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Monday, June 6, 2016

The #1 Top Reason Why Stories Are Important

If you follow this blog, you know I often talk about developing narrative skills in kids in order to improve their conversational skills, literacy skills and a whole host of language skills.
Today I’m going to talk a little bit about story-telling in general and its importance to us.

Stories are how we connect with each other.  Every culture has a history and schema for story-telling.  Stories are how cultures pass down information through generations and keep cultural beliefs and customs alive.  Most of us have read Origins stories from a variety of cultures in school; including Native American and probably several different Asian cultures.  Within each of our many religions there are specific and important cultural stories we learn.  Many cultures and religions depend upon the Oral Traditions to pass on valuable lessons and yeah the next generation.  Stories are our connectors.  To the past.  To each other.

In their simplest form, stories connect us to each other through conversations.  What is a conversation if not an interactive story?  What do we tell each other in our conversations?  We talk about experiences; about events in which we took part or observed, things that happened to us or that we did.  
In order to have a conversation, then, we must be able to provide this information to the conversation partner so that they can understand the ‘story.’  We need to be able to concisely tell what happened, who was involved, where and/or when it took place, how it started and how it ended.   Without this information, the listener cannot get a clear idea of what we’re trying to say.  
Just like journalists and students everywhere are taught - answer the Wh questions.

Unfortunately, for many students that is a tall order. Also unfortunately, that’s often why they never move beyond a simple greetings exchange in their conversational goals.  But if they’re to learn how to interact with each other and also with books we need to teach them how to find, organize, and provide this information.
Visual cues are crucial.  

We also need to bear in mind that there are stages to narrative development through which we can help students move in order to arrive at the ability to tell about a specific episode.                                                             
Children begin by using “heaps;”  a bunch of labels of things and descriptions without organization or main point.  The ideas may be completely unrelated, and the topic may change frequently.

Then they move to sequences, where events are thematic but there is no plot and no particular order to the sequence.  Story elements may be linked arbitrarily, rather than by theme.
Next come primitive narratives that contain the beginnings of story grammar; an initiating event, an action, and some type of consequence without a true ending.  What is important is that there are elements of character feelings, expressions present.
Next are chains, where we see more of the story grammar elements.  There is the initiating event, the character’s feeling or plan, some sort of action and a consequence.  There may be cause-effect or temporal elements in these narratives, but the plot is weak and doesn’t necessarily build from character motivation or feeling.  Some narrative development structures speak to 2 different levels of chains: unfocused; in which there is no central character, ad focused; in which there is a character and a sequence of events.
In so-called True Narratives, there is a central theme, a character, and a plot.  These narratives contain the motivation driving the character’s actions, along with a resolution to the problem - a true ending.

By helping children to develop their narrative skills we can improve both their connectedness to others, and their access to books and the curriculum.  Start small.  Talk about events and experiences throughout the day.  Include who was involved, the sequence of events (including the initiating vent, the middle and ending of the story), how did it feel. Building these connections throughout the day will pay off in improved connections to others that are critical to a lifetime of relationships.

If you don’t already have this, here is a copy of my Story Element Die.  Just drag it onto your desktop from here, or download it here.  Roll the die and practice telling the element pictured.  You can use this for the child’s real life experiences, for stories you read, or events you hear or read about. 

Have fun, and keep on talking!


  1. I was just assessing one of my students' story grammar skills today. I loved seeing how his skills have changed from barely recalling details to be able to retell a whole sequence. Along with it, his conversational skills and willingness to initiate have grown, too. Thanks for sharing such important information!

  2. I love working on narrative skills. And yes, it is fun to see their skills grow and listen to them tell a story! Thanks for reading.