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Encouraging Language Growth through Storytelling

Storytelling lies at the heart of every culture. It’s the way we capture people’s attention, build social connections, and share our experiences with one another. Although storytelling may make you think of someone crafting elaborate tales, storytelling is actually an everyday, functional skill that we use to talk about everything from a funny, unexpected event that happened while we were out grocery shopping to retelling a friend about the plot of a movie you saw. For our kids, we want them to not only be able to summarize the books they read for academic purposes, we also want them to be able to tell us about what happened on the playground at recess. For our kids with language disabilities, this is not an easy task. Effective storytelling requires the storyteller to consider the perspective of their listener in order to provide the right amount of detail in a logical manner using precise vocabulary and complex sentence structures. A tall order, indeed! But storytelling and retelling, or narrative-based intervention, is a powerful, research-backed tool that speech-language pathologists use to tackle language comprehension, production, and even social skills and problem-solving. In this post, we’ll talk about what makes narrative-based therapy unique and how you can support your child at home.

What makes a narrative?

A narrative is a story based on a real or imaginary event in which there is a goal, some problem or complication that arises, and a consequence from trying to find a solution. All narratives have a story grammar, which are elements for telling a story in a logical way. Below are the elements of a basic narrative and some examples:


Background information to “set the stage” for the story, which can include the character(s), where the story takes place, and when the story takes place

  • Long ago, in a faraway land, there lived a pretty girl.
  • Mommy and I went to Dairy Queen yesterday.

Initiating Event

An event or problem that happens to the main character(s)

  • The girl wanted to go to the ball at the castle, but her evil sister locked her in her room.
  • My dilly bar fell on the ground.


What the character(s) does as a result of the problem

  • The girl tied all of her clothes together to make a rope and climbed out of her bedroom window.
  • I started crying.


The outcome of the attempt or resolution

  • The girl went to the ball and met a handsome prince, who whisked her away and made her a princess.
  • Mommy bought me a new one.

These four elements make up a single basic narrative episode, but additional elements and details can be added to increase the complexity of the narrative, such as how the characters feel, multiple attempts to solve the problem, or multiple problems that arise (think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears).

It is important to point out that a narrative is different from a simple sequenced chain of events. Consider the two examples below:

Sequenced StoryNarrative Story
We wanted ice cream on the 4th of July. First, we got in the car. Then, we drove to Coldstone. I got an ice cream cone with sprinkles on it. After we ate our ice cream, we went home.We wanted ice cream on the 4th or July. First, we drove to Dairy Queen, but it was closed. Then we drove to Coldstone, and they were open. I got an ice cream cone with sprinkles on it. After we ate our ice cream, we went home.

In the sequenced story, there are four events that happen, one after another. In the narrative story, a problem arises that needs to be solved during the sequence of events, which makes it more complex and more interesting. We often hear that “a good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end”, usually indicated with words like “first, next, then, last”. While narrative stories can often be sequenced in this way, a problem and an attempt to find a solution are the key features that set narratives apart from other kinds of stories or event retells.

How you can support storytelling at home:

Narrative-based intervention is often a long and carefully-planned process that involves breaking down the elements of story grammar piece by piece. At the same time, research suggests that one of the most critical pieces to successful narrative-based intervention is repeated exposure to narrative structures, which is easier to incorporate into your everyday home routine than you may think.

You can model narrative structures for your child by sharing about events from your day, a complication that came up, and how you tried to solve the problem. This can be done while driving home from school in the car or can even be made into a family tradition at the dinner table.

Book sharing is another essential part of narrative-based intervention in the therapy room and can easily be done at home, as well. The key is to select books that have a strong plot. Illustrations also provide great visual supports.

Here is a list of narrative-based book suggestions:

Of course, the best way for children to become good storytellers is to practice doing it themselves. In general, it’s easier for kids to tell a personal narrative (something that happened to them) or to retell a story. Ask specific questions about your child’s day to see if something unexpected came up or try having your child retell a book or TV show episode to another family member. To help support your child, you can ask questions like “What did you do to fix the problem?” or “How did Charlie feel when Lucy took his ball?”

Providing your child with opportunities to hear, read, and share narratives is a wonderful way to build their language skills as well as connections to family and peers. It’s really no surprise that narratives are an SLP fan-favorite for therapy, and we hope you find them helpful at home, too!

-Olivia Edelman, M.A. CF-SLP

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Patient Reviews

Crystal Scheibe

Great place, glad we found them. Been going to Medina over 2 months now and he loves Lauryn and Kyler. Wish they had more ABA therapy places available... live in Wooster and long drive everyday.

Karrie Swan LaRock

My 11 year old son has dyslexia and has made noticeable gains in working At LLA THERAPY. Katie is strong in her approach toward him and also keeps him comfortable enough to perform well. We will continue visiting both the Fairlawn and Hudson offices and recommend them highly.

Ron Monroe

My 9 year old just completed about 9 months of weekly speech sessions (due to his stuttering) with Matt Hagge at LLA and we are thrilled with the experience and results. What I thought might be a negative (what kid really wants to go to speech class?) was made very positive by Matt, and my son never hesitated or complained when we talked about class. He really enjoyed it and really took what Matt taught him to heart. His speech has been greatly improved and we definitely recommend LLA. Thank you so much!

Heather Dougherty-Pantoja

My son’s Occupational Therapist, Jess, is an amazing OT! She gives practical tips on working with my son at home and school!

Terri Apgar

I cannot say enough good things about LLA Therapy. My daughter was a client of Teal Simmons’ for approximately 2 years and was just released from speech therapy! She was diagnosed with Apraxia in 2015 and worked with Teal twice a week. Through Teal’s application of PROMPT therapy, my daughter had age-appropriate speech after one year. All of the staff we interacted with at LLA were absolutely wonderful. They really care about what they do and making sure your child achieves their goals.

Kelli Geisler Davisson

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for my son as well as my family! My son always asks, "When can I go see Ms. Jeannine again, is it Monday??" He has also made huge gains in only 5 months! I would highly recommend LLA and have already shared my experience with friends looking for services!

Victoria Hansford-Price

We are so grateful for our Speech Therapist Ms.Teal. We have seen a great improvement with our sons confidence and communication abilities since we have started "Prompt" therapy. What we love the most about LLA and Ms. Teal is that Kohl feels comfortable and relaxed which has played a critical role in his progress. Thank you Ms. Teal for all you have done.

Laura Lee Hogsett

They have helped in numerous ways. Speech, OT and behavioral. I've had numerous compliments on my son's progress thanks in very large part to LLA. I would recommend LLA before I recommend our local children's hospitals, though they are good, they don't have the staff that LLA does.

Amy Furukawa

We had a great experience with Matt Hagge at LLA! Our Middle School age son was becoming very conscious of his voice, which is nasal due to a cleft palate. Matt helped him to better form his sounds and project his voice in a way that makes the unavoidable nasality less noticeable.Our son is more confident and outgoing & even took on a speaking role in the church play. Matt has the perfect personality to relate with our son, and we would recommend him to anyone needing speech therapy services!

Jessica Havalotti

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for our daughter. I would highly recommend LLA. Miss Grace was so amazing and I can't believe how quickly our daughter showed improvement. Thank you!
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