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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Scaffolding Narratives - How Do I Build a Child’s Narrative Structures?

Children’s learning of narrative structures is in part dependent upon how the adults around them shape their narrative attempts.  Children learn to build on their language structures depending upon how we model for them prompt them, and reproduce for them.  
Children need adults who provide guidance and feedback, thereby providing the structure for and much of the content of the task.  We provide the scaffolding for the child's narrative by asking questions and making comments judiciously.  Adults need to be attuned to the child’s level of development, and to change the level of scaffolding as the child develops skills.  When adults provide models of elaboration to younger children, those children are much more likely to provide more complex narratives when they are older.  
Having conversations about recent - and not so recent - past events provides the structure for the content of those narratives, as well as the form.  
By asking questions throughout the conversation adults help the child build a more complete narrative.  
By providing prompts to parts of the story left out, the adult is providing a structure that the child may have difficulty with. For example, very young children do not have the concept yet of sequencing, of beginning-middle-ending, of the temporal or cause-effect of the event.  
By providing questions and models, parents and teachers (and SLPs) begin to guide them toward these concepts and structures.
At the pre-K and Kindergarten levels of development, children are beginning to increase their memory and language skills, and to develop a stronger sense of their own experiences.

Families who reminisce about events with their children build in them both the language skills to talk about events, but also the ability to see how their own experiences of the event fit in with others.’  Teachers and SLPs can similarly build these skills by talking about events that happen in the school setting; particularly within the class or group.  Narratives are also successfully built in intervention settings using photos brought/sent in from home.
At this age, children are discovering that other people’s feelings and thoughts about an event can be different from their own.  They are also beginning to discover and understand how others’ objectives in situations are different from theirs.  Building this Theory of Mind is important to their academic success.  Reading comprehension is not just about understanding the words on the page and the sentences that contain them.  It is also very much about understanding how the characters interact and feel and respond to one another.  History cannot be understood without understanding the differing motivations of people and groups of people or the reasons for the conflicts between them.
When reading stories focus on the characters’ feelings and their goals and desires.  Help children understand how these can be the same, at times, but can also be very different at other times.  But don’t forget, too, to keep building the vocabulary and syntax comprehension that they need for comprehension, too.

Talk about events and experiences; moving from talking about the here and now reminiscences
Ask questions to generate more elaborate responses
Explain how others feel and how that explains how they respond or react
Provide elaboration of sentence structure and vocabulary

Provide elaboration of sequences

How are you helping your children/students build their narrative skills?


  1. Hi! I found your blog on the Teaching Blog Addict and have been a long time TPT follower. Great ideas for scaffolding writing. Very helpful.
    Astute Hoot: Tools for the Wise Teacher

    1. Thanks you, Jennifer. Enjoy reading and thanks for coming by.

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