Secret Letter Story Maps
Reading to Learn

Julianne Robinson

Rationale:  The ultimate goal of this lesson is to help students better comprehend text.  By teaching students that there are certain aspects to every story such as characters, events/problems, and resolution, they will understand what they are reading much more thoroughly. In this lesson, students will learn to ask questions about the story structure in order to better understand the text prior to reading, during reading, and after reading.  Students will also learn analyze key components (characters, conflict, and resolution) of the story by filling out story maps.

-A copy of Secret Letters from 0-10 (Susie Morganstern, Puffin Books, 1998.) for each student
-copies of story map (with questions written on it) (questions are listed in procedures) for each student


1. Introduce the concept of story grammar by saying, ""How many of ask yourself questions as you read a book? Good readers ask themselves questions as they read to better understand what is going on in the book. Some questions a reader might ask are ‘Who are the characters in the story? What does the title tell me? What is the problem in the story? How are the characters going resolve the problem?’ You might find that when you ask a question and find the answer, you have to ask a new question to learn more about the story. By continually asking questions, the reader becomes a detective. Today, to become better readers, we are going to practice asking questions and become a detective ourselves! We are going to ask ourselves questions before we read, while we are reading, and after we read. Let’s get started!"

2. Say: "Now that we have started reading chapter books and they are a lot longer than what we are used to, it gets harder to remember so much information. Sometimes we may read just one chapter and have to come back to the book later. So, we need to remember what that chapter was about so the next chapter makes sense."

3. Say: "I’m going to teach you a trick for asking questions. I want you to remember the ‘4 W’s and an H’. Who, What, When, Where, How.
I am going to ask myself these questions and write the answers on this piece of paper called a story map: a) Who is the main character(s)?, b) Where and when did the story/chapter take place? (this can also be called the setting of the story!) , c) What did the characters do?, d) How did the story/chapter end?, e) How did the main character(s) feel?"

4. Give book talk to introduce and entice the students.

Say: "Ten year old Earnest lives a very boring life. He does the same thing every single day. Can you imagine? But one day a new girl, named Victoria, and takes an interest in Ernest. She begins to make an impact on Ernest’s boring life. But something extraordinary happens that neither one of them could have ever imaged. You’ll have to read to find out more about their adventure together!

5. Vocabulary Instruction:

Say: " One word that will help you understand the first few chapters of this book is methodically or methodical. Ernest is very methodical in everything he does, this word describes his entire personality. Do you hear the word method in methodical? We've seen methods in our science studies. When we follow the method for an experiment, there is a certain way we must do each step. It is orderly and laid out for us to follow. Methodical is an adjective that describes the organized way to complete a task."

Model: If I always follow the same routine when I get ready each morning, I have a methodical way of doing things. I always fix coffee first, then eat breakfast, brush my teeth, get dressed, fix my hair…"

Practice: "Lets answer some questions about the word methodical:
-If I skip around on my homework,and do questions 5,7,9,10, and then 1. Is that methodical? Yes or no?

-If I make a cake, follow each instruction in order the same way everytime (just like my mom taught me), is that methodical? Yes or no?"

"Can you complete this sentence:

I methodically ate my lunch by…."

Pass out a copy of Secret Letters from 0-10 to each child in the class.

6. MODEL: Pass out Chapter 1 map, and read the first chapter to the students as they read silently. Answer the questions on the board or overhead as you go.

"Right away we meet our first character. What’s his name? Ernest. And What does Ernest do every day? He always does the exact same thing every single day, and never changes. Let’s write that down on our story map. Well, why does Ernest do that? I’ll have to keep reading to find out."


Continue in this fashion until you’ve answered at least one of each questions type.


Say: "After we've gotten to know our characters a little bit, we can start looking for the problem or conflict in the story. Remember: there is always a problem! Otherwise the story would be boring. What goes wrong for the main character? The author may not specifically tell you what it is, but you'll have to read very carefully and pay attention to the characters emotions and actions to pick up on the problem. There may also be a lot of little problems that lead up to one big problem, so watch out for that too!"

Continue to read through chapter one. Model how to find a problem. After reading the first Chapter together discuss what a problem could be with the students. Ask for feedback about how Ernest may feel about his lifestyle, living with his grandmother, doing the same thing every day…etc.

"I think the main problem so far is that Ernest is lonely. It talks a lot about how time moved very slow for him, especially on Sundays. He seems bored, because there is no one and nothing for him to play with or keep him entertained. Let's add that to our story map"

"Later we are going to look for the resolution. The resolution is how the problems in the story are solved. What events take place that help the character grow or change their thinking/lifestyle?"


7. Pass out maps for chapter 2, and allow students to practice creating story maps and answering questions. Help students who aren't completely the chart efficiently and completely. Eventually you can stop giving the questions and allow children to come up with questions themselves.

8. Assessment: Make a checklist to assess if students are using their maps to comprehend the story.

-The students use the strategy on their own.

-Completed the story map correctly
-The students gave logical answers to show their comprehension.

-The students left out trivial information and only gave important information.

Reading To Learn by Mark Gullion:

Remembering What We Read by Laura Lansdon:

Book: Secret Letters from 0-10, Susie Morganstern, Puffin Books, 1998

Pressley, M.,Johnson, C.J., Symons, S., McGoldrick, J. A., & Kurity, J. A. (1989). Strategies that improve children's memory and comprehension of text. The Elementary School Journal, 90, 3-32.


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