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Spoken and written narratives

Written By: Driver Youth Trust
2 min read
What's the idea?

There are strong links between language and writing, with oral language skills being a foundation element of good written language (Bishop and Snowling, 2004). Developing oral narratives can help support children’s written narratives.


What does it mean?

There really is no panacea for developing writing. It is a hugely complex task dependent not only on underlying language skills, but on the development of a whole range of components linked to children’s strategic behaviour, knowledge and motivation, for example, children need to have an overall picture in order to structure their writing, need subject knowledge to translate into the written word and motivation to complete the written word. Knowing pupils’ strengths and needs is an important starting point for supporting writing. For some pupils, a focus on spoken narratives can be a useful strategy.

Narrative skills are important as the ability to comprehend and paraphrase narrative text have been found to be an indicator of later academic success. Studies have shown that preschoolers’ ability to retell simple stories while viewing the pictures is a good predictor of their outcomes during the primary school years (Bishop and Edmundson, 1987; Hayward and Schneider, 2000).

We know that if a child finds it difficult to tell a story, they are going to find it difficult to put ideas down on paper. Being able to tell successful narratives relies on having a clear structure and proficiency in a number of skills; being able to sequence events, use linguistically accurate grammatical markers, access accurate and precise vocabulary and successfully communicate ideas. The speaker or writer has to structure the story to ensure coherence and clarity of cause-effect relationships, i.e. that earlier parts of an account affect what comes after.

Narrative writing is an area some children can find particularly difficult, with pupils who struggle having difficulties with advanced planning and structure. Research has shown the positive impact of direct instruction for supporting planning and structure of narrative writing (Adlof et al., 2014; Gambrell and Chasen, 1991).


Action points for teachers

The impact of story grammar instruction has been shown to improve both oral and written narrative production and the comprehension of narrative text (Gillam and Gillam, 2016). Story grammar includes the following elements:

  • setting, which consists of character and context (time and place)
  • episodes, which include initiating events, internal responses, plans, actions, consequences and reactions.


It is helpful to make narrative structures explicit and give separate and explicit instruction for the components of narrative structure.

  1. Support pupils to apply structures in:
  • creating and organising a structure for their writing
  • formulating goals and planning their writing
  • evaluating, revising text and reformulating plans if needed.


2. It is the explicit and structured nature of the instruction that is key. Adults need to model the structure for the children and make it explicit.


3. Use visual support to enhance and support learning. For example:

  • use colour coded cue cards to identify story grammar components, identify missing components, reformulate sequences
  • use cue cards and story maps to scaffold information, generate narratives, understand and retell narratives.


4. Stick visual reminders of a simple narrative structure on pupils’ desks and encourage pupils to use them when retelling any events or planning writing.


The Driver Youth Trust is a charity committed to improving the outcomes of young people who struggle with literacy.

Want to know more?

Torgeson CJ, Ainsworth H and Bell K et al. (2018) Calderdale Excellence Partnership: IPEELL, Evaluation report and executive summary. London: Educational Endowment Foundation.

Westerveld MF and Gillon GT (2015) A follow-up study examining the effectiveness of oral narrative intervention for children with mixed reading disability. Available at: (accessed 7 February 2020)

  • Adlof SM, McLeod AN, Leftwich B (2014) Structured narrative retell instruction for young children from low socioeconomic backgrounds: A preliminary study of feasibility. Frontiers in Psychology 2014 (5): 391.
  • Bishop DVM and Edmundson A (1987) Language-impaired 4-year-olds: Distinguishing transient from persistent impairment. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders (52): 156–173.
  • Bishop DVM and Snowling MJ (2004) Developmental dyslexia and specific language impairment: Same or different? Psychological Bulletin 130(6): 858–886.
  • Gambrell LB and Chasen SP (1991) Explicit story structure instruction and the narrative writing of fourth‐ and fifth‐grade below‐average readers. Reading Research and Instruction 31(1): 54–62. DOI
  • Gillam SL and Gillam RB (2016) Narrative discourse intervention for school-aged children with language impairment: Supporting knowledge in language and literacy. Topics in Language Disorders 36(1): 20–34.
  • Hayward D and Schneider P (2000) Effectiveness of teaching story grammar knowledge to pre-school children with language impairment: An exploratory study. Child Language Teaching and Therapy 16: 255–284.
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