Setting & Context Tips in Literature Teaching
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Define the setting and context
  2. How to identify the setting and context
  3. Why setting and context matter
  4. How to teach setting and context
  5. Activities for teaching setting and context
  6. Context in different genres of literature
  7. How to assess understanding of setting and context
  8. Resources for teaching setting and context

As someone who teaches literature, you know how magical it can be when students fully grasp the concept of setting and context. It's like watching a light bulb switch on in their minds as they start to see the bigger picture of the story and how all the elements work together. So, how do we as educators effectively teach setting and context in literature? That's what we're going to explore today. Let's dive in.

Define the setting and context

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of teaching, let's make sure we're all on the same page about what setting and context are in literature.

Setting is the time and place where a story happens. It's not just about the physical location—like a haunted house or a bustling city—but also the time period, like the roaring '20s or the distant future. Setting can influence the characters, plot, and theme in a story. For example, a story set in a small, close-knit community could have themes of belonging and togetherness. Or, a story set in a harsh, barren desert could have characters struggling with survival and isolation.

Now, let's talk about context. In literature, context refers to the circumstances or background that help us understand a story better. It might be the historical events happening at the time the story is set, or the author's personal experiences and beliefs. For example, knowing that a book was written during the civil rights movement can shed light on its themes of racial equality and justice. Similarly, knowing that an author was an environmental activist can help us understand why their story focuses on nature and conservation.

Teaching setting and context in literature isn't just about pointing out where and when a story takes place. It's about helping students see how these elements shape the story and its meaning. Once students understand this, they'll be able to appreciate the richness and complexity of the stories they read. Stay tuned for tips on how to teach setting and context effectively.

How to identify the setting and context

Identifying the setting and context in a story isn't always straightforward. Sometimes, authors spell it out clearly. Other times, you have to piece it together from clues in the text. Here are some strategies to help you and your students spot the setting and context in the stories you read.

First, look for descriptions of places and times. Is the story set in a bustling city or a quiet village? Does it take place in the present, the past, or the future? The answers to these questions can give you a clue about the setting. But remember, the setting isn't just about the physical location and time period. It's also about the social and cultural environment. So, look for clues about the customs, values, and attitudes of the characters and their society.

Next, pay attention to historical references. Does the story mention real-life events, people, or ideas from history? These clues can help you figure out the context. For example, if a story mentions the Great Depression, it's not just telling you when the story is set. It's also hinting at the economic hardship and social upheaval that form the background of the story.

Finally, don't forget to consider the author's background. Authors often draw on their own experiences and beliefs when they write. So, knowing something about the author can give you insights into the context of their work. For instance, if the author grew up in a small town, they might write stories that capture the rhythms and relationships of small-town life.

Identifying the setting and context takes a bit of detective work. But with practice, you and your students will get the hang of it. And once you do, you'll find that it adds a whole new dimension to your understanding and enjoyment of literature.

Why setting and context matter

So, you now know how to identify the setting and context in literature. But why does it matter? Why should you spend time teaching this to your students? Well, the setting and context are more than just a backdrop for the story. They are key elements that can shape the characters, the plot, and the themes of the story. Let's explore this a bit more.

Setting influences characters and plot. The environment in which a story takes place can shape the characters' personalities, decisions, and actions. For example, a character living in a war-torn country will likely make different choices than one living in a peaceful suburb. Similarly, the plot of a story set in a busy city will differ vastly from one set in a deserted island.

Context provides depth to the story. Knowing the context of a story helps us understand the motivations and actions of the characters. It also allows us to appreciate the themes and messages of the story more deeply. For instance, knowing the context of societal norms during the Victorian Era can help us better understand the struggles faced by characters in a novel set in that time period.

Setting and context make literature relatable. When we read about settings and contexts that we are familiar with, it makes the story more relatable and engaging. On the other hand, exploring unfamiliar settings and contexts can broaden our horizons and increase our empathy for others.

So, you see, setting and context aren't just minor details. They're crucial pieces of the puzzle that, when put together, make a story come alive. Teaching setting and context in literature is a great way to enhance your students' reading experience and help them appreciate the richness and complexity of literary works.

How to teach setting and context

Teaching setting and context in literature can sometimes feel like a daunting task, but trust me, it doesn't have to be. Here are some strategies you can use to make this process more efficient and enjoyable.

Use Visual Aids: A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Try using images, maps, or even videos to depict the setting of a story. This can help students visualize the environment and enhance their understanding.

Make Connections: Encourage students to connect the setting and context with their own experiences. This can make the learning process more personal and engaging. For example, if a story is set in a rural area, students who have visited or lived in similar environments can share their experiences.

Explore the Five W's: Who, What, When, Where, Why. These questions can guide students in identifying and understanding the setting and context. For instance, 'where' refers to the location, 'when' denotes the time period, 'who' can relate to the society or culture, 'what' can be the historical events taking place, and 'why' speaks on why the author chose this particular setting or context.

Dive into Discussions: Discussions can be a powerful tool in teaching setting and context. Pose open-ended questions that prompt students to think deeply about the setting and context and how they influence the story.

Use Literature Excerpts: Provide students with excerpts from literature where the setting and context are prominent. Ask them to identify and analyze these elements. This will give them practical experience and deepen their understanding.

Remember, the goal of teaching setting and context in literature is not just about identifying these elements but understanding their significance in the story. So, make sure that your teaching strategies focus on both these aspects.

Activities for teaching setting and context

Now that we know some strategies to teach setting and context in literature, let's dive into some fun, hands-on activities to reinforce these concepts.

Setting Picture Books: Ask students to create their own picture books. They can choose a story they like and illustrate the setting and context. This activity not only fosters creativity but also helps them understand these elements in a fun, engaging way.

Role Play: Role-playing can be a fun and interactive way to teach setting and context. Assign different roles to students based on the story's setting and context. This way, they can walk in the shoes of the characters and understand their surroundings and circumstances better.

Time Travel Journal: Ask students to imagine they have traveled back in time to the setting of the story. They can write a journal entry describing the place, the events happening around them, and how they feel. This activity can help them connect with the setting and context on a deeper level.

Setting Collage: Students can make a collage that represents the setting of a story. They can use pictures from magazines, newspapers, or even draw their own. This visual representation can aid in understanding and remembering the setting and context.

Context Quiz: Create a quiz that tests the students' understanding of the setting and context. This can be a fun way to review these elements and identify areas where they might need more practice.

Remember, the key to effective learning is making it fun and engaging. So, don't hesitate to get creative with your activities to teach setting and context in literature!

Context in different genres of literature

When you teach setting and context in literature, it's important to remember that different genres often have different norms and conventions. Let's take a look at how context can be different in various genres.

Mystery: In a mystery novel, the setting and context are often filled with suspense and intrigue. The setting could be a haunted mansion or a quiet, seemingly innocent town, with a context that involves a puzzling crime or unexplained events. Here, the context often includes clues and red herrings to keep readers guessing.

Science Fiction: In science fiction, the setting is typically a futuristic or alternate universe, and the context often involves advanced technology, space exploration, or alien civilizations. The setting and context in these stories often raise questions about humanity, technology and the future.

Historical Fiction: The setting in historical fiction is a specific historical period, and the context often includes real historical events. The author might, for example, set the story during the Civil War, creating a context that involves the struggles and experiences of that time.

Romance: A romance novel might be set in a small town, a bustling city, or even a historical period. The context often involves personal growth, emotional development, and of course, love and relationships.

Teaching setting and context in literature becomes more interesting and complex as we delve into different genres. By understanding these differences, you can guide your students to a richer and deeper understanding of literature.

How to assess understanding of setting and context

Assessing your students' understanding of setting and context in literature can be a bit challenging. Here are some strategies you can use:

Discussion: Encourage your students to participate in class discussions about the setting and context of the books they read. Are they able to identify the time and place of the story? Can they discuss the social, cultural, and political context? This can be a good way to gauge their understanding.

Writing Assignments: Ask your students to write a short essay or a paragraph about the setting and context of a particular book. This can give you a clear idea of their understanding. You can ask them to describe the setting in detail, or discuss how the context influences the characters and plot.

Quizzes and Tests: Include questions about setting and context in your quizzes and tests. These can be multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blank questions, or short answer questions. This is a direct way to assess their knowledge.

Presentations: Have your students prepare a presentation on the setting and context of a book. This not only tests their understanding, but also helps them build their presentation skills.

Remember, the goal is to teach setting and context in literature in a way that helps your students connect with the story, understand the characters better, and appreciate the complexity of the plot.

Resources for teaching setting and context

When it comes to teaching setting and context in literature, having the right resources can make all the difference. Here are some resources that can help you in your teaching journey:

Textbooks: There are numerous textbooks available that focus on teaching literature. They can provide a solid foundation for teaching setting and context. Examples include "Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing" by Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig, and "The Norton Introduction to Literature" by Kelly J Mays.

Online Teaching Platforms: Platforms like TeachersPayTeachers and Edmodo offer a variety of resources, from lesson plans to worksheets. You can find a treasure trove of materials specifically designed to teach setting and context.

Teaching Guides: Many classic and contemporary books come with teaching guides that include discussion on setting and context. For instance, Scholastic’s teaching guides include these details for numerous books.

Educational Websites: Websites like ReadWriteThink and Web English Teacher have resources dedicated to teaching literature, including setting and context. They offer plans, activities, and strategies that you can employ.

Workshops and Webinars: Keep an eye out for professional development opportunities. Workshops and webinars can offer new strategies and resources for teaching setting and context in literature.

Remember, the best resources are those that will engage your students and enable them to grasp the concepts of setting and context in a way that enhances their overall understanding and appreciation of literature.

If you're looking for more ideas and techniques on setting and context in literature teaching, check out the workshop 'Visual Development for Fantasy World-Building' by Kit Buss. Although this workshop focuses on the visual development of fantasy worlds, the principles and concepts can be applied to teaching literature as well. These insights will help you create more engaging and immersive lessons for your students.