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This Week’s Episode: How to Target Narrative Generation

Evidence shows that using literacy-based therapy to target narratives with preschoolers not only makes sense, but it really helps to set them up for literacy success in the future. Which brings us to this month’s focus: embedding narrative-based skills. Last week we focused on answering questions, sequencing, describing, and story retell with our preschoolers.  As I was digging through the research, I was more and more convinced that story retell is something that makes sense to work towards!

This week we’re going to use explicit instruction to target answering questions about story grammar elements, practice retelling the story, and then work on narrative generation with our early elementary students.  We are going to target those skills by reading A Camping Spree with Mr. McGee and provide visual support with our story grammar organizer. 🏕

Let’s get to it!

Strategies + Tips Discussed

Gillam et al. (2014) say that, “Narrative instruction should include explicit teaching of story grammar elements using graphic organizers and, or visual cues.”

– Book Walk: Use a story grammar organizer and Inferential questions about what may happen in the story
– Story Comprehension: Use Literal WH questions after the story is read. You can use that story grammar organizer again. It provides a clear framework for the student to follow!
– Focused Skill Activities: Retell the story by identifying the story grammar elements: “If students can identify story grammar elements in stories, that has been shown to yield improvements in complexity and content of oral narratives. ”  Hayward & Schneider in 2000
– Model the story grammar elements and use visual supports. Ask the student to help identify the story grammar element but purposefully leave out one of the elements.
– Parellel Story: Use a fresh graphic organizer and have the student create their own story


Adlof, S. M., McLeod, A., & Leftwich, B. (2014). Structured narrative retell instruction for young children from low socioeconomic backgrounds: A preliminary study of feasibility. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 391.

Gillam, S. L., Olszewski, A., Fargo, J., & Gillam, R. B. (2014). Classroom-based narrative and vocabulary instruction: Results of an early-stage, nonrandomized comparison study. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 204–219.

Hayward, D., & Schneider, P. (2000). Effectiveness of teaching story grammar knowledge to pre-school children with language impairment: An exploratory study. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 16, 255–284.

Paris, A. H., & Paris, S. G. (2007). Teaching narrative comprehension strategies to first graders. Cognition and Instruction, 25(1), 1–44.

Swanson, L. A., Fey, M. E., Mills, C. E., & Hood, L. S. (2005). Use of narrative-based language intervention with children who have specific language impairment. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 14, 131–143.

Here’s what we discussed:

[03:07] Therapy Ideas for Step 1 (Pre-Story Knowledge Activation)
[06:20] Therapy Ideas for Step 2 (Reading)
[06:35] Therapy Ideas for Step 3 (Post Story Comprehension)
[07:16] Therapy Ideas for Step 4 (Skill Practice)
[10:40] Therapy Ideas for Step 5 (Parallel Story)

Want to hear more about this topic? Click here to see this month’s content!

Links Mentioned

The SLP Now One-Page Literacy-Based Therapy Unit Planner
A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee
SLP Now Membership – Our Book Activities include vocabulary cards, a story map, and WH question cards with multiple choice picture cues.
May Therapy Plans

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Let's dive into some therapy plans for our early elementary students. This week we're focusing on narratives. So, a little bit of background. Last week we talked about how it could be appropriate to target these skills with preschoolers, and it's especially, especially appropriate with our early elementary students. I wanted to share a little bit of the rationale and some of the evidence behind that. Explicit instruction on story grammar elements provides students with, or children, with a framework and it giving them that explicit instruction makes language learning tasks less demanding, more meaningful, more authentic. And the Paris & Paris article from 2007 shows that teaching story grammar enhances student comprehension, and it's a really meaningful context for therapy. So this comes from the Adlof et al. from 2014, but, "Focusing on narratives during oral language intervention provides a medium for clinicians to target both lower and higher-level language skills simultaneously."
So we've got lots of meaningful outcomes that we can generate when we're targeting narratives, and using story grammar, and all of those elements. And then to take it one step further, so this is from Swanson et al., 2005, but they said that teaching story grammar in the context of authentic stories, like books or fiction articles, which is what we're talking about this month, that yielded clinically significant improvements in students' oral narratives. So there's lots of benefits to using this approach. So hopefully you're convinced.
Some potential goals that we could be targeting throughout this unit related to narratives are answering questions about story grammar elements, retelling a story including story grammar elements, or generating a narrative. So we've got answering questions, story retell, narrative generation. So those are some of the different skills that we'll be talking about throughout the unit.
The book that we're using is, A Camping Spree with Mr. Mcgee. So this is a story about Mr. Mcgee and his dog and they go on a camping trip, but unfortunately they land their little camper ends up in the water and that's a problem that they get to solve. But it's a very sweet story. Perfect for this time of year. So, let's dive into the actual unit.
Our first step is pre-story knowledge. I like to start with a book walk. We would look at the cover, we would flip through some of the pages, and by doing that, I get a good idea of how much the students know about the topic. Have they ever been camping? Do they have trouble describing what's on the pages or, sorry, nice steady stream of language? That can give me an indication of whether we should do additional background like pre-story knowledge activities.
So if they're not familiar with camping, if they're struggling with that vocabulary, we might do a virtual field trip and watch a YouTube video about a kid who goes camping, or I'd take a tour of a camper, or whatever it may be. Whatever ... I just use my clinical judgment here to decide what areas students need additional exposure and information in. So once we do that or if they are all avid campers, they've got great vocabulary around it, then we can dive into the graphic organizer. So before we dive into that how to use ... Because this is the first super narrative-based activity that I'll be mentioning, I want to back up a second and talk about some of the research behind why I'm setting things up the way that I am.
The first thing is that I use visual supports. Gillum et al. in 2014, they indicate that, "Narrative instruction should include explicit teaching of story grammar elements using graphic organizers and, or visual cues." So we're going to include explicit instruction of the story grammar elements, and then we'll also use graphic organizers and visual cues. The use of the visuals and graphic organizers was also supported by Paris & Paris in 2007, and they indicate that that enhances student comprehension.
I have two other strategies, but I think we'll save those until we get to step four. But just to give students an opportunity to get explicit teaching of those story grammar elements and to include that graphic organizer in the visual cues, I have a story grammar poster and after we do the book walk and the pre-story knowledge activation activities, I like to have students take their best guess and try and fill in the story grammar organizer. And if they need explicit teaching of what the characters, and the setting, and all of that, if they need explicit teaching of those elements, then I will do that at that time, but we can fill in and make some inferences about the story.
So, after looking at the cover, we see Mr. Mcgee and his dog, so it's pretty easy to infer who the characters are by looking at a couple of pictures. We can infer the setting by looking at a couple of pictures. We can infer the initiating event, and the plan, and all of that. I think that's a really great opportunity to give students a little bit of a framework on what's happening and just to solidify all of the pre-story knowledge stuff that we talked about.
Then for step two, we'd go through and read the story. This is definitely the shortest and simplest step of the framework. It's pretty quick.
And then for step three, we would dive into some story comprehension. So typically, I include depending on the student's needs, we'll have just literal questions, maybe some inferential questions, but one other thing that I really like to do is ask questions about story grammar. So, I would pull out that framework again, that graphic organizer. I have lots of copies. I just have multiple copies running. I keep the pre-story one and then just grab a fresh one for the actual story, and then I'll ask them, "So who was it about?" and, "What was the setting?" We'll go through and answer that was comprehension questions related to story grammar.
Then when we get to step four for the focus skill activities, of course, this is also where we target grammar, and vocabulary, and all of that. If you're wondering about strategies for those units, check out past episodes where we shared tons of strategies just for the general literacy-based therapy framework, as well as grammar and vocabulary. But today, we'll just be talking about what we can do with narratives.
Some other strategies supported in the literature are identifying story grammar. "If students can identify story grammar elements in stories, that has been shown to yield improvements in complexity and content of oral narratives." That was from Hayward & Schneider in 2000. Hayward & Schneider also found that identifying missing elements in stories yielded improvements in student narratives.
So that gives us some ideas of what we could potentially try in our therapy session to help our students with narratives. As we're retelling the stories, and we talked about using visuals and the graphic organizer, so in step three they answered those questions and we probably filled them into the story grammar organizer.
And then in step four, we can work on retelling the story. I've done this a number of ways, but I typically do a model first, I point to the visuals and go through, and then I give the students an opportunity to practice retelling the story as well. If we were targeting grammar and vocabulary, we'd probably do those things first so they can embed those skills into their narratives.
But then we would ... I think this is a really cool way to identify missing elements. So I might do a model myself and I would have them check off and make sure that I'm including all of the elements that we need, and then I might do like the perfect version first and then, okay, let me try it again. And then I might go through and tell the story, but I might leave out one of the elements. Then they would have to ... Or maybe I'd try it with the visuals first and then I'd put the visuals away and like, "Okay, help me make sure that I include all the elements," and then I might leave out the setting, for example, and then the students can help me identify, "Oh, you left out the setting." And then that'll be a way to include them in it. Then the members in the group can take turns retelling the story and we would gradually fade the use of those visuals.
So, at this point they've gotten lots, and lots, and lots of exposure to the story and then I would obviously provide the visual support as needed, and then also verbal prompts and whatnot. But I would have the student retell the story and over multiple attempts, I would just decrease that support. So by the end, the students are all retelling the story on their own with as little support as possible. That might have to be adjusted for different students, but then they can listen to each other's stories and identify any missing elements and give each other feedback. Then it just becomes, it makes it fun, it keeps everyone engaged versus, "Oh, Johnny is telling his story now, so I'm not going to listen," but it keeps them engaged and it gives them more and more meaningful exposures.
So that's what we would do for step four. And then first step five, we get to jump into story generation. So we've done lots and lots of practice with story retell, but for step five, they get the opportunity to generate a parallel story. So we pull out a fresh graphic organizer. We can review all of the story grammar elements. If they don't need the visuals anymore, I'll just hide those, and then we can come up with our own story. And depending on the student's level, if they need a lot of support, we probably would just do one story as a group, come up with a story, fill in the organizer, and use the same kind of structure that I talked about in step four or if they're more independent, I might just do like round-robin where they can each tell their own story and just adjust the activity based on the level of support that they need.
So, yeah, that is our framework, and next week we will be talking about how to use a fiction article to work on narratives.


Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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