Reading and Writing with Help from Story Grammar

By Hagood, Barbara F | Teaching Exceptional Children, March/April 1997 | Go to article overview

Reading and Writing with Help from Story Grammar


Hagood, Barbara F, Teaching Exceptional Children


This is a quiz: What do all these items have in common? And what on earth do they have to do with grammar? Well, everything is the answer. Just as English grammar reflects the structure of the language, so story grammar reflects the structure of a story. Learning both types of grammar is easy for some, difficult for others. This article discusses "story grammar" strategies you can use to help students improve their reading and writing skills see box "What Is Story Grammar?"). These strategies are effective with all students in elementary school, but particularly with students with disabilities or low-achieving students at any grade level.

Story Grammer Strategies

Story grammar strategies include selfquestioning, story maps, character and plot development, and comparison and contrast of similar stories (such as Cinderella and Three Little Pig variations). These strategies can be incorporated into the regular curriculum, using explicit instruction techniques such as teacher modeling and teacher guided instruction-two aspects of explicit instruction that influence students' achievement positively (Gambrell & Chasen, 1991). Repetition is also helpful to ensure internalization of the material by the students.

Strategy 1. Teach students to use self-questioning techniques to increase their comprehension of a narrative text.

Rationale: To increase a child's comprehension and recall of a text, alert the child to the text's organizational structure. Students may be aware that stories generally follow a pattern, but have not yet learned a strategy for using and integrating this knowledge to improve their comprehension. One way to alert a child to this organizational structure is to teach self-questioning techniques. Carnine and Kinder (1985) found that when students learn to use self-questioning strategies while reading, they gain the ability to approach new reading material with a greater understanding.

Activity: To model using self-questions, write the following, or a similar variation, on the board:

1. Who is this story about?

2. Where does this story take place?

3. What is the problem in this story?

4. What happens while the main character in this story is trying to solve the problem?

5. How is the problem solved?

6. How does the main character in this story feel about the solution?

Then read a familiar story aloud and model answering these questions while reading. The next step in this process is to guide the students while they read a story aloud and attempt to answer the questions. The students should then read silently and independently answer the story grammar questions. During this phase, be available to offer assistance when needed. Reinforce this strategy through several lessons to ensure that the students internalize the process.

Strategy 2. Teach students to use story maps to organize a story's components.

Rationale: The framework of questions offered by a story grammar activity is sometimes not concrete enough for students with special needs. A variation of this technique is to use a pictorial story map as a visual organizer for readers. When story maps are used, students can build relationships between existing schemata and reading materials by focusing directly on text structure. It gives students with poor comprehension a way to develop an organizational framework for thinking about narrative stories that relates to the basic story grammar. When students use a story map while reading, they are more capable of categorizing the strong relevant information that is derived from the textual reading (Idol & Croll, 1987).

Activity: First, show the students a copy of the story map to be used for the lesson and discuss the elements on the map (see Figure 1). Then model the strategy of using a story map as you read a story aloud. Next, guide the students through using a story map while reading a story.

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