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.
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
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:
· 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.
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”).
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.