A setting box is a visual display of the place a story happens. It helps kids understand what a story’s setting means, the place and time a story happens. Setting is a story element that really drives a story. Think of how different Cinderella would be if you set the story in another time and place, perhaps today in New York City or on a Mars colony in 2085.
Recently I had both of my big kids make double setting boxes for a book project. We read a book from one of our favorite young reader series, the Magic Tree House. I saw a perfect opportunity to teach them more about settings because of the unique way these stories are set.
Each of the Magic Tree House books begins in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, in the tree house nearby the kids’ home. It doesn’t take long though before they are magically transported to another far off place and time. These stories, and many others, have a setting within a setting.
To illustrate this, we made double setting boxes. The outside of the shoe box shows the tree house in Pennsylvania.
When you open the box you are in a new setting. In this case, the Egyptian desert.
We went on to discuss how stories don’t always happen in one simple place and one simple time. Often the setting drives the character to action somehow, or helps them grow. The setting can drive the storyline as well. Especially at times when the going was tough, or places that were particularly difficult, you can witness changes in the characters of the stories you read because of the harsh settings they found themselves in.
The next logical step is reminding kids to really consider interesting settings within their writing. Ask them to revisit something they’ve previously written and take a look at how a different setting might have steered their story in a new direction. It may even spark a new story.