Subplot has always been a difficult thing to teach. Really, it is a difficult thing for anyone to understand, and making it concrete for kids has proven to be a struggle. However, today I used Voices in the Park, a picture book written by Anthony Browne, in order to teach it. In the story, Browne tells a similar tale from four different perspectives: a mother and her son, and then a father and his daughter.
Each perspective recounts similar events including walking to the park, playing at the park, and eventually leaving the park. Even some of the events within the park are similar, showing overlaps in the plot.
I sent the kids an iCardSort with four mini plot maps, each representing the different trajectories of the four different stories. We began by reading the first voice, in which the mother discusses her walk to the park with her son. I reread the first voice, as there were some vague points within the story, and the I moved onto the second voice, the father. When I had finished reading the father’s point of view, I allowed the kids to then merge the two plot lines into one story. The great part about this was that it was definitely open to interpretation. There were not precise places for the cards; rather, they had approximate places where the kids could place them, leaving everyone feeling successful and all students understanding the idea of multiple plot lines within a story.
As we continued, the kids began to merge all four plot lines into one lengthy one. The colored nature of the cards allowed them to see how four stories combined to form one long story, all tied to a similar theme of friendship.
Using a concrete activity to make this abstract idea tangible made the students entirely successful today. I would definitely recommend trying it out in your classroom!