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Sunday, October 18, 2015

What Did You Do? 2 Steps to Building Personal Narratives

Being able to talk about what we did recently is the basis for all of our conversations.  It’s so important for our kids with communication disorders to be able to talk about their experiences.  Otherwise, they are at a loss in social interactions.  What can they do beyond just listening to others?  And that’s not an interaction at all!

Beyond the social participation component, telling about events is important in school for being able to talk about stories and to tell about history - which is basically one really long series of stories.
And then there is the safety aspect.  Because, unfortunately, these kids are at risk for other people being mean to them or mistreating them and, once they leave the shelter of home and nurturing school environments they need to be able to advocate for themselves.

So, long story short, every single kid - and many of the adults - I work with has an objective for being able to tell about recent events.  And for the AAC users, that means - you got it - having a robust AAC system with sufficient core and fringe vocabulary to tell about the Who and What and Where and When of those events.  Because - too often- they do not have the vocabulary to spontaneously generate novel utterances (called using SNUG) from collections of core words and important fringe.

Years ago Caroline Musselwhite and Linda Burkhart wrote a program called “Can We Chat?” that I still recommend to schools today.  What I like about it is that it teaches not just memorizing scripts for a bunch of pre-arranged topics, but actually teaches the structure of a basic conversational interaction. 
You need to get the person’s attention.  Then introduce the topic.  Then prolong the discussion with a follow-up comment, or ask a question of your partner.  You need to wrap it up, and end it appropriately.  

The part that I focus on with building personal narratives is that middle parts; the “Guess what I did?” part.  Because that is the meat of the conversation, as well as the important piece for not just telling about experiences, but also for talking about stories (developing literacy skills) and talking about the past (developing academic skills re:historical events).

So, look at building

  1. Recounts, where students respond to a directive to tell about an experience.  This usually requires additional prompts, cues, questions, and scaffolding to produce a complete response.   And, next -
  2. Accounts, where the student initiates telling about an experience.  Often this begins as a single word or a series of single words and requires continued questions, prompts, and scaffolding to become complete.  This is where students begin to ask, “Guess what I did?”

In both cases we, as the adult communication partners, need to be careful about providing support for the narrative, rather than asking too many questions and giving continuous prompts.  Provide support, give models, and give the student “room.”

If you want more explanations of narrative structure and additional templates and graphic organizers, take a look in my TPT store for Building and Expanding Personal Narratives in AAC Users:

Have fun, and keep on talking.

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