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'What is narrative' by Dr Norm Erber

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What is narrative?
A narrative is a story that describes a sequence of related events. Most simple stories follow a cause-and-effect pattern, with a beginning, middle and end (e.g. Mr Crow can’t read a sign. He puts on his glasses. Now he can see.)
A longer story usually includes more details, such as a situation, point of view, theme, goal, and plot development. A typical narrative contains:
  • Setting/orientation: the main characters are introduced
  • Initiating event: a problem or complication occurs
  • Intent: the characters are motivated to correct the situation
  • Implementation: they try to resolve the problem or eliminate the complication
  • Resolution/consequence: a physical, psychological, or emotional change occurs
  • Final condition: there usually is a return to stability or calm.
Why is narrative important?
Many children’s books and television programs contain stories. Early exposure to stories helps a child develop related forms of communication such as description, instruction, and persuasion.  Story-telling helps the child develop centering (relating content to a main character or concept) and chaining (linking events in a sequence). These narrative skills are essential for the organisation of conversation.
How can you help the child learn?
To understand, recall, or tell a story, a child must have language, memory, and thinking skills - and also familiarity with the structure of stories. You can help the child develop these skills:
  • Read to the child and/or watch television together. Talk about the content. Relate what happened to the child’s own life and experiences.
  • Recall familiar events. (“Do you remember what happened when you lost your ticket?”)
  • Describe your day (“Today, I went shopping. I bought something special for you…”)
  • Ask the child to tell about a recent experience (“What did you do at Lisa’s house?”)
  • Observe or do something together (e.g. visit a park) and ask the child to recall what happened. (“How did the blackbird find a worm? … Why did the baby cry? … Who chased the dog?”).
  • Ask the child to describe a favourite television show (“What happened first / in the middle / at the end?”).
  • Talk about significant family events (“When you were three, we went fishing. Daddy caught a big fish. You caught a little fish. I didn’t catch anything.”)
  • Encourage the child to make up fantasy stories (“If you could fly, where would you go?”).
  • Demonstrate centering in story content and chaining a sequence of events (“Jack was late for school. He ran too fast. He tripped on a stone. He hurt his knee…  Why did Jack fall?”)
  • Help the child understand what other people might want, think, or feel in a particular situation (“Jenny looked in the window. She saw a chocolate cake, some sugar biscuits, and six blueberry muffins. What was Jenny thinking? What did she want? How did she feel?”)
  • Use role-play to act out simple narratives. (“I’ll be the woman at the ice cream shop, and you…”)
  • Show a related picture to help the child remember (“Look … who’s that girl on the bicycle?”)
  • Ask a related question to prompt the child (“… and what happened when you found the spider?”)
  • Incorporate information into a narrative to increase understanding and recall (“Do you remember what happened when we forgot to water the lettuce in the garden?”).
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