Telling Stories: Encouraging Oral and Written Narration
Ruth Jones, M.S., CCC-SLP
What Is Narration, and Why Is It Important?
Narration is storytelling. It is one of several types of communication used daily as we interact with one another. Other types of communication include telling another person what to do or how to do it, asking for information, or clarifying information. This article will focus on the important of storytelling (narration) and how parents can help their children develop this skill.
Narration takes many forms. I speaking, it may be the professional storyteller who spins a good tale, perhaps a fable, a fairy tale, or a legend. In the figurative sense, it may be a lie told to keep the teller “out of trouble.” But most often it is used to relate the events and activities of our lives to each other. In writing, narration is their framework for the stories and books children listen to, read, or write at home and in school.
Many children with language delays or learning disabilities do not learn to use the rules of narration for speaking listening, reading, or writing. As a result, their oral and written stories are often confusing to their parents, teachers, and friends.
What Are the Rules of Narration?
Fortunately it is not difficult to understand the rules of narration because you already use these rules daily. With a few new ideas and a little practice, you can help your child understand and use the rules of narration with relative ease. Begin by focusing on the basic parts of narration rules as you talk with your child. As your child gets older and is assigned to write stories for schoolwork, you can expand on the basic narration rules to meet your child’s new needs.
At the simplest level, all narrations or stories have:
- A beginning. The beginning must include:
oWho is involved in the story
oWhat is the action of the story
oWhere the story takes place
oWhen it takes place
- A middle. The action of the story tells:
oAnd then what happened
oAnd then what happened (usually the action is told in order from the first event to the last event)
- An End. This explains how the story finished.
You can use this “story frame” to help your child practice storytelling.
What Are Some Activities You Can Do to Help Your Child Develop Storytelling Skills?
Understanding Story Rules
Using the story frame above, you can focus first on helping your child understand narration rules by modeling stories (that is, telling stories to the child). Here are a few ideas which are fun and simple to use.
- Tell “stories” about your day. Initially keep the stories short and simple. As your child begins to tell simple stories, you can expand the stories, making them longer and more complex.
- Tell short stories about single pictures. Show the child a picture and create a short story about the picture.
- Simplify stories found in books to make them shorter, easier, and more fun for the child.
Using Story Rules
As your child becomes interested in the stories you model, your child will be encouraged to use narration rules.
- Encourage your child to retell a story you told first. If your child cannot tell the story independently, you can lead the child through the story by asking questions from the story frame discussed earlier. To help the child tell the events of the story in order, start the child with the first event, then ask, “And then what happened?” To help the child end the story, ask, “How did the story end?”
- Encourage your child to tell stories about their day’s events. If the child has difficulty telling the story in an organized manner or omits some important information, use the questions from the story frame to help fill in missing information.
- Play with your child. Play activities are an important part of every child’s day. You can use play to encourage your child to tell stories about what is happening. If, for example, you and your child are playing with a farmer, barn, and several bam animals, you can act out and tell a story.
- Use books without words to encourage your child to tell stories. These books are fun because there is no “right way” to tell the story (that is, the author did not provide the words for the stories).
- Play storytelling games with your child. Discuss the basic rules of story telling, and make a 3” by 5” cue card outlining the parts of the story and the associated questions listed in the story frame above (“who,” “where,” “when,” “what happened”). Tell stories that are missing information or are mixed up, and let your child identify the errors. (Children love to catch their parents making mistakes!) As your child tells you stories, you two can refer to the card to identify information missing from the child’s story.
- Use a computer lab to help children write stories. The power of the computer is that is allows additions and deletions without rewriting or losing what has already been written. The child can move sentences around the text to improve the organization of the story without erasing or rewriting the book. You will probably need to type as the child dictates the story. Then you can help the child edit the story.
After children can use the basic narrative rules of beginning, middle, and end, the rules can be expanded in a variety of ways to help children learn more about narration.
- Tell stories about different parts of the same events. For example, your family has gone to a carnival, and you all participate in recounting the day. One family member decided to tell a story that focuses on the entire day. Another family member decides to tell a story about a particular ride. Yet another family member decides to tell about the horrible lunch you all had at the carnival.
- Introduce the Summary Game to help your child reduce the length and detail of a story and improve its organization. Summarizing also helps children learn to sort out important facts from unnecessary details. The rule of The Summary Game is that participants must tell their stories in only five sentences. A variation of The Summary Game allows the participants to predict how many sentences they will need to complete a summary before they begin. (Be sure to set a limit of no more than ten sentences.)
- Use the computer to add new parts to stories created and saved from past activities. You and your child can go back to an old story and expand it from a simple story with one plot to a story with three or four new subplots.
Some Final Thoughts
In helping children learn to understand and use narrative rules, be sure to make the effort fun for yourself and your child. We use narrative rules as part of our daily routine as we tell each other our experiences. So focusing your child’s attention to these rules should not really be an added burden to your day.
Your child’s behavior and attention to the activities will be the best indication of how well you have matched the story to the child’s level. If the child is distractible and inattentive, the story is either too complicated or too easy. In most cases, make the story shorter and less complicated. Consider community resources and events that are fun and can reinforce your efforts. For example, libraries often have storytelling hours for children. Go to puppet shows or children’s theater productions. Find a drama class that emphasizes storytelling and allows the children to act out stories.