Narrative Structure Basics

Narrative structure is the typical flow or schematic of a story. Most oral language and written stories follow a similar pattern. This pattern may also be called story grammar or story structure. They all mean the same thing!

Why is story grammar SO important?

Understanding this pattern is very important for our oral language abilities (ability to tell a coherent story), for our ability to understand oral and written stories, and our ability to write a good story.

Through my clinical practice, I now believe this skill might be the most important for academic success!

Story Grammar and Language Delays

Children with language delays often have an incomplete mental schema of story structure. This can create many problems for learning in school, ability to participate in conversations, and ability to tell stories. 

For example, if a child does not have a solid grasp on story structure, he or she has less resources to learn new vocabulary, understand deeper language themes, and/or even remember the story.

How Do Young Children Learn Story Grammar?

Most children do not need to be directly taught narrative structure at a young age. After hearing many stories, they naturally start to form the structure themselves.

When they reach elementary school, they are ready to directly learn it. They are primed and ready to go! All they need is words to be paired with what they already know. 

However, children who have more difficulty learning language commonly do not pick up on story grammar indirectly. One red flag is their storytelling abilities. Their stories tend to be disjointed, start in the middle, or do not end properly.  These children NEED extra practice.

Click here for narrative structure activities for children under 5.

For children over 5 , check out these narrative activities. 

Narrative Structure Components

Setting

  1. Time
  2. Place
  3. Characters

Plot

  1. Initiating event/Problem
  2. Reaction
  3. Attempts to Solve

Resolution

  1. Ending
  2. Feelings

This is a bit dry if you ask me, I am going to teach you an easier way to remember and teach story grammar.

My Therapy Techniques For Story Grammar

Here is my way to remember and teach story grammar while reading books:

Setting:

  1. Who: Who is in the story?
  2. When: When does the story take place?
  3. Where: Where does the story take place?

I will ask these questions as we read a story or play house/farm/school, etc...

Plot

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. How are they going to fix it? What’s the plan?
  3. Attempt 1
  4. Attempt 2
  5. Attempt 3 and so on

The key is to identify the problem with a "what" question. With my older kids, I like to "predict" what is going to happen. 

Ending

  1. What happened at the end?
  2. How do the characters feel?

Therapy techniques to teach story grammar while retelling stories:

VISUALS VISUAL VISUALS!

  1. Have a child or student tell a story and mark down what components he/she has.
  2. Next, take some time planning and create visuals that the student can understand that represents each component (setting, initiating event, etc...)
  3. Next session, talk about each visual and retell a story while showing the visuals.
  4. Next, read a story and pair the story grammar with the visuals
  5. Hopefully, the student is making a representation between the visuals and story grammar.
  6. NOW, have your child retell a story. Either, give a visual when a component has been used or point to the component as the child retells a story. This is a learning curve and will completely depend on your child and their progress. 

Good luck practicing!

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Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference.

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