take a minute to think about the most recent fiction book you read or a captivating recount that a friend told you. Did it start by setting the scene, move into recognising a problem, cast you through a series of escalating events, before magically coming to some form of resolution and lesson learnt?
We’re surrounded by content that would slot straight into a story mountain framework (okay, maybe sometimes you would need a few extra boxes). But the point stands.
Our students need support with making the explicit connection between parts of a story and the stories that they’ve heard.
What are the parts of a story mountain?
The labelling of the parts does vary between templates. For example, you may see any of ‘Beginning’ ‘Exposition’ ‘Orientation’ or ‘Introduction’ used for the start of the sequence and a combination of ‘Falling Action’ ‘Solution’ ‘Resolution’ ‘Ending’ ‘Conclusion’ or ‘Closing’ at the end. Here are the terms I use with my classes:
Some story mountain templates will also include space for character and setting notes. This is important as a good story will have at least one character that the reader is invested in as they embark on a challenge or journey. Every story must be set in a particular time and place so that the reader can visualise the environment and contextualise all the events that are taking place.
The two key ways you can use a story mountain:
To identify parts of a familiar story
To plan an original story
These both lend themselves to whole class and independent activities. Note: Using a story mountain template is a separate task to writing a story.
How do you use a story mountain?
First things first, you’ll need to find yourself some stories! The story mountain template needs context in order to have any meaning to your students. These can be classic fairy tales like Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella or narrative stories that you’re already studying in class.
It’s important to model how to use a story mountain with your class. Enlarge a copy or bring it up on a presentation and show students where events in your story ‘sit’ in the framework. Repeatedly use the language you want your students to recognise “At the beginning…” “The problem is that…”
You can use text or pictures when recording on your story mountain template. Students can draw the different parts of the story in each box or, as a differentiation option, you can support learners further by giving them pictures from the story to sequence.
If your students are writing in the boxes, this should not be in full sentences. This should be written in bullet point notes with the key points. What would be the point of your students writing a plan which looks identical to the piece of writing in their book? (I’ll have to admit I am guilty of this myself).
Here’s an example of a story mountain:
Once students have their story mountain plan, then they can use this to:
Retell a story in their own words
Write their own original story
This is the stage where students complete a full piece of writing. Their story mountain plan becomes their scaffold for writing a coherent story that has a clear series of events.
Ensure that the texts you select have a clear and relatively simple plot line so that it is easier for your students to connect the framework to the story
You may need to dedicate multiple lessons to planning, writing, editing and publishing stories. If you want quality writing, students need to be given time to develop their ideas
It is worth honing in on the ‘Problem’ part of stories for a lesson or two. A story without any problems or conflict is going to be BORING. Readers love the journey they get taken on as a character overcomes struggles and eventually comes out on top or learns a valuable lesson. Students will need help with generating ideas for problems and exploring how these could be solved (if these solutions are unconventional yet believable, then they’ve hit the jackpot!)
Students thrive off having a structure for understanding and organising ideas. There’s absolutely nothing to say that they can’t branch out from this when they’re ready, but let’s equip them with the tools they need to build their confidence in writing first!
Once upon a time a teacher at school wanted to learn how to use a story mountain. They persevered to read through the long article before having a lightbulb moment and resolving to implement some of the ideas into their teaching next lesson. The end.
...or was it just the beginning?