Monday, December 23, 2013

Story Elements/Story Grammar - Important Language Skills

Once students have the ability to sequence events in their daily routines and have moved on to providing personal narratives about their experiences, it’s time to talk about story organization.  The ability to re-tell stories provides children with skills they need to understand stories, to grow their language complexity, to interact socially with others, and, eventually, move into learning from informational text.
Typically developing students get lots of practice retelling stories by “reading” to their stuffed animals, dolls, and other toys.  They “read” to their parents.  And some talk about what they’ve read with peers.  Students with significant language problems rarely, if ever, get these experiences.   They don’t have the skills needed to retell stories, and without this practice, they don’t learn how to.....re-tell stories.  Quite circular, isn’t it?
Typically, our students work well when provided with visual cues/supports.  There are lots of different versions of visual cues for story telling and re-telling, as well as developing narratives.  At the simplest level are symbols for Who, What, When, and Where to pick out the main ideas and facts.  Sometime we may add Feelings or Opinion symbols; either to prompt an identification of a character’s feelings, or to express how the student felt about the story.
There is a lot more to a story than those bare bones, however, and we strive to support kids in finding all of the elements in a story structure or story grammar.  These include identifying what event started the story or began the action, identifying how the character felt and what (s)he planned to do about it, listing the things the character did throughout the story and their effects, describing what impact the time or place had upon the events or character(s), what the resolution or conclusion was and how the character(s) felt about it.  When I worked with students with language earning disorders we worked with all of these elements; identifying and describing them, sequencing and summarizing them, analyzing them.  But with my students with autism and other developmental disabilities our exploration is usually more circumscribed.
One tool I use is the iPad with a story/book creating app.  Here’s how: Take pictures of the book illustrations and have students place those in order once imported into the app.  Ask them to tell who is in the picture and what happened in the story at that point.  Use symbol cues to remind students what they need to include.  Creating a story retelling with the support of symbol cues and the story graphics provides support for children to formulate responses.
Another great tool, one which I used a lot when I did language therapy, is the Story Grammar Marker and its templates.  Mind Wing productions has grown amazingly since I first heard about the SGM when Mary Ellen first wrote the first manual a couple of decades ago.  Check out their website here.  There are some fabulous products for helping your child/student talk about stories, both personal and written.


In the meantime, enjoy another tool I use a lot - a story element die.  Laminate, cut and paste together this die.  Students take turns rolling the die and identifying or talking about the element pictured.  Works well in history, too!

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