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This month in room 10 we have been working on narratives. Narrative skills are a child’s ability to tell and understand stories. Stories have characters, setting, and things that happen. They are generally organized into a beginning, middle, and end format. You can read more about narrative skills here. We worked on narrative skills in room 10 this month.

Characters

A character is a person, animal, or thing that has a name in a story. Many children who have language impairments will leave out character names when they are telling a story, or not pay attention to the different characters when they are listening to a story.

We read the book Chicken Little by Steven Kellogg to think about characters. The book is ideal for targeting characters, as each character is added one by one, and has a funny, rhyming name. We read the story together our first session, and then reviewed the book the next session in small groups by filling out a Chicken Little Character Chart I made (FREE download!). It took some practice to get all the students used to naming the characters (they all wanted to say “him!” or “her!” instead of giving the names), but we got there in the end.

Setting

Setting is the place that story events happen. Just as many of my students leave out character names when telling or listening to stories, many of them also leave out the place that the story is happening.

The book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was perfect to talk about setting. The settings in the book change throughout, and are so funny! Again, we read the book all together first, talking about the setting on each page. Some pages had as many as 4 settings! The tricky part of talking about setting is that my students often wanted to talk about what was happening (raining soup!) rather than WHERE the action was occurring (on a baseball field). But because it was such a fun book, they stayed engaged until the end, and we were able to all talk about setting by the end.

Beginning, Middle, End (BME)

In addition to characters and setting, most stories share a similar structure. Stories have a beginning, things that happen (middle), and an conclusion (ending). In my shorthand notes, I call this BME. Understanding BME structure is very important, both so students can understand stories they hear, and so they can tell stories that make sense.

We used George and Martha stories to practice retelling the beginning, middle, and end of stories. These stories are great because they are SHORT, funny, and almost all of them have a clear beginning/middle/end structure.

Another great book we used was Ivan the Terrier, which I found last week in our school library. The book is about a cute-but-naughty little dog named Ivan. The book has a narrator telling a story, and Ivan being naughty (beginning). Ivan interrupts each of the stories the narrator tries to tell (middle), and the book ends with Ivan going to his bed and falling asleep (ending). Using the BME format helped my students to summarize the story, which is a skill many of them need help with.

To tie everything together, we played the Tell Me A Story game at the end of the unit. This is a noncompetitive game that has students create stories, Madlibs-style, by manipulating the characters, setting, and events. We played as a whole class where we made one story all together, and each student re-told it as the story changed. The next day we played where students each made their own story, and got to “steal” story elements from each other in order to change their stories. The game is always a hit, and is such great practice of using characters, setting, and BME story structure.

The story mat

That’s what we did this month in room 10! Spring break is around the corner. Next month we will be working on absurdities. Stay tuned!

Narrative skills have been the focus in room 10 this month. A “narrative” is a story. People tell narratives all the time, for many reasons. I may tell a narrative about my morning (why was I late today?), a narrative to explain an event (“Officer, I swear I have a good reason for going that fast…“), or a narrative to make a connection with another person (“I remember that something like that happened to me one time!“). Kids use narratives to express their ideas, tell jokes, and explain things that happen to adults. Adults use narratives to teach, share information, and connect with children. Narratives are all around us!

Students with language impairments can struggle telling stories that make sense. They may not include all of the parts of a story, or it may be in a mixed-up order. They may not tell their listener who is in the story, or where it is happening.

There are several important parts of a story. At a basic level, a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The beginning of a story includes the characters (people or animals who are named in the story), the setting (where is the story happening?), and an event (something that happens).

The middle of a story includes another event, often a problem. The middle of a simple story may contain more than one event, but when teaching basic story structure, I usually limit the stories to no more than 3 events in the middle.

The end of a story includes the conclusion. The conclusion resolves the problem and/or wraps up the story.

I’ve posted before about the George and Martha book series by James Marshall. This series is perfect for working on beginning/middle/end story structure. Each book contains 5 mini-stories, each with a clear and simple story structure. The stories are funny and engaging, and also rely heavily on the student’s ability to make inferences. These stories are a great way to practice narrative structure at home.

How to practice narrative structure at home:

  1. Read a story with your child
  2. After the story, ask questions about the story.
    • Who were the characters in the story?
    • Where did the story happen? (setting)
    • What happened at the beginning?
    • What happened next? What was the problem in the story? (events)
    • How did the story end? (conclusion)
  3. If your child does not know the answer to a question, go back together and find the answer in the book.
  4. Have your child retell the story to you in their own words. The retell can happen right away, or a day or two later.

More narrative resources:

A few weeks ago I needed an activity to work on story structure with some of my students. Not finding what I needed on the internet, I decided I would make my own!

For these students we were working on a “complete episode” story. That is a story that has a beginning, middle, and conclusion. It needs to have clear characters, setting (the place the story is happening), and at least one “event”, or thing that happens.

Example of a complete episode:

Ginger the dog went to the dog park. She ran and played with the other dogs, and got all dirty. Then she went home and had a bath.

Characters: Ginger, other dogs
Setting: dog park
Events: went to the dog park, got dirty
Conclusion: went home and had a bath

STORY GAME

I made up a game with cards for character, setting, and event. Character cards had names of characters, setting cards had places, and event cards had things that could happen. There were also several blank cards of each kind, for students to make up their own character, setting, or event. Each student also got one Conclusion card, which is where they decide how the story ends. The goal was to tell your own story.

Each student starts with one of each kind of card. On your turn you spin a spinner which can land on character, setting, or event. You draw a card from the designated pile, OR you can chose to swap that element with someone else in the game if they have something you want.  At the end of each turn you have to tell the story that is on your board. Since all of the elements are mix-and-match, we ended up with some pretty funny stories!

(Sorry about the photo being sideways… I can’t figure out how to get it right side up!)

I talked about my love of James Marshall’s “George and Martha” series in a previous post. This month I have been using them for something new – targeting story structure.

Narrative skills” are the ability to tell and understand stories. Kids need to be able to tell stories about events that happened to them, or things they want to happen. Kids need to be able to understand stories because we tell them all the time as part of sharing our lives with each other! It is a foundational literacy skill related to reading comprehension, among other things. Kids need skills like:

  • using character names and describing the setting (instead of “it, he, she, they, there, that, thing…”)
  • identifying the important details (“He was mad” is more important than “He has a freckle on his nose”)
  • understanding the story arch, or structure
  • using causation to explain WHY things happen

This month I am working on the structural element of stories, using the framework Beginning, Middle, and End. All stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

BEGINNING: In the beginning of a story, we learn about the characters and setting. WHO is in the story? WHAT are they doing? WHERE are they?

MIDDLE: Things happen in the middle of the story. Every story has different things that happen.

END: The end is the conclusion. We learn how the story finishes, and WHY things happened.

George and Martha stories are perfect for this kind of activity. Each book contains 5 mini-stories, which are all 3-4 pages long. 1 page for the beginning, 1 page for the middle, and 1-2 pages for the end.

We read one page at a time, and identified what part of the story (beginning, middle, or end) we were on. Then we would talk about which information was most important. In the beginning we talked about the characters and setting. In the middle we talked about the story events. In the end we talked about the wrap-up, and why things happened.

As we went through, we drew simple pictures, with a few words added, to remind us of the story. You can probably imagine my stick figure hippos. Not very pretty, but quite effective. We would only include the IMPORTANT parts, and just enough words to remind us what had happened. A sort of comic-book-style summary of the story, with bad art.

When we got to the end of the mini-story, I would close the book and ask the student to tell me the story without looking at it. They were allowed to use the pictures we drew if they wanted, but they could also tell the story from memory if they chose.

We had so much fun, and there are tons more George and Martha stories to go! If you’d like to try similar activities at home, you can download the visual aid I made and do it yourself!

Click here for the Beginning, Middle, End visual aid.

You can find George and Martha books at your local public library, or on www.Betterworldbooks.com.