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According to most state curriculum standards in the US, 6th graders should not only be able to summarize key events in a story in chronological order, but they should also be able to analyze these events and identify elements of the plot using a handful of literary terms. In my experience, when working with various students in any grade, the best approach is to start out with very basic "fact-recall" questions, and then move toward more difficult "critical-thinking" questions.
The 5 W's are a great place to start. Examples include:
- Where and when did the story take place? (setting)
- Who was involved? (key characters)
- What was the main problem in the story? (conflict)
- What happened? In order? (plot line)
- How was the problem resolved? (climax and resolution) Why?
If the student is able to give an answer to each of the above, you can then move into more in-depth questions. Here, I usually pause to ask a class, "Is there anything about the story you didn't understand, or any words you didn't recognize." Many teachers start with these questions, but I like to show students that understanding the whole story is possible, and important, even when there are words or sections they may not fully understand.
Once your student has mostly accurately summarized the story using the 5 W's above, you can use questioning techniques to get more in-depth responses (example, go back to one part of the summary and ask more specific questions about it: character description, dialogue, or extra details).
Then, you can move into more critical thinking questions. Examples include:
- Which character changed the most in the story? Why?
- Did anything surprise you in the story? Why? What did you originally expect?
- If you had been [one of the characters] would you have made a similar decision? Why or why not?
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