Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teaching Literate Language in a Storytelling Intervention

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teaching Literate Language in a Storytelling Intervention

Article excerpt


Storytelling is a practice common to all cultures and most children enter school with a basic understanding of narrative form (Meek, 1988). Whilst oral language is part of the language curriculum, it is often seen as marginal to reading and writing instruction. Typically, schools place importance on the development of narrative skills in writing but provide few opportunities for children to create and tell stories orally, once children become writers. Research suggests that competent writers draw on syntactic, semantic and graphophonic knowledge when composing texts (Annandale et al., 2007; Pearson, 1976); however it is an assumption of this paper that competent literary writers (even emergent writers) draw on an additional resource, oral literate language, which builds the foundation for literary expression. Consequently, it is important to afford young writers the time to tell uninterrupted oral narratives and provide support to develop typical narrative structure and deontextualised language, which they may draw upon when writing. Decontextualised language, a feature of literate language, is devoid of contextual cues and referents and relies on the storyteller using complex grammatical structures and explicit vocabulary to create and share meaning.

This paper examines the design and development of a pedagogical intervention, to teach explicitly literate oral narrative language to enhance oral narrative performance. The aim of the intervention is to teach children to recognise and internalise components of story grammar and to develop decontextualised language, which may provide a resource for creating written text. The intervention focuses on teaching genre features and underlying functional grammar. The paper considers current pedagogical approaches to literacy and examines earlier interventions to teach oral narrative skills, which have informed and shaped the present intervention. Extant research on the development of narrative skills in the fields of education, developmental psychology and speech pathology guided the structure and content of the intervention program.

Development of literate language in narrative

Language development may be characterised in terms of an oral-literate continuum with language progressing from an informal to formal style, and contextualised to decontextualised (Westby, 1985). Oral language, which is usually highly contextualised, is the foundational skill that all children bring to school. Literate language by contrast, which may be spoken or written, is less contextualised than informal conversational language and requires the use of more explicit vocabulary and more complex syntactic structures. Children generally develop a literate language style during their school years. It appears that very young children acquire knowledge of the story and its conventions more easily than other genres, and experiences of stories and storytelling support the development of complex linguistic and discursive structures (Riley & Burrell, 2007). Children's oral narrative skills are considered important in bridging oral and written texts and developing literate language (Hayward & Schneider, 2000), and through oral storytelling children develop skill with decontextualised language, as stories are usually about events that are removed in time and physical context (Snow, 1983).

The most common way of acquiring literate language is through print (Wallach & Butler, 1994). Children who can read and those who are read to, have important exposure to literate language and it appears that the model for children's story telling is predominantly literary (Fox, 1993; Greenhalgh & Strong, 2001). Hence, the primary school years are important for literate language development and the acquisition of words and structures near the literate end of the oral-literate continuum. Because literate language development is dependent on a child's literacy experiences, children need opportunity to experience literate language to internalise structures and begin to use certain linguistic features characteristic of a more literate register (Kaderavek & Sulzby, 2000). …

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