SETTING:  A Sense of Time and Place

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SETTING in literature is considered to be the environment in which a story takes place. TIME and PLACE are the most common elements but some people consider SOCIAL or CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS a factor of Setting as well. For example, in a story about a family singing songs around a decorated tree in December, the Christmas celebration is part of the Setting.

HOW MUCH DOES SETTING MATTER IN FICTION?

It depends on the story. Many fairy tales are vaguely set “long ago and far away.” A classic children’s tale like Winnie the Pooh is set in a very specific place, but could occur at almost any time in history or in the present.

But sometimes the setting is integral to the story.  Just ask the student at the right, who legitimately asked what other setting could there be for a story about a shark?  (BTW, See also Asking Better Questions.)

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Erin Thomas’s HIP novels ROLLER COASTER and OVERBOARD have quite different settings:  an amusement park and the Caribbean sea. But they have a couple of important things in common:  both are places for fun and recreation that turn into dangerous surroundings for the protagonists.

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Author Erin Thomas talks about how she creates "a sense of place" in her books.

TEACHING ABOUT SETTING

Three key questions about setting are:

  • What are the time and place (and cultural environment) in which this story is set?
  • What details from the story describe the setting?
  • Is the setting important to this story? Why or why not?

Provide students with a graphic organizer like the one on the right to record the details about the setting of a particular story and their thoughts on its importance to the story.

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amusement-park-map-from-roller-coaster

Sometimes characters move from place to place in a story. The image on the left is an artist’s rendition of the amusement park from the Roller Coaster Teacher’s Guide in which students are asked to identify the attractions named in the story and map the characters’ movements as they race through the park.

Students might also be asked to sketch their own maps.

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