This 3-day mini-unit plan on plot structure represent some of my best work in the education department for several reasons. The work I chose as an example for the students, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, is one of my favorite short movies and therefore I sought a way to incorporate into a lesson for quite awhile. I planned it to be incorporated into a larger unit on screenwriting and the mini-unit would serve as the introduction.

This mini-unit meets many of the Minneapolis Standards of Effective Instruction. Standard 1: Subject Matter demands teachers make connections to from the curriculum to everyday life. Because Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is humorous and entertaining, the students will have a vested interest in the subject matter and will retain the information better because they will be able to build the knowledge upon their personal interests. This unit also is designed to help the students build knowledge across several subject areas: media literacy, writing, and communication. Standard 2: Student Learning makes direct reference to individual and group performance. This unit plan is designed to incorporate small group work and discussion, as well as test individual comprehension; it also provides myriad opportunities for active engagement in the material. Standard 3: Diverse Learners outlines the necessity for teachers to address different learning styles and performance modes. These lesson plans all address the needs of auditory (lecture day), visual (watching a movie), and kinesthetic (group interaction). These lesson plans all make direct reference to Minnesota Academic Standards for the appropriate age group, which meets Standard 4: Instructional Strategies. Standard 5: Learning Environment is also addressed in this unit plan, as it allows for group work and “helps people work productively and cooperatively with each other in complex social settings” (benchmark D). This unit plan also sets high expectations for students and has clear-cut goals and objectives. It also “uses a variety of educational technologies to enrich learning opportunities” as it calls for projection and the usage of mass media awareness (Standard 6). Because this is a mini-unit constructed as part of a larger unit, this also demonstrates my ability to create short-range and long-range learning objectives (Standard 7, benchmark D, H) and accommodates different learning styles (benchmark F). This lesson uses both formative and summative as well as formal and non-formal assessment methods such as class discussions, small group work, quizzes, and a final test (Standard 8).

This unit plan makes great use of the MSEI standards. If I were to repeat it, however, I would make a greater effort to accommodate diverse learning styles. As it is, the lessons are able to appeal to auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles to a degree, but there may not be enough of an opportunity for students to exert their own creativity. I would also like to incorporate the use of small group dynamics and oral language skill building and may add some review and more individual practice.

The Three-Act Structure of Playwriting/Screenwriting:

3-Day Mini-Unit

In this unit, students will learn about the art of the three-act structure that occurs in successful plays and films. The major concepts they will learn and demonstrate knowledge of are: rising action, climax, falling action, and conflict/resolution. With this knowledge, they will be able to analyze the dramatic development in any work of fiction, particularly our study of the short film Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Once we watch this film, we will have some brief homework that will apply it to the structure. The following day, we will discuss in small groups the plot arrangement and conflict resolution of the film, and then have a short quiz. This lesson falls in the middle of our larger unit on dramatic elements in film.

There are many goals of this Three-Act Structure lesson. First, students will become familiarized with the three-act structure of playwriting and screenwriting, which will prepare them for our viewing of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Students will also be able to demonstrate knowledge of the development of conflicts and struggles and will be able to identify and determine which of the four types of conflict a fictional work embodies. They will work first in a large group to apply the structure to well-known works, then in smaller groups.

This lesson is designed for an 11th or 12th grade level class in Creative Writing. The lesson could be easily adapted for an Advanced-Placement English class or even a Language Arts lesson; in some cases, the lesson would be useful in a Drama class, but is designed primarily for literary analysis. The students could be mixed abilities and backgrounds and the class would be an average amount of students – anywhere from 10-30 students.

This lesson complies with the Minnesota Academic Standards in Language Arts for grades 9-12. Standard I: Reading and Literature, D states: “The student will actively engage in the reading process and read, understand, respond to, analyze, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate a wide variety of fiction, poetic, and nonfiction texts.” Benchmark 6 states that students will: “Analyze and evaluate the relationship between and among elements of literature: character, setting, plot, tone, symbolism, rising action, climax, falling action, point of view, theme and conflict/resolution” [emphasis mine to show what areas I will be focusing on for this particular mini-unit]. The essential questions that the students will be able to answer by meeting this standard are: How are films developed in order to maximize tension and conflict? What are the four types of conflict in fictional works? Benchmark 10 states that students will: “Interpret the effect of literary and structural devices,” which the three-act structure will assist the students in doing. The essential question the students will be able to answer is: how do the plot structures affect the writers’ process?

Before the lesson on the three-act structure in screenwriting and playwriting, students will have a basic knowledge of Gustav Freytag’s plot mountain and will know simple information about exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. The three-act structure lesson will build and expand upon this.

DAY ONE: Reviewing Freytag’s Plot Mountain and Outlining the Three-Act Structure

I. Objectives and Goals

Student Objectives/Outcomes:

  • Students will become familiarized with the three-act structure of playwriting/screenwriting and will be prepared to watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog tomorrow and apply the structure to it.
  • Students will be able to construct their own version of the three-act structure when they apply it to films they know well.

Minnesota Academic Standards:

  • I. Reading and Literature (Grades 9-12):
    • D. Literature: The student will actively engage in the reading process and read, understand, respond to, analyze, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate a wide variety of fiction, poetic, and nonfiction texts.
      • 6. Analyze and evaluate the relationship between and among elements of literature: character, setting, plot, tone, symbolism, rising action, climax, falling action, point of view, theme and conflict/resolution.
      • 10. Interpret the effect of literary and structural devices.

II. Anticipatory Set

  1. 1. Introduction: Today, the class will:
    1. Review what we know about Freytag’s Plot Mountain with a short quiz
    2. Learn about Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Three-Act Plot Structure
    3. Work in a large group to discuss the film The Lion King in reference to the Three-Act Plot Structure
    4. Work in small groups to fill out a worksheet on a film of the group’s choosing
    5. Discuss briefly expectations for the viewing of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog tomorrow
    6. 2. Anticipatory Set: (Reviewing what we know about Freytag’s Plot Mountain with a short quiz).
      1. Students will get blank Freytag’s Plot Mountain worksheet and will have 2-3 minutes to fill it out (see Worksheet #1).
      2. Answers: 1. Exposition; 2. Rising Action; 3. Climax; 4. Falling Action; 5. Denouement
      3. “We reviewed this plot structure because we’re about to learn another one. As we know, Freytag’s Plot Mountain can be easily found in most, if not all, literary works. There is another structure for screenplays and plays. We’re going to learn about that now.”

III. Direct Instruction &

IV. Guided Practice

– Explanation of Six-Stage Plot Structure with Discussion About Lion King :

  1. Pass out Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Plot Structure for Three-Act Works (see Worksheet #2). Inform students that they can use this sheet to take notes on and they should definitely be taking notes because they will be using this information over the next few days and will have a quiz.
  2. “This structure is pretty static across most films. It’s broken up percentage-wise, rather than length, so part like the Change of Plans will occur at about a quarter of the way through the movie in both Lord of the Rings and Lion King. While we learn about this structure, we’ll compare it to Lion King, which most, if not all of you have seen.”
  3. Stage 1: Setup: “Start by drawing a little dotted line at about 10% on the chart. From 0-10%, the story is being set up for us. This part must:
    1. i.     Draw the reader/audience into the setting of the story
    2. ii.     Make the protagonist sympathetic à we need to care”
    3. iii.     ASK: What’s the setting of Lion King? Who is the protagonist? What happens in the first 10% of the story that makes us care about him?
  4. Turning Point #1: The Opportunity: “At the 10% mark, the hero is presented with an opportunity that creates a new desire à motivation to move to a new situation. This starts the character on his/her journey.”
    1. i.     ASK: What is Simba’s “journey” in the film? What is the opportunity that is presented to him that starts his journey?
  5. Stage 2: New Situation: “This part takes place between the 10% and 25% marks of the film. The character reacts to the new situation that results from the opportunity. He/she becomes acclimated to his new surroundings, tries to figure out what’s going on, or formulates a specific plan for accomplishing his/her goal.”
    1. i.     ASK: What is Simba’s new situation? How does he adjust to it?
  6. Turning Point #2: Change of Plans: “This happens ¼ of the way through the story. It transfers the original goal into a clearly defined desire and the character’s motivation is outlined. This is NOT to be confused with the character’s inner journey.”
    1. i.     ASK: How is Simba’s original plan for his life changed? What is his new desire?
  7. Stage 3: Progress: “For the next 25% of the story, the plans of the hero seems to be going his way. That doesn’t mean this part has no conflict, but whatever obstacles he comes across seem to be going his way.”
    1. i.     ASK: What goes Simba’s way in this part of the story?
  8. Turning Point #3: Point of No Return: “This is the exact midpoint of the story and it’s when the hero fully commits to his/her goal. Up until this point, the character still had the option of going back home or turning around, but now it’s no longer an option.”
    1. i.     ASK: What is the point of no return for Simba?
  9. Stage 4: Complications and Higher Stakes: “For the next 25% of the story, accomplishing the goal gets even harder for the character. The tension continues to build and build until it seems the character will succeed.”
    1. i.     ASK: At what point does it seem that Simba will accomplish his goal?
  10. Turning Point #4: Major Setback: “At this point, it seems to the audience that all is lost. In a romantic comedy, the lovers would break up. At this point, the hero must make one last-ditch, do-or-die effort to succeed.”
  11. Stage 5: Final Push: “Hero risks everything he/she has and give his/her all to achieve the goal. The pacing is rapid, conflict is rising, everything works against the hero until . . .”
  12. Turning Point #5: Climax: “Hero faces the biggest obstacle of the entire story, resolves his or her fate, and the outer motivation is achieved.”
  13. Stage 6: Aftermath: “This is the falling action and the denouement from Freytag’s that we know. Often in film it is much, much shorter, depending on how close the climax is towards the end or how much of a dramatic statement the writer wants to make.”

V. Independent Practice

  1. 1. Small Group Application:
    1. a. “Now that we understand Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Three Act Plot Structure, we’re going to work to apply it. You can get into groups of 3-4 people – yes, you may choose who you work with – and between you, pick a movie you’ve all seen.
    2. b. On a piece of paper, you should draw a diagram similar to the handout I’ve given you. You should fill in all eleven parts I’ve told you about: the six stages and the five turning points. Put all group members’ names on the top and hand it in by the end of the class period.”

VI. Closure

  1. 1. Conclusion:
    1. a. “Today we reviewed Freytag’s Plot Mountain. We then learned a bit about Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Plot Structure and we worked to apply it to The Lion King. We also worked in small groups to apply it to other films we’ve seen.
    2. b. Tomorrow, we will be watching Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which is a 40-minute movie. It’s already divided into three acts, so it will be fairly easy to see the plot structure there. But you will have to do another worksheet of the plot structure of this film and we will also have a quiz the next day.”

VII. Required Materials

  1. 1. For this lesson, I will need:
    1. a. Freytag’s Plot Mountain Quiz (Worksheet #1)
    2. b. Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Three-Act Plot Structure Diagram (Worksheet #2)

VIII. Assessment and Follow-Up

  1. 1. Assessment
    1. a. Students will have no assessment on this lesson until the third day.
    2. 2. Follow-Up
      1. a. Students will apply Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Three-Act Plot Structure to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog the following day.

DAY TWO: Watching Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

I. Objectives and Goals

Student Objectives/Outcomes:

  • Students will watch a short film and will be able to identify parts of the Three-Act Plot Structure within it.

Minnesota Academic Standards:

  • I. Reading and Literature (Grades 9-12):
    • D. Literature: The student will actively engage in the reading process and read, understand, respond to, analyze, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate a wide variety of fiction, poetic, and nonfiction texts.
      • 6. Analyze and evaluate the relationship between and among elements of literature: character, setting, plot, tone, symbolism, rising action, climax, falling action, point of view, theme and conflict/resolution.

II. Anticipatory Set

  1. 1. Anticipatory Set:
    1. a. There will be no anticipatory set with this lesson.

III. Direct Instruction

  1. 1. Introduction:
    1. a. “Today we will be watching a short film called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. We will also be working to apply the Six-Stage Three-Act Plot Structure to the film.”
    2. 2. A Little Info About Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog:
      1. a. Was made in 2008 by Joss Whedon during the Writers Guild of America strike.
      2. b. Won many awards:
        1. i. #15 on Time Magazine’s Top 50 Inventions of 2008
        2. ii. People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Online Sensation”
        3. iii. 2009 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
        4. iv. 7 Awards in 2009 Streamy Awards for web television
        5. v. 2009 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class: Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Program
  2. c. First release online as individual episodes (acts) that were about 14 minutes each.
  3. 3. Worksheet:
    1. a. Students will each receive a worksheet that is due at the beginning of the class period the next day. They are likely to finish filling it out during the film, but do not need to (in case they’d rather watch the film first without worrying about homework). See Worksheet #3.
    2. 4. Watch film

IV. Guided Practice

  1. 1. Guided Practice:
    1. a. There is no guided practice in this day’s lesson.

V. Independent Practice

  1. 1. Independent Practice:
    1. a. There is no independent practice in this day’s lesson.

VI. Closure

  1. 1. Conclusion:
    1. a. “Today we watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. As homework, you need to complete the Dr. Horrible worksheet, which is due at the beginning of class tomorrow. We will discuss it briefly, learn a bit about conflict and conflict resolution, and have a short quiz.”

VII. Required Materials and Equipment

  1. 1. For this lesson, I will need:
    1. a. DVD copy of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
    2. b. DVD player
    3. c. Television or projector/screen
    4. d. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Worksheet (Worksheet #3)

VIII. Assessment and Follow-Up

  1. 1. Assessment:
    1. a. Students will fill out the homework sheet
    2. 2. Follow-up:
      1. a. Students will have a short discussion session, followed by a quiz tomorrow.

DAY THREE: Discussion of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog as Applied to the Six-Stage Three-Act Structure of Playwriting/Screenwriting; Conflict and Conflict Resolution

I. Objectives and Goals

Student Outcomes/Objectives:

  • Students will have identified within a common work the parts of the three-act structure.
  • Students will identify four types of conflict within fiction

Minnesota Academic Standards:

  • I. Reading and Literature (Grades 9-12):
    • D. Literature: The student will actively engage in the reading process and read, understand, respond to, analyze, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate a wide variety of fiction, poetic, and nonfiction texts.
      • 6. Analyze and evaluate the relationship between and among elements of literature: character, setting, plot, tone, symbolism, rising action, climax, falling action, point of view, theme and conflict/resolution.
      • 10. Interpret the effect of literary and structural devices.

II. Anticipatory Set

  1. 1. Introduction:
    1. a. Ask students to hand in homework from yesterday
    2. b. Ask what the students thought of the film in general
      1. i. What did they think of the ending?
      2. ii. What did they think of the musical style?
      3. iii. Any general questions to get attention
  2. c. Today, we will:
    1. i. Go through the worksheet answers
    2. ii. Learn about conflict
    3. iii. Have a short quiz about the three-act structure and conflict
    4. 2. Yesterday’s Worksheet
      1. a. We will go through the answers as a large group discussion
      2. 3. Conflict: ASK: What is conflict? Is it good or bad?
        1. a. Student responses should be written on the board.

III. Direct Instruction &

IV. Guided Practice

  1. 1. Body:
    1. a. ASK: What is conflict? Is it good or bad?
      1. i. Write student response
  2. b. Four types of conflict in a story: character vs. character; character vs. self; character vs. nature; character vs. society.
    1. i. Students get comparison/contrast handout (see Worksheet #4)
    2. ii. Students are instructed to fill out the worksheet as the lesson progresses.
    3. iii. CONFLICT: Struggle between two opposing forces
      1. 1. The two opposing forces are listed on the handout
      2. iv. Character v. Character:
        1. 1. Two characters are fighting over something; is most common type of conflict
          1. a. Ex: character A and character B both want to date the same girl; they are fighting over her
        2. 2. ASK: What is an example of a character versus character conflict?
      3. v. Character v. Self:
        1. 1. This is when a character is in conflict with himself over something. Only his own personality is keeping him from achieving the goal. Often character is fighting against his own conscience of beliefs. This is the second most common.
          1. a. Ex: character is really lazy so will have to overcome that to get a job
          2. b. Ex: character is a jerk, so will not get a girlfriend
        2. 2. ASK: What is an example of a character versus self conflict?
      4. vi. Character v. Nature:
        1. 1. The character cannot achieve his goal because of a conflict with the forces of nature. This includes weather and disease
          1. a. Ex: character cannot get to work because of icy conditions
          2. b. Ex: character gets the swine flu and can’t go to work
        2. 2. ASK: What is an example of a character versus nature conflict?
      5. vii. Character v. Society:
        1. 1. The character cannot achieve his goal because the rest of the world has a problem with him. Sometimes the character is an outcast of society or he tries to break a societal rule.
          1. a. Ex: character believes in peace and protests it
        2. 2. ASK: What is an example of a character versus society conflict?

V. Independent Practice

  1. 1. Independent Practice:
    1. a. Students should then work with partners to fill in the worksheet with more examples and round out the definitions.
    2. b. After they work together for two minutes, they should switch partners.
    3. c. After they work together for two minutes, their worksheets should be well fleshed-out.
    4. 2. QUIZ:
      1. a. Students will complete their quiz on the Three-Part Plot Structure, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and the four types of conflict (see Worksheet #4)

VI. Closure

  1. 1. Conclusion:
    1. a. Inform students they will get the quizzes back the following day, along with worksheets.

VII. Required Materials and Equipment

  1. 1. For this lesson, I will need:
    1. a. Comparison/Contrast worksheet (worksheet #4)
    2. b. Quiz (worksheet #5)

VIII. Assessment and Follow-Up

  1. 1. Assessment:
    1. Students will be tested on the information at the conclusion of the unit
    2. 2. Follow-Up:
      1. Conflict will be reviewed at the beginning of the next class period

MATERIALS PREPARED FOR THIS UNIT:

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