Story grammar elements are a universal need for students with language impairments!
Those of you who’ve been around here for a while know that I’ve switched jobs/settings quite a few times, working in an outpatient setting, a preschool, an elementary school, a high school, and now I’m full time in a middle school (and love it!!). One skills I’ve targeted at all of those settings and levels is understanding and sharing narratives.
Let’s start with the basics so we’re all on the same page. What exactly is story grammar? What do I include when teaching story grammar?
Story grammar is the parts or elements of a story. What it exactly includes varies depending on what program or teaching protocol you’re using, but it often includes things like character, setting, problem, solution, or feelings. It can also include things like plot, climax, or suspense.
When teaching story grammar elements, especially with older students, I almost always include direct teaching about story structure (e.g., beginning/middle/end) and transition words (e.g., first, in the beginning, finally) as I think they really help solidify my student’s understanding of how stories work. One of my students told me that a visual I gave him for use in the classroom with information about story grammar, story structure, and transition words was so helpful that he felt like he was cheating. #SLPwin
Before I get into ideas for teaching story grammar, I’ll share some research that gives a base for why teaching story grammar elements is an effective strategy to increase reading comprehension. I’ve personally seen huge gains in my students abilities to understand and tell their own narratives using this structure. I’ve also seen HUGE success in using visuals and graphic organizers in class (when I do push in) to help with writing.
There is a systematic review of studies on teaching story grammar as a reading comprehension strategy for students with learning disabilities on the ASHA website. You can read their findings here, but overall, they state that “the findings suggest that story grammar treatments improve the reading comprehension skills of children with learning disabilities.”
They also state that modeling strategies and graphic organizers (e.g., story mapping) are both effective when teaching story grammar and reading comprehension strategies. This is good news because these are all great strategies and tools that are in “our wheelhouse” and are perfect for pull out lessons, push in or carryover, and for students in preschool through high school.
So, how do I teach it? How do I start with really young students or older students who are completely unfamiliar with this vocabulary? I generally teach these skills in three levels. I complete pre and post-testing at each level to show progress for IEPs and progress notes. Below I’ll outline 8 steps that I generally follow. If you want specifics on how I teach story grammar and the materials I show throughout this blog post, click here to check out my story grammar packet. It’s full of posters, visuals, graphic organizers, practice stories, directions, example activities, and more!
Looking for book ideas to use when teaching story grammar? Click here to check out my top recommendations!
Familiarization – During step one, I do a ton of familiarization of story grammar elements. I read fun (and low level) books and model finding story grammar parts. When I first start, I say a lot of things like, “Wow! That page told us a lot! We know some of the characters and the setting. Billy and his grandpa are people so we know they are characters.” I point out posters and other visuals during this step. I don’t expect a ton of output from my students here, I’m just doing a ton of modeling, self-talk, and providing lots of examples.
Sorting – Once my students demonstrate some foundational understanding of story grammar elements, I work on sorting examples into story grammar categories. I’ll give each student 5 cards with examples of story grammar parts (e.g., “Alice”, “fell down and hurt her knee”, “frustrated”, “at school”) and have them identify what story grammar part each one is. I lay out posters and my students walk around the room and sort their cards onto the posters. I reiterate what each part is and how some bits of information can fit into more than one part! During step two, I start introducing the idea that some words are keywords that help us understand story grammar. For example, when you see the words “decided”, “wanted”, or “thought”, those are often keywords that we are learning about the character’s plan for how to solve their problem.
Definitions – Once my students can sort cards onto posters, we move onto really nailing down the definitions for each part. We might start by matching story grammar elements to their definitions. Sometimes, I’ll show each poster and have my students summarize what each part is, how we can find it, etc.. We discuss how characters tell the “who” of the story and the setting tells the “where”. We chat about how actions in a story are always verbs (which are things that characters DO). After step 3, I usually like to give this matching worksheet to my students to assess their ability to match story grammar symbols to definitions. I use this information for IEPs and progress notes!
Story structure – One thing I used to leave out when teaching story grammar was explicitly teaching story structures. Since I’ve put an emphasis on this, I’ve seen better progress and carryover from my students! For most of my students, I stick with teaching the beginning/middle/end story structure. For my older students (grades 6+), I teach story structure using a plot diagram because that is what they use in class. Sidenote: My students kick butt in the plot diagram tests in their writing classes 🙂 During this step, we discuss what information you often find in each part of the story. For example, in the beginning of the story, you can almost always find the setting, characters, and a lift-off (or starting event).
Transition words – Next up, I teach transition words. We discuss how transition words are amazing clues as to what is happening in the story and what each sentence is telling you. For example, when you see the word “but”, you’re often going to read about a problem. When you see the word, “finally”, you’re likely reading the end of the story. We sort transition words into where you’re likely to find them in a story (i.e., beginning/middle/end) and we practice writing sentences with them. For my students writing in the classroom, I often spend several sessions having them bring a computer to our sessions and we work on adding transition words into their stories.
Identification – After teaching all of these components, we start putting everything together in step 6! During this time, we practice by reading stories upon stories upon stories. We find story grammar elements in all of them. We chat about them including discussing vocabulary and relating the stories to our own lives. We talk about what the stories remind of us and we come up with ways my students can relate to the story. During this step, I use checklists and graphic organizers a ton.
Retelling – Once my students are fairly adept at identifying story grammar parts in short stories, we work on retelling those stories. I always start by retelling a story my students have heard before, preferably one they’ve heard several times and discussed. During this step, I always introduce a self-rating rubric for retelling stories. I’ll record my students retelling a story. We listen back to it and use the self-rating rubric to identify which elements my students included in their stories and which parts they left out.
Writing – Now it’s time to put everything together and have my students use all of their strategies and tools to write their own stories! I use the same graphic organizers that we used in the previous steps. I love using the visual below to put it all together. 90% of my caseload has this glued into their writing notebook so they can reference it anytime they’re writing in class!
I also love giving them mini versions of the posters on a binder ring for quick access in the classroom.
It’s important to note that I don’t follow these steps for every student in the same way. Sometimes I’ll bounce around a little bit as needed.
If you’re interested in checking out my packet with all of these printables, click here! It’s been a lifesaver for me this school year!
How do you teach story grammar elements? What’s worked well for you? I’d love to hear!
Thanks so much for reading!