Story Chain

Story Chains are a great way to get kids thinking about an upcoming lesson, unit, theme, or reading selection. I used Story Chains a few times per school year, regardless of the themes or the grade level I was teaching. And, just because it’s called a Story Chain does not mean that it only can be used with fiction or literature.

The basic premise of a Story Chain is very simple: you list the key words, ideas, or concepts in a reading selection or upcoming theme, lesson, unit, etc. in a vertical column. Place arrows between the terms, pointing from each term to the one below. This helps kids to understand that the terms have to be used in order, from top to bottom.

For example, if you are going to be teaching a unit on the Civil Rights Movement, your Story Chain may look something like this:

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The objective is to get kids thinking about what they will be reading or learning prior to actually reading it or prior to instruction. And, it brings creative writing into the mix as students get to think about the terms, how they fit together, and write a response that explains what they think they will be reading or learning. Consider their response a prediction for the upcoming text or instruction.

I typically instructed my students to look at the terms and write a paragraph (or more, depending on the number of terms in the list) that used the terms in the order provided. If they didn’t know the term, I encouraged students to use their background knowledge or try to use their word skills to figure it out. They also knew that they could add their personalities to the assignment, and sometimes we got the most creative and humorous answers from kids from our Story Chain work.

Truly, the Story Chain is intended to get kids involved with the terms as a beginning of lesson, unit, theme, etc. As long as they look at the words and think about them and then use them in written form, the objective is met. I found that the Story Chain was a great way to motivate the kids before beginning something new, and it often kept students engaged throughout the instruction because they wanted to see whether they used their terms correctly.

Often, my students wrote their responses independently and then shared them with partners to hammer out a “final draft” that combined their best ideas. This meant that the kids had to defend their usage of the terms, share their background knowledge with one another, and compromise – a skill that I taught as often as possible. We also hung the class favorites around the room, to keep the kids thinking about the terms, and we occasionally would reread them as the instruction progressed, to see which kids had been on track with their initial thinking.

Give Story Chain a try, and then let me know what you think about it.  Email Bailey at

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