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Is my child behind in developing Narrative Skills?

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

· Does your child struggle to tell you what happened earlier in their day?

· Is it difficult for your child to re-tell you the story from their favourite book?

· Do your child’s stories seem jumbled, confusing, hard-to-follow, or missing key parts?

Your child may benefit from speech therapy to improve their Narrative Skills.

narrative skills

What are Narrative Skills?

Narrative skills refer to the ability of a child to tell a story. This can be a re-telling of a story from a book they read, a description of something that happened to them or to someone else at school, or a made-up story they created.

Typical stories we read to our children are made up of two parts: 1. Macrostructure

2. Microstructure

The Macrostructure refers to the Story Grammar elements. These elements are the hierarchy of the events in the story, the framework of the story. The Story Grammar elements of a complete story are:

narrative speech therapy

· Character (who is the story about)

· Setting (where does the story take place)

· Initiating event (e.g., a problem, or something that kicks-off the story)

· Feelings (a response to the event)

· Plan (a character’s decision to act in response to the event)

· Actions (what the character does)

· Consequence/end (a resolution or outcome).

These are the parts of the story that we expect children to understand when hearing or reading the story. These are the same parts we expect them to use themselves when re-telling or making-up a story.

The Microstructure enriches the story and makes it more sophisticated. It includes words that:

· link cause and effect (e.g., ‘because’, ‘but’)

· link events in time (e.g., ‘when’, ‘then’, ‘after’)

· represent dialogue (e.g., ‘said’, ‘asked’)

· indicate mental-state (e.g., ‘thought’, ‘wanted’, ‘decided’)

· describe feelings (e.g., ‘frustrated’, ‘afraid’)

· describe actions and nouns (e.g., ‘quickly’, ‘quietly’, ‘huge’, ‘beautiful’).

Inclusion of these words increases the sentence complexity and the vocabulary variety the child uses.

speech therapist narratives

Why are Narrative Skills important?

Narratives are a big part of our day to day conversations from an early age. They are important for developing friendships and relationships. And yet, narratives include a lot more complex language than a child would use in a simple back and forth conversation – consider all the microstructure pieces you read above!

Studies found that good narrative skills at preschool and early elementary school years are predictive of literacy and reading comprehension later in life. Studies have also demonstrated that we can create meaningful improvement in Narrative Skills as early as preschool with the right intervention.

Children with language disorders produce shorter or simpler narratives, with simpler sentences, less diverse vocabulary, incorrect story structure, and fewer explanations of cause and effect. Children with language disorders also have difficulty answering questions relating to story events (e.g., “Who was this story about?” “What problem did he or she have?” “How did he or she feel about his or her problem?” “What did he or she do to fix his or her problem”).

narrative speech therapy assessment

How can Narrative Skills be assessed?

An evaluation of a child’s narrative skills typically involves:

a) listening to a story with pictures told by the instructor

b) re-telling the story using the same pictures

c) re-telling the same story without picture support

d) creating a story using a word-less picture book.

Other areas to be evaluated are sequencing pictures into a logical order (i.e., can the child understand the logical order of events in a picture), describing a picture sequence (i.e., does the child have sufficient language to describe very simply concrete picture sequence), and answering questions about a story that relate to story events (e.g., who was the story about, what was the problem, what did they do).

The child’s story productions would be assessed for both the Macrostructure and Microstructure.

speech therapy books

A successful intervention for narrative skills should include:

· Explicitly teaching the meaning of each Story Grammar element

· Modelling and teaching specific words to connect story sequence (e.g., because, after, suddenly), to signal character feelings and dialogue.

· Putting story pictures or events in order of occurrence

· Assisted re-telling using Story Grammar cards, story pictures, props, or role-play

· Identifying Story Grammar elements in the story

· Determining missing events in stories

· Answering questions about the story related to the Story Grammar elements

· Repeated practice re-telling of stories with decreasing supports and increasing independence

· Opportunities to create your own story

· 2-4 sessions/week of 20-45 minutes in length (this can be a combination of professional speech therapy and home practice)


Heilmann, John, et al. "Properties of the narrative scoring scheme using narrative retells in young school-age children." American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (2010).

Petersen, Douglas B., Sandra Laing Gillam, and Ronald B. Gillam. "Emerging procedures in narrative assessment: The index of narrative complexity." Topics in language disorders 28.2 (2008): 115-130.

Petersen, Douglas B., and Trina D. Spencer. "The narrative language measures: Tools for language screening, progress monitoring, and intervention planning." Perspectives on Language Learning and Education 19.4 (2012): 119-129.

Gillam, Sandra Laing, et al. "Monitoring indicators of scholarly language: A progress-monitoring instrument for measuring narrative discourse skills." Communication Disorders Quarterly 38.2 (2017): 96-106.

Petersen, Douglas B. "A systematic review of narrative-based language intervention with children who have language impairment." Communication Disorders Quarterly 32.4 (2011): 207-220.

Spencer, Trina D., and Douglas B. Petersen. "Bridging oral and written language: An oral narrative language intervention study with writing outcomes." Language, speech, and hearing services in schools 49.3 (2018): 569-581.

Miller, Rhonda D., Vivian I. Correa, and Antonis Katsiyannis. "Effects of a story grammar intervention with repeated retells for english learners with language impairments." Communication Disorders Quarterly 40.1 (2018): 15-27.

Gillam, Sandra L., et al. "Improving narrative production in children with language disorders: An early-stage efficacy study of a narrative intervention program." Language, speech, and hearing services in schools 49.2 (2018): 197-212.

Spencer, Trina D., et al. "Effects of an individualized narrative intervention on children’s storytelling and comprehension skills." Journal of Early Intervention 35.3 (2013): 243-269.

Favot, Kate, Mark Carter, and Jennifer Stephenson. "The effects of oral narrative intervention on the personal narratives of children with ASD and severe language impairment: A pilot study." International Journal of Disability, Development and Education 66.5 (2019): 492-509.

Petersen, Douglas B., and Trina D. Spencer. "Using narrative intervention to accelerate canonical story grammar and complex language growth in culturally diverse preschoolers." Topics in Language Disorders 36.1 (2016): 6-19.

Stein, Nancy L., and Christine G. Glenn. "An Analysis of Story Comprehension in Elementary School Children: A Test of a Schema." (1975).

Catts, Hugh W., et al. "A longitudinal investigation of reading outcomes in children with language impairments." Journal of speech, Language, and hearing Research (2002).

McCabe, Allyssa, and Pamela Rosenthal Rollins. "Assessment of preschool narrative skills." American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 3.1 (1994): 45-56.

Wellman, Rachel L., et al. "Narrative ability of children with speech sound disorders and the prediction of later literacy skills." Language, speech, and hearing services in schools (2011).

Colozzo, Paola, et al. "Content and form in the narratives of children with specific language impairment." Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research (2011).

Banney, Rebecca M., Keely Harper-Hill, and Wendy L. Arnott. "The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and narrative assessment: Evidence for specific narrative impairments in autism spectrum disorders." International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 17.2 (2015): 159-171.

Favot, Kate, Mark Carter, and Jennifer Stephenson. "The effects of oral narrative intervention on the personal narratives of children with ASD and severe language impairment: A pilot study." International Journal of Disability, Development and Education 66.5 (2019): 492-509.

_________________________________________________________________________________Andalusia Speech Therapy has two Toronto speech therapy clinics and offers speech teletherapy to anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.

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