Strengthening your child’s storytelling.

Is My Child Behind in Developing Narrative Skills?

Written by: Anna Mersov, B.Sc., M.Sc., M.H.Sc., SLP(C) Reg. CASLPO

  • Is it challenging for your child to tell you what happened earlier in their day?
  • Does your child struggle to re-tell you the story from their favourite book?
  • Do your child’s stories seem jumbled, confusing, hard-to-follow, or missing key parts?

Your child may benefit from speech therapy to improve their Narrative Skills.

What are Narrative Skills?

Narrative skills are the ability of a child to tell a story. This can be a re-telling of a story from a book they read, a description of something that happened to them or to someone else at school, or a made-up story they created.

Stories we read to our children are typically made up of two parts:

  1. Macrostructure
  2. Microstructure


The Macrostructure refers to the Story Grammar elements. These elements are the hierarchy of the events in the story, the framework of the story. The Story Grammar elements of a complete story are the following:

  • Character (who is the story about)
  • Setting (where does the story take place)
  • Initiating event (e.g. a problem, or something that kicks-off the story)
  • Feelings (a response to the event)
  • Plan (a character’s decision to act in response to the event)
  • Actions (what the character does)
  • Consequence/end (a resolution or outcome)

These are the parts of the story we expect children to understand when hearing or reading a story. These are the same parts we expect children to include when re-telling or making-up a story on their own.


The Microstructure enriches the story and makes it more sophisticated. It includes words that:

  • link cause and effect (e.g. ‘because’, ‘but’)
  • link events in time (e.g. ‘when’, ‘then’, ‘after’)
  • represent dialogue (e.g. ‘said’, ‘asked’)
  • indicate mental-state (e.g. ‘thought’, ‘wanted’, ‘decided’)
  • describe feelings (e.g. ‘frustrated’, ‘afraid’)
  • describe actions and nouns (e.g. ‘quickly’, ‘quietly’, ‘huge’, ‘beautiful’)

These words increase the sentence complexity and the vocabulary variety the child uses.

Why are Narrative Skills important?

Narratives form a big part of our day to day conversations from an early age. They are important for building friendships and relationships. And yet, narratives include a lot more complex language than a child would use in a simple back and forth conversation – consider all the microstructure pieces we highlighted above!

Studies found that good narrative skills in preschool and early elementary school are predictive of literacy and reading comprehension later in their academic life. Studies have also demonstrated that we can create meaningful improvement in Narrative Skills as early as preschool with the right intervention.

Children with language disorders produce simpler narratives with simpler sentences, less diverse vocabulary, incorrect story structure, and fewer explanations of cause and effect. Children with language disorders also have difficulty answering questions about the story events (e.g. “Who was this story about?” “What problem did he or she have?” “How did he or she feel about his or her problem?” “What did he or she do to fix his or her problem”).

How can Narrative Skills be assessed?

An evaluation of narrative skills typically involves:

  1. listening to a story with pictures told by the instructor
  2. re-telling the story using the same pictures
  3. re-telling the same story without picture support
  4. creating a story using a word-less picture book

Other areas to be evaluated are sequencing pictures (i.e. can the child understand the logical order of events in a picture), describing a picture sequence (i.e. does the child have sufficient language to describe very simple concrete picture sequence), and answering questions that relate to story events (e.g. who was the story about, what was the problem, what did they do).

The child’s story productions should be assessed for both the Macrostructure and Microstructure. 

A successful intervention for narrative skills should include:

  • Explicitly teaching the meaning of each Story Grammar element
  • Modelling and teaching specific words to connect story sequence (e.g. because, after, suddenly), to signal character feelings and dialogue
  • Putting story pictures or events in order of occurrence
  • Assisted re-telling using Story Grammar cards, story pictures, props, or role-play
  • Identifying Story Grammar elements in the story
  • Determining missing events in stories
  • Answering questions about the story related to the Story Grammar elements
  • Repeated practice re-telling of stories with decreasing supports and increasing independence
  • Opportunities to create your own story
  • 2-4 sessions/week of 20-45 minutes in length (this can be a combination of professional speech therapy and home practice)


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Favot, Kate, Mark Carter, and Jennifer Stephenson. “The effects of oral narrative intervention on the personal narratives of children with ASD and severe language impairment: A pilot study.” International Journal of Disability, Development and Education 66.5 (2019): 492-509.