The setting of a novel or short story is important, but sometimes students mistakenly ignore the setting if it doesn’t grab them. For instance, dystopian novels force students to consider the setting; the setting requires acknowledgement because it’s different.
All settings matter though – for students to understand characters, they must understand the time periods in which they lived. Sometimes settings serve as more of a motif or symbol (Gatsby, I’m referencing you), and other times the setting is subtle, yet reveals motivation and beliefs (Glass Menagerie).
For those reasons, I’ve compiled a list of free, no (or little!) prep setting activities. Some may fit better with novels and others better with short stories. Adapt as needed!
Here you go:
- Describe the setting from a different point of view. For instance, if the story’s point of view is third person, ask students to describe a setting from a character’s first person point of view. What would that character mention? Does the character enjoy his house? Dislike laws/ societal expectations during the time period?
- Study other literary devices regarding the setting. How does the setting influence the theme? characters? Is a particular setting symbolic? Be sure to note the colors used in a setting.
- Design/ plan a movie set for the story’s setting. Capitalize on students’ strengths for this activity. Students can outline what different scenes would look like, others can research what different areas of a house or a town would look like, and others can research the weather/ climate/ vegetation. (If it’s set in the future, what will the weather be? Why?)
- Write a welcome brochure/ design a town’s website for the main setting. What would the town’s chamber of commerce show off about the town? If someone was buying a house in the story, what would the real estate agent highlight?
- Divide settings among students. Give each group a poster and ask them to draw and describe one setting from the story. Piece the posters together for a visual.
- Find quotes that describe the setting. This is like direct characterization – direct setting quotes from the story. Note what is specifically stated about the setting.
- Find quotes that indirectly describe the setting. This is like indirect characterization – find ways that the author reveals the setting, either through objects, characters’ dialogue, characters’ dress, or events.
- Research a specific part of a setting. What was a typical breakfast for people living during that time period? popular music? Examine what people the ages of your students would be doing. Would they be done with school? married? wearing corsets? at war?
- Compile important local or national events from the setting. Students may grasp the setting better if they understand the historical context. Identify who was president, if a war was happening, and what laws people considered normal. This works well for both the national and local level of stories.
- Recall a children’s story that has a similar setting. This might sound silly, but when I teach a story set in the 1870s, it helps to mention the “Little House on the Prairie” series. Students have a starting point for understanding the setting.
Setting activities come in a variety of forms, and sometimes students need orchestrated lessons to fully grasp the story’s time period, location, and on. For when you need a quick activity to study a novel or short story’s setting, I hope this list inspires something for your students.